On Thanksgiving Day, offices, stores and factories may be closed, but a multitude of city and county services personnel are still on duty, ready to respond when trouble makes an appearance.

“Crime doesn’t take a day off, fire doesn’t take a day off, and sickness and injury don’t take a day off either,” said Paris Emergency Medical Services Paramedic Jason Dyess, a 19-year-veteran first responder. “There has to be someone there to handle it, to respond to the call for assistance.”

On each holiday society celebrates, first responders/emergency medical services personnel are on the clock, ready to roll to the scene of medical emergencies or accidents. They work so that others can safely enjoy all that the holidays entail, the travel, the meals, and the time spent with friends and family. In Paris and Lamar County, they have been doing this since 1979.

Currently, Paris EMS has three crews of about eight trained and certified paramedics working 24 hours on and 48 hours off year-round, seven days a week, including all major holidays.

“I’ve been with Paris EMS for two years,” Paramedic Melissa Walker said. “This is my first Thanksgiving to work, and I will work Christmas this year, too. This year, one side of our family had dinner last night, and the other will host a meal later in the weekend. My kids are 6 and 4, and they don’t yet fully realize all about the days of the holidays but they will come by to visit me today sometime, whenever they can.”

“I’ve worked a lot of holidays over the years,” Dyess said. “About as many on as I have been off. You and your family learn early on to be flexible around the holidays. My kids are older, they are in their teens, so they have grown up with it.”

As far as work goes, Dyess said today will be “a normal shift.” Work begins each day at 7 a.m., and each shift ends at 7 a.m. the next day. In between calls there are chores to be done, such as cleaning and maintaining the equipment they use in their work. The only difference on a holiday is the holiday meal they will share with crews from other stations.

“The service will provide the meat for the meal,” said Russell Thrasher, Paris EMS director and himself a long-time paramedic in Paris. “We might eat anytime between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a holiday, depending on how busy we are, and which rig is out on a run. We’re all used to heating up food in a microwave.”

Each crew member will bring side dishes and desserts, most cooked by family members and carried in that day. Some of the dishes may be prepared at the chosen station, the one on Pine Mill Road, but Walker and Dyess said every paramedic is prepared to be interrupted during the cooking of meals.

“One person may start the cooking, but someone else may have to finish it,” Walker said. “Someone in our eight person crew will not get to eat their meal while it is still hot. That happens more times than not. ”

Paris EMS will hold three Thanksgiving meals, one today, one Friday and one Saturday, so each shift can tuck in to some holiday fare at the station.

“Holidays are pretty busy, usually,” Thrasher said. “Traveling can mean vehicle accidents, cooking big meals means lots of burns, hot liquids spilled or grease. Often a family might not have seen one another for a whole year, and they become concerned when they see a family member is not doing so well and they call us for a trip to the hospital. It just depends.”

Dyess said a medical emergency on a holiday when an entire family is on hand can be particularly stressful for everyone, including the paramedics.

“So can the ones that have no family,” Walker added.

“The rough part of this job is that you see the worst side of things,” Dyess said. “But, it also puts you in position to help folks along, to be able to put them in touch with those who have the resources to help the ones who need it most.”

Today, between calls, the paramedics will also spend as much time as is available with their family and friends.

“We don’t mind if family and friends come by to eat and visit,” Thrasher said. “If we have a lot of leftovers, we often take plates to the dispatchers. They don’t have a kitchen like the stations do.”

The paramedics all agree that working on a holiday when they’d rather be at home with family is a necessary part of the job, one they all work together at to accommodate one another.

“When my kids were younger, people worked with me so I could be off to be with them on the holidays,” Dyess said. “Now that they are older, I am working with others to help them and allow them to be with their families. Everyone on the crews, we’re flexible.”

“It is the duty of the city to provide police and fire protection and EMS is a part of that standard of care,” Thrasher said. “It is our duty to respond and provide that care whenever we are needed. We are the public’s first sight of help when someone is sick or injured. We are there to treat and support them even before we get them to the hospital. Even on a holiday.”

Sally Boswell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6962 or at sally.boswell@theparisnews.com.

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