Virginia-Highland Station 19 Holiday Traditions

 The holiday season is the time of year that most people look forward to spending quality time with their families, exchanging gifts and eating great food. There are a select few who don’t always have the opportunity to enjoy time off during the holidays. The men and women of Virginia-Highland’s Fire Station 19—the oldest continuously operating fire station in the city of Atlanta—know this all too well. Oftentimes, these brave individuals are first responders to emergencies on Christmas and Thanksgiving. We spoke with them to discover the holiday traditions Fire Station 19 enjoys with their fellow firefighters during this time of year. 

Eric Banaszek, captain

You’re a veteran firefighter, so are there traditions that you have observed when you have to work on holidays?

Thanksgiving—you’d think we would throw down on a big meal and stuff like that, but we have a lot of generous businesses in the community that provide all these giant, elaborate meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving for us. They are a great group of people.

Have you had to go out on emergencies often on holidays?

Yes, one of the busier nights is New Year’s Eve. Christmas is usually very mild; Thanksgiving is so-so. 

How does your family feel about you being away some holidays?

When you’ve been at it so long, the wife and kids get used to it. Our shift starts at 0700. When you get a good rapport with some of the captains and firefighters, if it’s your turn to work Christmas day and your relief man knows you have kids, they may hold over a couple extra hours. 

Gary Lawrence, Sergeant 

How does your family cope with you being away for certain holidays?

As time goes on, they get adjusted to it. They understand I’m doing a job to be able to provide for our families. We are in an atmosphere where we are able to invite our families on those specific days, so we still get family time in. 

What are some of the things you enjoy around the station during this time of year?

The food is always good! The brotherhood—this is my home away from home. I appreciate the good camaraderie we have. 

Do you decorate the station?

Yeah, we do. We put the big tree up, decorate the station with lights, put the deer up. 

Do the neighbors stop by?

We get that on a daily basis. A lot of kids want to see the trucks. It feels good to be a part of the community.

Kiwuan Thomas, firefighter

How does it feel to be able to go out and help the people of Atlanta during the holidays?

It’s actually pretty cool. Even though it’s probably something going on that is messing up someone’s day, I’m just glad to be there to help change it. It’s a good feeling all the way around. I’m not with my family, but I’m making a difference for somebody else’s family. 

What does your family think about you not being able to be home?

They’re trying to get better at it. They know it’s for a good cause. They’ll come by and sit with me sometimes. We find ways to make it work.

When you cook for the holidays, all of you help out. Who would you say is the best cook?

All of us cook different things, but I’d have to say the best cook is me or Cap. 

Antoine Thomas, firefighter 

You’ve only been here for one year, so your family is used to you being home for the holidays. How do they feel about the change?

Actually, we came from a type of area where we didn’t really have much so celebrating those times were kind of like a worse time. Now that we do have it, we are used to not even celebrating so we’re just happy that we get stuff like holiday pay. That’s wonderful that time of year, and then we can go out and celebrate my next day off. It’s not necessarily the day, it’s how you treat your family.

What is it about being of service during the holidays that makes you happy?

With this job, you’re there on everybody’s worst day, so you’re there to make their worst day better. There is nothing better than helping the next person out and making the world a better place.