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Across the country, fire departments are lighting up their trucks to drive through the neighborhoods of kids who can't have birthday parties because of Covid-19.
Hoping to add some joy to stay-at-home orders, fire departments across the country are now responding to the tiniest of blazes: birthday candles.
In Helena, Montana, firefighters parked their truck outside of a nursing home and sang happy birthday to a 100-year-old woman who’d been forced to cancel her birthday party to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. In Baytown, Texas, firefighters sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to a pre-K student and showered him with gifts. In Burnt Hills, New York, fire trucks rolled through a neighborhood with sirens flashing to celebrate a number of children’s birthdays. After, firefighters hopped out to leave balloons and goodie bags in mailboxes.
Celebrating birthdays may not seem like a traditional first responder duty, but communities on lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are in need of happy moments—and firefighters try to provide what their communities need, said Steve Hirsch, chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council.
“As they always do in times of crisis, volunteer firefighters and EMS providers are stepping up in a variety of ways to serve and support their local communities. This includes raising the morale of residents in these unprecedented times,” he said. “We’ve seen countless examples of this, including departments who are doing drive-bys for kids who miss out on their birthday parties.”
The parties are a new activity, borne of necessity in a time of self-isolation and stay-at-home orders, when children are unable to have friends and relatives over to celebrate. Some departments take party requests on Facebook or via email, while others accept nominations by phone. It varies from place to place, officials said, but it’s a widespread trend that’s gained traction in the past month or so.
“Before these stay-at-home orders, I hadn’t really heard of anybody doing this,” said Doug Stern, director of media relations and strategic campaigns for the International Association of Fire Fighters. “I put a feeler out in our group to see who all was doing this, and I’m still getting responses.”
Some fire departments are finding additional ways to reach out to kids during quarantine. In Hamilton, Ohio, firefighters are recording video tours of stations and reading books to children on Facebook. The Spokane Valley Fire Department in Washington state posts “Fire Science Friday” videos, where the firefighter Rick Freier (otherwise known as the “Fire Science Guy”) performs experiments and teaches kids about fire and fire safety.
But the birthday drive-bys garner the most attention, Stern said, likely because they combine two things that kids tend to love: a day that’s just about them, and a big fire truck.
“Think about the age where your birthday is the biggest deal,” he said. “It’s usually between 4 and 10. And that’s about the same age where kids are really into trucks.”
Though in this case, kids aren’t the only enthusiasts. Adults seem the revel in the sight of the trucks, too, Stern said.
”You just see all the neighbors with their phones out, getting it on video, which is really a neat thing to see,” he said. “Firefighters are part of the community, and they’re here for the community, and they’re filling a need the best way they know how—using the tools they have to go out and bring some cheer to folks.”
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Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.