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Emergency workers squeeze fatherhood into odd work hours

POSTED: June 20, 2009 11:41 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Lt. Bobby Reed has been a Hall County firefighter for 17 years, a job that demands full attention. He also has three sons: Chase, 14, left, Cameron, 11, right, and Conner, 4.

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For the past 17 years, if there has been a fire in Hall County, there is a good chance Lt. Bobby Reed was there on the front lines battling the flames.

As a firefighter with Hall County Fire Services, Reed is no stranger to being a first responder.

Residents expect first responders like firefighters, police officers and EMTs to respond soon after they call. For these crews, being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week comes with the territory. So how do they balance the demands of their career with caring for their families?

“You have to have a lot of support from your family,” said Reed. “We work 24 hours, and then we have 48 hours off, so we’re off a good bit, but we also miss out on a lot of things when we’re working. It just comes with the territory.”

With three sons — 14-year-old Chase, 11-year-old Cameron and 4-year-old Conner — Reed’s hands are full at home, but he says the support of his wife and other family members allow him to continue with the career that he’s always wanted.

“I’ve always been interested in being a (fireman). I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” Reed said. “It’s tough missing out on family time, but sometimes on the weekends, the kids get to come by and spend time with us, so that’s nice. We get to know everybody’s kids by name.”

Though there have been times when Reed wasn’t able to make special family functions, even Father’s Day celebrations, his children are big fans of his career.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Chase, of his father’s occupation.

As an officer with the Jefferson Police Department, Field Training Officer Chris Foster said his career has helped him to appreciate his children and family even more.

“We work 12 hour days, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., so I’m leaving my house before my children are up. But every morning before I leave for work, I go in and hug them,” said Foster. “I treat every morning like I won’t come home again because there is the possibility that I won’t. You never know. You just have to cherish every moment.”

As the father of 17-year-old Charlotte and 15-year-old Christopher, Foster says he has missed his fair share of family events in his 10-year career.

“We really don’t have a set schedule; sometimes a 12-hour day turns into a 16- or 17-hour day, or even longer. You can’t predict when you’ll be home and you’d probably just jinx yourself if you tried,” Foster said. “I’ve missed a lot of things, but my kids have adjusted well and we spend time together when we can and make plans for my days off.”

Jefferson Police Sgt. Nick Smith is a fairly new dad and says that he is still learning to balance his work schedule with spending time with his 17-month-old son, Kane.

“My wife is a dispatcher (in Athens) so we rely on a lot of support from our family,” Smith said. “We may work longer hours than someone who works a regular 9 to 5, but we also get to spend more time with our families because (of our rotating) work schedule. It’s just the luck of the draw if we’re off on holidays or special occasions. You know that coming in.”

Like all parents, Foster would like to be home every holiday and see every game or play that his children are in, but he realizes that isn’t the nature of the beast.

“If your shift falls on (a holiday) it’s easy to sit here and feel sorry for yourself because you’re there working while your family is together celebrating, but then you just have to remember that you chose this occupation,” he said.

“This isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person and a special family to handle it.”



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