A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.
But the wail of sirens and horns and flashing emergency lights made the day for more than 150 Red Deer families and their birthday boys and girls over the past year.
Inspired by City of Calgary firefighters, Red Deer Emergency Services began its drive-bys in April 2020 and they proved a big hit with fire trucks sometimes heading out several times in a day on their mission to put smiles on people’s faces.
At one early pandemic drive-by, RCMP and city enforcement officers joined in the fun and a mini birthday parade passed by one lucky youngster’s home.
“It just kind of took off from there,” said deputy fire chief Tyler Pelke.
Anyone can be the recipient of a drive-by birthday celebration, regardless of age. On May 29, firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews. Young is a former fire chief from Kingston, Ont., and was also a military firefighter for 25 years.
While there are not enough available resources to have a parade every time, single fire trucks have headed out to do their thing.
The drive-bys add a little joy to birthday parties that often had to be much lower key than usual because of COVID-19 health restrictions.
The same regulations also meant fire-medics had to put their usual visits to schools and participation in other community events on temporary hold.
“Our crews wanted to still connect with the community and this allows them to put a smile on somebody’s face,” he said. “We’ve done them all year, winter, spring, summer and fall.”
Unfortunately, because of COVID protocols youngsters are not allowed to climb inside the fire vehicles. But knowing the emergency lights and sound spectacle is just for them has been a big thrill.
“We’re able to get out, see some faces, put the lights and sirens on and stop and chat with their families and be a part of things.”
The number of calls coming in for birthday drive-bys has gone down since the early months of the pandemic. But the requests are still coming in and Red Deer Emergency Services does its best to show up if it has the vehicles and firefighters available.
However, it has proven so popular it is likely going to continue even after the pandemic has passed and normalcy returns.
“I don’t see it going away,” he said. “It’s great way to connect with the community.”
Among those who got a visit recently was the family of Zayyan, who was celebrating his third birthday on Feb. 9.
The family cheered as the fire truck approached their house, horns honking. “Zayyan was so excited to see the fire trucks come to the house, just for him,” his father Omer told the City of Red Deer as posted on wearereddeer.ca.
“It’s great that we can still make a child’s day by doing birthday drive-bys during the pandemic, and we were so happy to make Zayyan’s birthday special,” said Luke Tweedale, Emergency Services Captain. “Pre-COVID, we had lots of opportunities to connect with our community and unfortunately that has been so difficult this past year.”
Red Deer County also got into the spirit last year.
During the spring, the county launched a program called Stay Home Superheroes, designed to bring a special celebration to the front doors of residents.