Normally, Santa pilots his own sleigh but on this Dec. 1 night, he had a little help from the Westminster Fire Department. “We’ll take good care of you,” Battalion Chief Dave Varney said as he …
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Normally, Santa pilots his own sleigh but on this Dec. 1 night, he had a little help from the Westminster Fire Department.
“We’ll take good care of you,” Battalion Chief Dave Varney said as he and his company of merry-makers set off from Santa’s make-shift workshop in Westminster’s Fire Station 2.
Their destination; waiting children in homes across the city’s Fire District 1.
Varney and firefighter Duran Cornelius piloted the vintage 1950s Seagate fire engine down the darkened streets, sirens blaring and red-lights oscillating as its quirky motor lurched along.
Varney, a 30-year veteran firefighter, took everything in stride, hollering encouragements much like Santa’s head elf would use to get the reindeer going.
“I’m the second-generation firefighter in my family. I went to college, but got hooked when I tried this and have loved it ever since,” Varney said.
All suited up, Santa waved to startled drivers from the front seat of the antique fire engine, filling the night air with hearty “Ho, Ho, Hos.”
It was enough to make anyone, parents and children alike, believe in the magic of Christmas once again. And that’s the goal of the Westminster department’s roughly 80-year-old program, scheduling visits with St. Nick for 240 lucky Westminster homes.
The England plan
The Westminster Fire Department’s Santa visit program is believed to have begun in the late 1930s. The idea originally came from Harvey England, who served the fire department between 1939 and 1972.
One year at Christmas-time, England thought it would be a great stunt to dress as Santa and drive around the town in a fire truck. It became such a big hit that the citizens of Westminster began calling in and requesting Santa to come to their house to visit their children and families, so he did.
Over the years, it became more and more popular with more requests coming in. What made it even more special is that Santa would never come to the homes empty-handed. He visited bearing stockings of candy, purchased with funds raised through ticket sales to the historic “Fireman’s Annual Ball.”
Since then, for 80 years or so, the Santa visit program has become a time-honored tradition in the Westminster Fire Department and its citizens. Annually, Santa visits around 250 homes and meets with nearly 2,000 children.
All for the kids
It was a chilly 25 degrees Dec. 1 as four of Santa’s Seagate fire engines rolled up to the homes of families that won the lottery. Dispersed throughout the neighborhoods of District 1, Westminster Fire Department led their horseless sleighs to the children waiting to welcome Santa in their homes.
Hundreds of submissions are made every year, but only about 240 houses can be selected. Community events like this keep the spirit of Christmas alive as an adult said Cassandra Schutt, executive assistant to Fire Chief Doug Hall.
“It really kicks off the season,” Schutt said.
Westminster’s Santa operation actually relies on four of Santa’s helpers, who spread out across the city to reach as many houses a possible.
Santa’s visits are efficiently organized to cover six fire districts over six nights. All participants are volunteers, including folks from Westminster Citizens for Fire Improvement, Recognition and Education group and even firefighters who donate their personal time during a regularly-scheduled day off.
“It really is a community effort,” Schutt said.
It was the 10th year that Steve Kretzel, an alumnus of the Westminster Citizen’s Fire Academy and member of the Westminster Citizens for Fire Improvement, Recognition and Education group, has been one of those four.
The most heartfelt visit was last year when one young child asked for food, Kretzel said.
“I do it just for the kids; it’s all about the kids,” he said.
Former Westminster mayor, Nancy McNally, tucked her legs in a blanket while riding in the back of the Seagate. She dutifully played “Nutmeg the Elf,” one of Santa’s assistants in charge of handing out holiday lollipops donated by the Hammond candy company.
“Twenty (people) can get on at a time. It’s used for parades and that kind of thing,” she said.
It means so much to these families, she said, many of whom have two or three jobs, she said.
To sign up for visits in 2019, go to http://www.cityofwestminster.us/SantaFD/ next November.
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