By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Members of the Tupelo Fire Department work 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off.
The luck of that schedule found Capt. Richard Allred, Sgt. Warren Ray, Firefighter Carlos Brown and Firefighter Romiell Dunlap at work on Christmas Day at Fire Station No. 1 in Tupelo.
They had family over for a big brunch, and sat back in comfortable chairs to watch “A Christmas Story,” followed by whatever ESPN offered.
Assorted tasty holiday goodies were available in the kitchen, and Christmas lights were strung around display cases that featured fire department patches from around the country and the world.
“It’s not bad,” Dunlap said. “It’s like a second home. We’re at home right now.”
According to insurance regulations, four firefighters must be on staff at Fire Station No. 1 at all times.
“We can be anywhere in our area in five minutes, if not sooner,” Allred said.
Thanks to a fellow firefighter who filled in for him, Brown got a couple of extra hours on Christmas morning with his 6-year-old daughter. She received a Barbie, gymnastics toys and Nintendo Wii games.
“I played a little bit before I left,” Brown said.
At Dunlap’s house, Christmas Eve morning doubled as Christmas morning.
“My son is 2,” Dunlap said. “He didn’t know any better.”
Two other children were on the minds of the firefighters. They all knew Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer, who was killed by a bank robbery suspect on Monday. Officer Joseph Maher also was injured.
“(Stauffer) was a real good guy with his two little kids,” Allred said. “He was a good all-around guy.”
The four planned to attend Wednesday’s candlelight vigil.
“We’ll just blend in with the crowd,” Ray said. “We just want the whole police department to know the fire department’s thoughts and prayers are with them, and they’re with Gale’s wife and family.”
Allred said Christmas duty is usually light duty. The truck has to be ready, and the floors and bathrooms must be cleaned, but other chores are dropped for the day.
“We’ve got to be here 24/7 and 365 days a year,” he said. “If it’s your time to work, it’s your time to work.”
He’s seen holiday tragedies, including a fatal collision between a train and a car on Christmas Eve years ago.
“We like a slow, easy day at Christmas,” he said. “That’s what we like.”