While most of us are opening presents, eating chocolates and spending time with our families, there are people braving the elements to ensure the lights keep twinkling and our homes stay warm and cosy during the holiday season. Here we tell the stories of these holiday heroes.
At zero degrees Celsius (32F) your fingers and toes burn with cold. Your cheeks flush and you’ll wish you’d worn thermal undergarments.
At minus ten degrees Celsius (14F), it gets harder to breathe. Your airways constrict and people with asthma might find it tricky to take deep breaths.
When it hits below minus 20 degrees (-4F), that’s when you should think about wearing snow goggles so your eyes don’t freeze over. And yet, in winter, areas across north eastern United States, including New York City, regularly experience temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius with wind chill factored in.
It’s cold, so most people choose to crank up the heating and tuck themselves in on the couch to ride out the cold snap. But don’t forget, there are people out there making sure your heating works and your lights continue to glow merrily as snow drives horizontally outside.
Luckily, at National Grid we have some troopers who get out into the cold and just get the job done. Chris Mayer is a Dispatch Supervisor in North Eastern USA who worked Thanksgiving and will be working on Christmas Day too.
“I’ve been working at National Grid for five years and in the dispatch centre for three years. On Christmas day, we only respond to emergencies; reports of gas odours, gas leaks, building fires and similar. I feel like I’m contributing to people’s wellbeing every day and it’s a really good feeling.”
Chris is speaking hands-free after finishing up a 12-hour shift. It’s 6am and he’s been at work for 12 hours. “The snow is a problem here. I have a 70-minute drive to work, but when it snows that can go up. And it wreaks havoc for the techs in the field.”
It’s busy over the holiday season, because when gas pipes freeze they can break. “There are more breaks over the winter, but when we have sub-freezing temperatures for a few days the number of breaks really go up.
“The thing is”, says Chris, “I work with a great bunch of people and we’re all focused on the objectives. We knew what we were signing up for when we took the job and I’m OK to be working Christmas Day. Me and the other gas supervisors are letting people with younger families take some time out, which is what happened when we were younger too.”
On Christmas Day, Chris will be taking the 2pm until 10pm shift. “It means I still have time to exchange gifts in the morning. But I’ll miss my wife’s fantastic Christmas dinner and there’ll be 18 people around the table for that. But there are always leftovers and they’re great!”
Despite the long shift – there are some perks. “On the holidays [we get] a nice dinner – usually a turkey dinner, with potatoes, gravy, stuffing and dessert.” And Chris knows the value of his seasonal sacrifice: “You don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the job is doing a lot for the community and you just have to take your turn.”
Although he’s just finished a long shift, he’s passionate about the work he and the other gas Dispatch Supervisors put in. “I think I can speak for them … we’re all extremely dedicated.”
Mike Reusch has worked for National Grid for 31 years and also works as a call firefighter in his local Massachusetts town. He is a troubleshooter lineworker and has been on this shift for a little more than 15 years, working the holidays.
“Knowing that you are here to make it a better day or night for our customers and their families, if there are power problems, is what makes it work for me. It’s always fun to see the faces of children and the relief of the parents when we show up and correct something that could potentially make their holidays hectic instead of joyous.”
His rotating schedule means he often ends up working Christmas or Thanksgiving. “I live in Massachusetts, on the coast by the Atlantic. It can be mild one day and freezing the next, and it makes a big difference to our customers if the heat is out.”
It’s not all easy. Mike makes a big sacrifice to keep the lights on and the heat flowing during the holidays. “Our family has been the backbone of how we deal with holidays. My current schedule is 6am to 6pm but I have worked 6pm to 6am in the past. We would get the kids up early before I left and did stockings, so I got to spend the beginning of the day with them. They would then open some gifts from Santa, but not all … they always waited until I got home to do the rest.
“When I worked the night shift, we would have the day to be as normal as we could. Then I would leave for the overnight shift. Our families celebrate Christmas with get-togethers on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for dinner. We would work it out so that I would meet them wherever they were when I got out of work.”
But even Mother Nature has a sense of humour and the weather can turn quickly in the North East. “There have been Christmas Days where my 12-hour shift becomes 16 hours very quickly, because of the nature of our business. When that happens, I miss the visiting, I miss the dinners and all the family fun that goes with it. You try and watch the weather and hope for the best, but snow, ice and rain don’t mix very well with trees, poles and electricity. Poles come down, wires break and we go to work the best we can to get our customers up and running for their holiday at home.
“Is it worth missing that dinner? Is it worth missing those families you only see once or twice a year? It is when you’re up in the bucket in the snow, plugging in a blown fuse and see the Christmas lights come back on, the Christmas trees relighted in the windows and the waving hands of happy, thankful children and families in the doorways. Most customers know what we are giving up and come out to greet us with a thank you and a hot coffee!”
So, this year, when you’re turning your oven on to cook a festive feast or settling down in front of a cosy fire, lights dimmed and whiskey in hand, you have the tireless dedication of workers like Chris and Mike to thank for your home comforts.
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