Feature Photo courtesy of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.
2020 has certainly been a difficult year for everyone, however it has been especially trying for essential workers including emergency responders. While fire departments faced numerous new challenges associated with the COVID pandemic, many departments also maintained their holiday traditions.
Every Holiday Season, many Fire Departments participate in events such as Santa Runs and Menorah Parades, bringing responders and holiday festivities throughout the communities where the same responders are usually responding to emergencies. While events like these are certainly fun for kids as well as some older residents, they also can be an enjoyable and uplifting time for the participating Fire Departments. Such was definitely the case in 2020.
Glen Echo Fire Department Chief William “Bill” Dunn posted a message on the GEFD’s Facebook page expressing his gratitude, writing, “People waving from inside their homes and flickering their porch lights; many folks cheering and clapping from their driveways; people shouting ‘Happy Holidays!’ and ‘Thank You!’ from their lawns; the pure happiness that everyone showed us last night brought tears to my eyes several times. All of you…lifted our spirits in ways that you can’t imagine…brought smiles and joy to many of us that needed a little cheer and comfort.”
In a Christmas Day letter, Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Vagonis echoed Chief Dunn’s sentiments, while talking about the Rockville VFD’s Santa Runs and annual Menorah Parade. Chief Vagonis wrote to the Rockville community, saying, “What you may not realize is how much you helped the mental status of our first responders, including myself. By seeing each of you smiling and enjoying the parade through the streets…has renewed our faith in humanity during these very trying and challenging months. You have made us stronger and more whole, so we can continue the [COVID] fight for as long as it takes.”
While emotional and mental support are certainly crucial for emergency responders and other essential workers, financial support is also vital for Volunteer Fire Departments, Rescue Squads, and other nonprofit organizations. Holiday Season traditions such as Fire Department Christmas Tree sales serve as fundraisers for the Departments’ apparatus and other expenses. In Montgomery County this year, the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department purchased and debuted a brand new fire engine paid for by community donations. Additionally, the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department purchased and received their brand new Heavy Rescue Squad also paid for by their donors. This year alone, the Bethesda–Chevy Chase and Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squads also received new ambulances funded by donations. These four new emergency vehicles are just a small portion of Fire Department expenses, which have only increased this year with COVID-associated costs.
Fire Departments are not only on the receiving end of Holiday Season donations, however. Every year, all Montgomery County Fire Stations collect toys for the United States Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” program. The Cabin John Park VFD also annually collects toys for the National Center For Children and Families as well as the Scotland Drive Community Association. This year, for their two local collections alone, the Cabin John Park VFD collected then donated 660 gifts.