By John Anderson
When firefighters arrived at Fire Headquarters at 0800 hours this past Saturday, they didn’t come to respond to calls but rather to respond to the citizens of Auburn in the 61st year of the Santa Tour. A sleigh and reindeer were attached to the new Tower 1, and lights were strung along its length.
When Santa and his two Elves emerged from the station, they climbed onto the Tower and used blankets to insulate themselves from the cold metal. Jolly St. Nick, of course, met with the children in attendance before hitting the streets. The Grinch, courtesy of the Auburn Police Department, also used the opportunity to greet the crowd. He even signed the arm cast of a young boy, a most un-grinch thing to do.
When the Santa Tour started in 1954, Santa was picked up by Engine 4 at the Walk Right Shoe Store across from the Drury Square station, and he did a spin around town that lasted only a few hours. This year the tour took over ten hours and came close to every street in town.
Lt. Shawn Steele headed up the effort with a dozen or so volunteers, and he drove Rescue 1 as the procession made its way around town. Along with the Tower and the Grinch’s motorcycle, and parade included a pickup truck with Sparky the Fire Dog securely lashed to the bed. Steele said the only modification this year was to add padding behind the plywood sleigh and reindeer so there was no risk of marring the new Tower.
Call firefighter Gary Almstrom has played the role of Santa for 36 years, and all of his children have played elves over the years. Daughter Kayla was aboard for her 14th year, and she is only 19. Fellow 2014 AHS graduate Julie Mulcahy also donned the red and green apparel for the tour.
Almstrom said when he started doing the tour, he rode on Engine 1, a 1983 Maxim. Thinking they could do better, he asked Chief Robert Murray if they could use Ladder 1, a 1968 Maxim. After gaining permission, he and some volunteers went to a well-decorated house on Jerome Ave. and traced the sleigh and reindeer cutouts in their yard.
Those plywood creations lasted many years, but volunteers redid all of them about 5 years ago, and the result is breathtaking. Over the years and when town budgets were tight, firefighters even offered to pay for the fuel, but the Chiefs always declined. After all, this was an event for the children of Auburn, and their parents liked it too.
Thanks to all for making this possible. Merry Christmas!