By Adam Gruen
The Santamobile returns to the greater Falls Church area next week, starting on December 15! Over nine nights, Santa will ride through neighborhoods in the City of Falls Church, plus a few in neighboring Arlington and Fairfax Counties. The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department will once again escort Santa on reserve Engine 106, decked out in holiday lights and tinsel, just for the festive occasion. But the Santamobile isn’t just a friendly neighborhood event – it has a long history and serves as a training exercise and safety campaign for the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department. The event is supported in part by a generous donation from Don Beyer Volvo and Beyer Kia.
The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department has been hosting Santa on his jovial ride since the 1960s. Historical records show that Santa was escorted to a Christmas party at the newly-built Falls Church Community Center in December 1968. Santa and his elves rode “Old Tom,” a Model T Ford fire engine purchased by the department in 1918. You can see the restored Old Tom, now a certified antique, at the annual Memorial Day Parade and the fire department’s October Open House.
Santa’s ride, as we know it today, started in 1981 when the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department first scheduled routes through the neighborhoods—with the approval of the North Pole, of course. Since then, the Falls Church department has seen countless numbers of delighted of children running to the curb in their pajamas with parents in tow, excited to see Kris Kringle and the shining, glowing fire engine.
The Santamobile isn’t just a merry and bright holiday tradition – it’s also a useful training exercise for volunteer firefighters. Just like Santa, the fire department knows every house and every street. The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department is able to respond to emergencies with speed and efficiency. About 30 Falls Church department members perform more than 200 hours of volunteer service for the Santamobile. Through the program the new members become more familiar with the streets. While studying maps and using GPS are great, there is no substitute for getting out on foot and studying the houses and terrain and how the streets interconnect.
Ensuring that safety is a priority – elves aboard the Santamobile also pass out fire safety tips in addition to candy. ‘Tis the season to be careful! The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department hands out thousands of fire safety flyers, along with more than 8,000 candy canes and countless dog biscuits. The fire department wants every household to take safety precautions when enjoying a Christmas tree and using decorative lights and candles.
When choosing a Christmas tree, make sure it is fresh and not dried out; if needles fall when a branch is touched, the tree is too dry and might be a fire hazard. Be sure to water the tree every day and when the holiday is done, take the undecorated tree to the curb for proper disposal. The City of Falls Church accepts Christmas trees free of charge through February, although it’s best to get the tree out of the house as soon as you can.
One of my favorite holiday sights is houses decorated with outdoor light strings. Be sure to note how many strings can be connected at once, which is usually limited to three – the box should give you the information. Don’t use strands with broken lights or frayed wires. Only use strands that have a mark denoting they have been independently tested, like UL.
While candles provide a festive ambiance, this is the peak time of year for home candle fires. Consider using “flameless candles,” battery-operated devices that can look like the real thing. These are especially good for mantles decorated with boughs of holly and centerpieces for tables of food. If you must use candles, don’t place them where people sleep, even after they are extinguished. Always turn off decorative lights before going to bed or leaving the house, whether they are battery operated candles, tree lights, or outdoor lights.
The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department hopes this is a happy and safe holiday for everyone. The Santamobile is a terrific program, and we are proud to bring it to the community every year. We believe it creates magical memories for children of all ages.
To find out when the Santamobile will be in your neck of the woods, visit www.fallschurchvfd.org. Please make sure children do not step into the road to greet the elves; they will meet onlookers at the curb with candy canes and more. Keep the magic alive, and be sure to tag your Santamobile photos on social media with #FallsChurchSantamobile.
Adam Gruen is a member of the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department and a 19-year resident of the City of Falls Church.