Santa trades sleigh for firetrucks this month

Santa riding with Carlisle Fire Co. in 2018. This year, Santa will be traveling around Milford on Dec. 13 and 20. (Submitted photo/Carlisle Fire Co.)

Some Christmas traditions might fall by the wayside in the COVID-19 era, but fire departments across Kent County are making sure Santa still comes around on their big red engines this year.

Lori Brown of Milford has been helping the Camden-Wyoming Fire Co. with its Santa run since she was a teenager.

“I started as an elf when I was 16, maybe 15, so 32 years ago,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s been a long-standing tradition.”

Her mother, Leanne Pravitz of Camden, was the one who began the custom.

“She picked it up from a friend of hers in Virginia. That’s where she got the idea,” Ms. Brown said. “I remember it was a huge thing when it first started.”

Now, Ms. Brown said many young parents in Camden and Wyoming remember their own experiences with Santa when they bring their children outside to see him ride by.

Sean Christiansen, the Dover Fire Department’s assistant chief, said his firehouse has been carrying out “Operation Santa” for over 20 years.

“We actually went around to local stores and got candy cane donations,” he said of his first time running the event. “In the course of the first year, I think we handed out over 10,000 candy canes.”

But not every firehouse’s tradition with Santa can be traced back that far.
Ryan Knowles, the deputy fire chief at Milford’s Carlisle Fire Co., said his department first started hosting Santa in 2014.

“We decided to start doing the Santa Claus ride to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s our way of bringing joy and bringing thanks to others.”

Mr. Christiansen said the tradition reminds locals that fire departments aren’t all about bad news.

“Any time you see the fire department, it’s usually because of something bad. A fire, a car accident, some sort of disaster,” he said. “This is just a little bit of the Christmas cheer, the fun side of the fire department.”

Mr. Knowles said the tradition doesn’t just bring joy to the public.

“It also brings the members closer, and it brings the members joy amongst each other,” he said. “Everyone laughs. Everyone has a good time.”

Mr. Knowles said “it takes a team of about 30 members each day to put this on.”

Volunteers help in “various positions from driving the apparatus to riding on the apparatus to greeting the people,” he said.

Mr. Christiansen said these events do more than spread good cheer for volunteer fire departments.

“The Dover Fire Department is the last all-volunteer fire department to protect a state capital, so it’s important that the people who move in here … know that we’re a community organization that relies on volunteers and donations,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, fire departments always put safety first, even when it comes to fun holiday traditions.

Due to COVID-19, Kent County’s Santa runs will look a little bit different this year.

Mr. Christiansen put an emphasis on his volunteers using personal protective equipment and social distancing properly.

In Milford, Mr. Knowles said Carlisle will not be handing out candy canes this year to minimize the potential of spreading the virus.

Traditionally, Camden-Wyoming’s event has been slightly different from those in Dover and Milford. In Ms. Brown’s function, Santa and Mrs. Claus have gotten off the truck to talk to children and hand out candy in years past.

“This year, because of COVID, it’s going to be quite different,” she said. “Santa and Mrs. Claus will not be getting off the truck. We’re still giving out candy canes, but we’re not able to get off the truck to do it.”

For Camden-Wyoming, Santa’s rides will begin at the firehouse at 5 p.m. every night Dec. 14-18.

The Dover Fire Department’s Operation Santa will happen 5:30-9 p.m. every night Dec. 14-18, except Dec. 15. Santa will also be riding around Saturday morning, Dec. 19.

“We do all the neighborhoods every year,” Mr. Christiansen said. “We actually update our Facebook page with what neighborhood we’re going to next. That way, children can get ready.”

He said the department will also “utilize a lead vehicle with lights and sirens, so everyone knows we’re on our way. That gives the kids time to come out to the street.”

Carlisle Fire Co. will be escorting Santa around Milford beginning at noon on two upcoming Sundays, Dec. 13 and 20.

Santa will cover the Kent County side of town on his first trip and the Sussex County side on his second.

Mr. Knowles said Carlisle’s jurisdiction on the Sussex side of the city is so big that they’re sending out two trucks with two Santas on Dec. 20.

Santa also will be taking three rides with the Harrington Fire Co.

There, Santa will leave the firehouse at 6:15 p.m. Dec. 15 and the two following nights.

The west side of town will be covered Dec. 15, the east side will be visited Dec. 16, and some of the municipality’s outlying subdivisions will be driven through Dec. 17.

All scheduling information can be found on the Facebook pages of each of these fire departments.