A much-anticipated holiday tradition kicks off Sunday as Santa begins his tour through the city escorted by the Decatur Fire Department.
“We started getting phone calls about when we were going to start this around Halloween,” said Decatur Fire Marshal Deroy Bennett, who brought the idea to Decatur 12 years ago. “It’s great how the public anticipates it … They can’t wait for us to be there.”
When the effort began in 2001, Santa rode atop the fire truck. But in order to speed the effort along and for easier manuevering, Santa and his helpers switched to a lighter utility vehicle a couple of years ago.
“It helps with time,” Bennett said. “Our nights were getting long, and the kids were in bed before we were finished with an area. We couldn’t always move around easily. Now we can zip across the street from one house to another so that we’re not having to sit there waiting on people to walk to us.”
To also help with the late nights, the tour increased from four days to five. When it began, the fire department tried to hit every street in the city in three days.
“But the number of kids that we see has grown amazingly,” Bennett said.
Firefighters begin their route nightly at 5 p.m. and aim to finish around 9 p.m. so “the kids can go to bed.”
“Everybody in the department loves it,” Bennett said. “It’s so neat to get to see look on the kids’ faces – especially those who have just moved to the area and have never seen this before – when they see the fire trucks plus Santa. It’s a double whammy, and their expressions are great.”
While the department tours Santa through the streets of town as a way to give back, the response from the community further captures the spirit.
“The outpouring from the public and citizens is incredible,” Bennett said. “You would not believe every night how many cookies, candy, brownies, even as much as a pumpkin roll or a cake, we get. And donations. We have people bring us donations, which all goes back to a special account used for fire prevention items – so it all goes back to the community in that form.”
Santa and his helpers will pause for a photo, however organizers ask that parents have their cameras ready and limit photos to just one or two.
“We encourage group pictures,” Bennett said. “Santa’s got a busy schedule and has a lot of kids to see.”
In addition, the department asks for the cooperation of drivers.
“As Santa’s moving around, we have a fire truck in front of Santa and a fire truck behind him, and we do a rolling block for the safety of the kids, Santa and his helpers,” Bennett said. “We appreciate their understanding and courtesy.”
For more information, call the Decatur Fire Department at 940-627-3199.