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Family Of Firefighters Shares Easter Holiday
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Escalon firefighter David Velasco adds water to the pot and gets ready to set it to boiling on the stove in the Coley Avenue firehouse, as he works on cooking up mashed potatoes for an Easter dinner on April 17. Marg Jackson/The Times

As families gathered throughout the community to enjoy Easter dinner together on Sunday, April 17, another ‘family’ of sorts was preparing for their own celebration.

At the Escalon firehouse on Coley Avenue, the small crew on duty for the day got busy peeling potatoes after returning from a service call, as firefighter David Velasco prepared to make mashed potatoes for the Easter menu.

This year, the on-duty personnel were invited to the home of Velasco’s parents in Escalon for a holiday dinner. Often times, family members of those working a shift come to the firehouse to eat with their loved ones.

They usually try to spend at least part of the holiday together, and it is just one of the sacrifices that families of first responders make … sharing them with the community on a 24/7 basis.

Sunday’s crew included Battalion Chief Dan Morriss and firefighter Velasco, the two full-time personnel assigned to the ‘A’ Shift. Also working were seasonal paid firefighter Louis Roach and volunteer Heather Carey. It was Carey’s first shift as an Escalon Fire Department volunteer; she is from Escalon and is scheduled to graduate from the Columbia College Fire Academy on Thursday, April 28.

Escalon has a full-time staffed fire station in town; Station 2 is along Highway 120 near Van Allen Elementary School and is not manned but houses equipment and is often utilized for training.

The shifts for the paid personnel run 48 hours; they live, eat and sleep at the fire station during that time. Roach, as a seasonal firefighter, was working a 24-hour shift and Carey, as a volunteer, was on duty for 12 hours.

Morriss said spending holidays at the fire station – and often having a meal interrupted by a call – is something that first responders get used to.

“I think your family has to be flexible with your schedule,” he said. “You’re going to work a lot of holidays over the course of your career so you learn to plan accordingly.”

In some cases, he said, that can mean having family members come to the station to share a holiday meal or, when possible, meeting at a park or somewhere in the community. As long as the on-duty personnel can respond to a call, they can try to work in time with their family.

A veteran of 30-plus years in the firefighting field, Morriss has been with Escalon Fire Department for almost three years. Velasco, who was the last full-time hire for the department, has been on staff about the same amount of time, but was a volunteer for Escalon for 20 years before getting the full-time opportunity.

Escalon’s ‘B’ Shift has Battalion Chief Moe Silva and firefighter Cassidy Bohannon; ‘C’ Shift includes Battalion Chief Joe Pelot and firefighter Ryan Burr. There is also a corps of reserves, those who live outside the city and are working shifts to gain experience and meet specific training requirements while the volunteers are those that live in the city.

Morriss said the department also currently has 14 seasonal firefighters that can work shifts as needed during the upcoming busy fire season.

“For the most part, holidays are quiet,” explained Morriss. “The Fourth of July and Halloween are probably the busiest just because there are more people out. Other holidays, people are gathering inside with their families and keeping it mellow.”

Carey, excited to be working her first official shift with the department, only had a couple of calls to respond to on Sunday but was enjoying the atmosphere.

“I never really knew it was an option growing up, there just wasn’t a lot of female firefighters,” she noted. “I have been an EMT the last three years and I love being a first responder … so far I love it (fire service); I think I found my calling.”

Carey has worked on ambulance crews in Bishop, Reno and Modesto but then decided to enter the fire academy to pursue firefighting full time.

“I will volunteer here, get the experience,” she said “and hopefully get a paid firefighter job somewhere.”

Roach is going on four years as a reserve/seasonal firefighter with Escalon.

“I just like the job and everything we do,” he said. “Being able to help the community.”

Reserves are required to put in 48 hours of ‘ride time’ a month and also attend training sessions on the first Tuesday, second Wednesday and third Thursday of the month, roughly a two-and-a-half hour session that covers a variety of topics.

“I used to work for CalFire so every holiday from Memorial Day to Christmas, I worked,” Roach said of being used to having major holidays away from home. “But having a second family (at the firehouse) is always nice, you develop close relationships.”

Velasco was busy at mid-afternoon Sunday, working to prepare the mashed potatoes to take to his parent’s house for the Easter dinner that also included his wife and six children, along with the extended firehouse family.

“It just happened to be on our shift,” Velasco said of being on duty for Easter this year. “In the past we’ve been able to have my family come here for holidays when I’m on duty.”

All in all, the firefighters agreed that finding ways to celebrate holidays even when on duty just goes with the territory.

“It’s a cool opportunity to serve the community, the small town where I grew up,” Carey summarized. “It’s an honor.”

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New volunteer Heather Carey, working her first shift at the Escalon Fire Department, helps out by peeling potatoes for part of the holiday dinner menu on Easter Sunday. Marg Jackson/The Times