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Bellevue-Dayton Firefighters (& Santa!) Make Christmas Brighter for Local Kids

Twelve families had Christmas come a little early this year, as the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department eschewed a sleigh and offered Santa a fire truck to ride on, with lights and sirens instead of Rudolph to guide their way to the houses of the chosen families.

"This is our nineteenth year of distributing food for Christmas dinner and toys for the children," said Jim Richmond, from the fire department. "The money to do this comes from the Bellevue-Dayton Ladies Auxillary and the Union Local. Usually we do five families from each city, but this year we are helping six families from each city."

Six o'clock on Tuesday evening was zero hour for the trip around the cities, and totes with food were loaded into a truck, along with big bags of wrapped toys for 43 children. Then, Santa and his helpers climbed into two fire vehicles and with a great flashing of lights and sirens, they were off on a goodwill mission.

The tradition of the fire department helping out at Christmas really started 20 years ago when Richmond was one of a new crew of Bellevue volunteer firefighters. They all thought it would be a great idea to help struggling families at Christmas, so all the volunteers put $20 into a Christmas club. The first $500 went to buy a Santa suit, which is still in use today. The rest went to buy food, and Steve and Rochelle Hensley would buy the toys for the children, which they did for 17 years. Then the union and the ladies auxiliary took over the task.

"I have been in charge of organizing the event every year," said Richmond. "I would get nervous every year at first, but then I realized, it'll come together. It happens every year. This could be my last year though, because we have a whole new crop of guys coming in, and this might be the time to pass it to a new group of guys. I would be available for advice, of course."

There were a couple of last minute families added on, so some last minute shopping was in order, but as soon as the presents and food arrived, the presents were wrapped and the food divided into the waiting tubs with the precision typical of fire departments. The Bellevue Kroger donated all 12 hams that were given out.

Even though Richmond is thinking of passing the torch on the yearly mission, he was clearly in charge and liked what he was doing.

"I think I was hooked the first year I went out with Captain Don Overman, and Lieutenant Chuck Enzweiler," Richmond remembered. "For some children, this is all they get -- this is Christmas. I remember a little boy who was deaf, and when we pulled up he was waiting, his hands going 100 miles a minute talking and talking, he was so excited. I saw exactly what it meant to the children to have us come, and how much they looked forward to it. It was the children who got me hooked on this -- it has always been the children."

And lest it be misunderstood who keeps the lists, Richmond set it straight.

"They say Santa keeps all the lists," he quipped, waving a sheaf of papers. "It is not true. I keep the lists!"

Story & photos by Patricia A. Scheyer

Slideshow Images & Captions: 
Jim Richmond lifts the tubs of food onto the truck.