If you have been hearing the sound of fire trucks rolling through your neighborhood lately, don’t worry. It is not an emergency they are responding to; they are probably celebrating a child’s birthday instead.
The New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department has been helping quarantined children who can’t have a traditional birthday party with friends and family because of COVID-19 still enjoy their birthday. The brainchild of Michael O’Toole, Assistant Chief of the New Fairfield Fire Dept/Ball Pond VFC, he says that he was looking for a way to help birthday boys and girls celebrate their special day while being stuck indoors. “I thought it would be a cool idea, so I brought it up to the Chief of the Department,” says O’Toole. “It’s been a huge success.”
Originally the birthday parade, which began in early April, occurred every other day. “We would visit four to five houses per day during the week, but it became so busy that we had to stop,” says O’Toole. The parade consists of about 15 trucks and ambulances from New Fairfield, Ball Pond and Squantz Pond. O’Toole says that all the trucks park at the beginning of the street until they’re all together, and then proceed to drive down the birthday boy or girl’s street. “As we drive by, we roll down our windows, wave, and then we circle around and do it a second time in order to give all the kids on the block the time to come out and see the trucks,” says O’Toole.
As you might imagine, having a fleet of fire trucks sounding their sirens and flashing their lights in honor of your birthday is a very big deal for a kid. That explains why the birthday parade program has been so wildly successful. O’Toole, who handles the New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department’s website, said that once he put the birthday parade information on the company’s Facebook page, he couldn’t keep up with the demand. “It absolutely skyrocketed,” says O’Toole. “My phone was insane for almost a week, and people were private messaging me like crazy.” Case in point: the fleet was out a few weeks ago on a Sunday during the pouring rain, which didn’t deter happy kids. “They were out there in the pouring rain with huge smiles on their faces,” says O’Toole. “The kids are so happy and loving it.”
Although the Birthday Parade was originally intended to celebrate young children, the firehouse has made some exceptions. “We did a 50th and a 60th birthday party parade,” says O’Toole. “We even did a parade for a 70-year-old man who was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. That was so meaningful to us.” Regarding their own safety, the firefighters ensure social distancing by only having two people on a truck at a time, driving with their masks on, and wiping down the trucks with Lysol to keep them clean.
The firehouse is planning to do another birthday parade on Sunday May, 17, which is unfortunately completely booked at this point. “We had to restrict it to one time a month, since it was getting overwhelming to do it during the week,” says O’Toole. “We don’t have enough drivers, so we decided to do it just once a month on a weekend.” As of right now, the May 17th birthday parade will be the last one for a while, as the firehouse hopes that things return to normal and that company can begin preparing to train again and resume their regular routines.
As for O’Toole, he said that he and his fellow volunteer firefighter first responders have been happy to bring some joy to the residents of New Fairfield. “It’s been an amazing experience,” says O’Toole, whose son Michael is also a first responder in Southbury, CT. “But now we’re ready to reopen and get back to work.”
By Jennifer Parris