A day for families to spend together

Gerald Johnson holds his 4-year-old daughter, Isabella, who came down to Station 10 to visit her dad on Christmas Day.
Gerald Johnson holds his 4-year-old daughter, Isabella, who came down to Station 10 to visit her dad on Christmas Day. The Wichita Eagle

At 2 p.m. Christmas Day, Raymond Mulhab stood in an empty engine bay at Wichita Fire Station 10.

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" played over the loudspeakers while Mulhab waited for the men to return from a medical call.

The Lebanese immigrant's surrogate family was there, at 21st and Chautauqua, where in a few hours the wives and children of firefighters would gather to celebrate Christmas.

"I have no family except firefighter," Mulhab, 55, said. "I love the firefighter."

At fire stations across Wichita, Christmas is celebrated in different ways.

In west Wichita, firefighters ate from hams delivered to the station by neighbors. At Station 2 on South Broadway, the nine firefighters on duty snacked on celery, carrots and ranch dressing, and home-baked treats.

"It's not fun" to work Christmas, said Wichita fire Lt. Steve Freeman, a 19-year firefighter assigned to Station 2.

But he and his family celebrated Christmas a day early.

"Whatever day I work, we (celebrate) it the day before," Freeman said.

Firefighter Scott Walker, also at Station 2, was able to take four hours of vacation at the beginning of his shift that started at 7 a.m.

"My daughter got to wake us up this morning at 6 o'clock," Walker said.

At Station 10, when the five firefighters returned from their call, Mulhab was there.

"He's become a good friend to us," said Battalion Chief Andy Cole. "He has meals with us from time to time and he brings meals to us from time to time."

Mulhab, who lost his wife more than two decades ago and says he is estranged from his son, latched onto the firefighters of Station 10 several years ago.

That's when Mulhab — who owns an auto repair shop located in the former Station 10 at 17th and Grove — had a tool box fall on him, and the firefighters came to his aid.

He's been sort of a fixture at the station ever since.

"Some stations have dalmatians as their mascots," said Cole, who once was assigned to Station 10. "We have Raymond."

Lt. Keith Niemann said the crew he works with spend time with each other and each other's families in their time off.

And when they have to work on Christmas they try to get their wives and children together at the station to celebrate.

Because Niemann, a father of three, worked Christmas this year, Santa came to his house a day early. He told his 7-year-old twins that he made arrangements with Santa to come early because he had to work.

Niemann said he thinks the twins believed his reasoning — or maybe not.

"They may have just wanted the presents," he said, laughing.

At about 5 p.m. Friday, family members started to trickle in to Station 10.

Brittany Armstrong, the wife of firefighter Ryan Armstrong, was the first.

It was an important Christmas for the Armstrongs because it was the first for their nearly 1-year-old daughter, Addison. While Ryan Armstrong held the baby girl, she managed to unfasten his gold badge and tried to put it in her mouth.

"Luckily she's young," said Brittany Armstrong. But Christmas was difficult, she said, because Addison had to unwrap her presents without Daddy.

"As she gets older," the young mother said, "I think it will be harder."