Courtesy of MT DOT

Pulling the Christmas shift

No interruption in essential services thanks to those who labor on Christmas

Planning to drive over Homestake Pass to visit family in Butte? Or take a sick child to your local emergency room? Or need any kind of emergency help? Fortunately for those of us who live in Madison County, we don’t have to worry whether we can drive to Butte for Christmas lunch or get care for a child who develops a fever on New Year’s morning. If we need help, someone will answer our emergency call no matter what the day or time. Thank your friends and neighbors who are among the essential workers who show up for their shifts, whether it’s on a Sunday night or Christmas Day.

For the people at Montana Dept. of Transportation (DOT) who keep the roads safe and cleared of snow, it’s business as usual 24/7, whether New Year’s Day or a normal weekday.

William Fogarty, MTDOT District Administrator, explains how it works on a holiday. “We’ll have maintenance coverage 24/7. A crew member will show up at 4:30 a.m. to do a road check. At 6:30 a.m. they’ll do what we call ‘road polling’ in order to send road conditions to our Transportation Management Center in Helena,” he said. 

The data are used to update the department’s 511 map, its online real-time map of road conditions around the state. The website, found at, and app were updated earlier this year. They are being widely used: between September 5 and December 12 this year, the website received 604,000 hits and its app has been downloaded 60,000 times.

If roads don’t need special maintenance, staff can go home and enjoy Christmas. If conditions aren’t favorable, reserve employees will be called in to work. The same protocol applies on weekends throughout the years.

“Storms have a habit of showing up on weekends and holidays,” Fogarty says.

Just as roads must be kept clear, critical health care facilities must operate whether or not the rest of us are celebrating the new year. For health care professionals, that’s part of the job. Madison Valley Medical Center ‘s (MVMC) hospital, emergency room and ambulance service must be at the ready around the clock.

“About half of our workforce fit into these essential categories and will be working or on-call during this holiday season,” said CEO Allen Rohrback, who will also be on-call, along with lab and imaging technicians, nurses, physicians and EMTs.

“Holiday schedules are shared among all employees regardless of seniority,” he said. Noting that the holiday season can be hard on some people struggling with financial or other pressures that lead to anxiety and depression, Rohrback said it’s important that any care that’s needed is available. “A MVMC tradition is that every year the staff selects a family that needs extra help. The staff volunteer effort provides presents and food.”

As Undersheriff Craig Schroeder put it, “No matter the day, time, weather or situation, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office is there to respond to your emergency, 24/7, 365 days a year, including holidays. Deputies and communications officers know and accept this as part of the job. It is a commitment they make to serve their community.”

Schroeder said the schedules are set well in advance, and those who are scheduled to work a holiday will often celebrate with their families on their off days.

“Our unspoken heroes would be our communication officers,” Schroeder pointed out. “The communications center has been very short-handed. Our communications officers have truly gone above and beyond the call of duty throughout the month of December, covering extra shifts and working a grueling 60-hourweek schedule to assure that there is always someone on the other end of the line.”

Schroeder asked that the local volunteer fire departments, search and rescue, and county medical services be recognized for their service to the community “when the need calls.

“ We at The Madisonian join Undersheriff Schroeder in urging everyone to celebrate the New Year safely by socializing responsibly and appointing a designated driver.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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