Working on Christmas can be special


Staff writer

St. Francis Hospital chaplain Fred Hutchinson works every Christmas and every Christmas Eve.

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get the joy of Christmas.” Hutchinson said. “I know I get more out of it than I give. Because it’s in the giving, it’s not in the receiving.”

Hutchinson was an ordained pastor of the United Church of Christ for over 20 years before becoming chaplain at St. Francis two years ago.

As chaplain, he meets the spiritual needs of patients, calming them in the emergency department or praying with them before a surgery at the Federal Way hospital. He’s discussed ethical concerns with hospital staff and once helped reunite an overseas serviceman with his mother before she died.

During the holiday season, Hutchinson said he sees an increase of patients who have been battered at home, saying lack of money contributes to increased home tensions.

“And then there’s just plain people who don’t have anything. They walk in, they need a meal, we feed them,” Hutchinson said. “Not every case has a joyful end. But there are just so many times people came in with eyes that were dead. (Later) their eyes just sparkle. We return to people the gift of themselves.”

“There’s always a tug at our hearts,” Hutchinson said of himself and his co-workers. “There’s always a piece of us that wishes life was better for people. Being there is part of it. And the journey with these people is part of the gift.”

And while Hutchinson will tend to the spiritually needy on Christmas, EMT (emergency medical technician) Courtney Malgarin, who works for American Medical Response, will respond to medical emergencies this Christmas.

“It’s a lot slower than other days,” Malgarin said. “For the most part you get actual 9-1-1 calls. You don’t get the ‘I-stubbed-my-toes.’”

She’s noticed an increase of suicide calls during the holidays. Other calls include heart attacks and domestic violence calls.

Malgarin has wanted to be an EMT since she was a child. She says her job is “rewarding. You get to help the community in a way that a lot of people don’t get to. We see it from a whole different world. Sometimes that’s good and bad.”

The firefighters at Federal Way Fire Department Station 63 will also be on duty Christmas Day. They say it’s just a part of their job.

The calls they receive around the holidays include overloaded circuits caused by too many holiday decorations, and people who have heart attacks. All of the firefighters are also trained EMTS. They help stabilize a person before paramedics arrive on the scene.

And the calls never stop coming.

“We get our share every year,” said Lt. Dave Michaels, a 12-year veteran of the Fire Department.

“People call us for anything you can imagine and most things you can’t,” said firefighter Ed Richert. This includes asking what time it is or when the library opens.

But when a genuine emergency occurs, there are some calls they’ll never forget.

“We did have a lady whose life was saved on Christmas” several years ago department spokeswoman Debbie Goetz said. Firefighters performed CPR and saved the woman’s life.

Michaels says he’ll never forget the day he helped a woman give birth, while Richert said he’ll always remember the faces of people who nearly died and later thanked him for saving their lives.

While firefighters work through the holidays, the people they serve express their thanks. They drop off holiday cookies, bread and candy at the station house. Sometimes they deliver whole meals.

The firefighters at Station 63 will work from 7:30 am Christmas Day until 7:30 a.m. the 26th.

Federal Way Police officers Tom Kettells and Adam Howell will also be working on Christmas.

Working on Christmas “just goes with the territory,” Howell said. He just finished his first year with the Federal Way department. Before that, he was a police officer in Arkansas.

Kettells, a 21-year veteran of law enforcement, transferred to Federal Way from Mercer Island two years ago. The patrol officer said domestic violence increases drastically between Thanksgiving and New Year Day.

But while domestic disputes arguably increase stress on the job, the public’s perception of police officers softens a bit during the holidays. People are a little warmer, a little less hostile, Kettells said.

“We’ve had people bring cookies to the station, candies,” he said.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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