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POSTED: December 16, 2010 9:08 a.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

Hinesville Fire Department's Robert Caslen said firefighters often spend holidays with their second families, and celebrate with their first families a day before or after the holiday.

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Carolyn Simmons will tell you the first time you meet her to call her “mama” like her second family does at Liberty Regional Medical Center. Simmons is one of Liberty County’s unsung heroes on call 24/7, 365 days a year, no matter the occasion. And that’s how she likes it.
“Everybody here calls me ‘mama,’” said the LRMC patient care technician and ward clerk.
Energetic and upbeat, wearing bright colors and a Santa hat glammed up with a sparkling tiara, Simmons embodies the spirit of giving. She tries to offer “a little mother care” to every person who walks through the emergency room doors.
“I like to be at work on the holidays. It’s my healing ground,” Simmons said in a soothing, maternal tone.
Since both her parents died during the holiday season, she prefers to help others in the company of people she cares about, Simmons said.
“I’d rather be here. We’re a family away from family,” she said. “Mama” cares for co-workers and patients alike; especially those who are sad and alone.
“Anxious people come in here, suicidal people come in here. A lot of people overlook depression. It happens (more) this time of year,” Simmons said. “You got to wear a smile. When I come through that door, I say a prayer. I leave my problems at the door. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about the patients.”
The mother of the ER decorates for every holiday and organizes the Christmas party.
“You can put everything on that table,” Simmons tells ER staff. “But you better not touch it until we bless the food.”
Simmons keeps a supply of baby dolls and band-aids, so when children come in for treatment their visit is a little less scary.
“I tell them, ‘Put it on the baby. Cover the boo-boo. Now, it’s going to be all better.’”
Hinesville firefighter Robert Caslen’s second family is the crew at the fire department.
“We’ll put up a Christmas tree, draw names and exchange gifts,” Caslen said. “We have a good time. I don’t mind it.”
He added firefighters on duty over Christmas and New Year’s will celebrate at home “a day early or a day late.”
Caslen said every day is different, including the holidays. So, firefighters must be prepared. They train and maintain vehicles and equipment and educate the public on fire safety when they’re not out on call, he said.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Christmas is like any day. You can go all day without a call or it can be busy. Like last shift, we had 19 calls. It’s simple really; when the bell rings, you go out on a call,” Caslen said.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about the men and women in our community who perform public service all year, even on holidays.

 

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