BELTSVILLE – Beltsville and Calverton neighborhoods are getting early visits from Santa as part of the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department’s annual “Santa Tour,” scheduled to continue over several more nights before Christmas.
Sporting a Santa suit and a fake beard, Mike Connor, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, climbed atop a fire engine Wednesday to wave to eager children and adults as five of the station’s emergency vehicles travelled through neighborhoods and apartment complexes with lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Some kids greeted Connor and the station’s procession from behind glowing windows, while others braved the cold, hurrying outside as they pulled on jackets and blankets to watch Santa pass.
During a stop at Maryland Farms Condominiums, about 20 kids got the chance to join St. Nick inside one of the buildings, eagerly requesting a hug or hanging back with a shy smile as parents took photos.
The Fogg family, of Beltsville, looks forward to the event each year. Eliza-Jane, 11, Summer, 9, and Sarah, 8, usually wait eagerly to hear the sound of the sirens from their house.
This year, however, they came across the tour Friday night as they were driving home, jumping out of the car to receive candy canes handed out by the volunteers.
“(Santa) was pretty cool,” Eliza-Jane said.
For Randall Perez, 9, the main attraction of Friday’s tour in his Beltsville neighborhood was Santa’s means of transportation.
“I like seeing the lights on the trucks and hearing the sirens,” Randall said.
The station’s Christmas tradition was started about 25 years ago when two members, one of whom is now the station’s chief, “got bored one day and decided they were going to have one of them dress up as Santa Claus,” said Deputy Chief Matt Tomlins. “Now we’re a little bit more organized.”
The station tries to send out all its vehicles with Santa as it covers different routes over several nights. It is always a possibility, however, that the station will have to answer a call for a fire or other emergency and dispatch a vehicle in the middle of the tour.
One year, Tomlins said, a station member had to respond to a call still decked out in Santa garb.
EMS Lieutenant Bill McNeel said it’s a nice change “when we meet the public and it’s a happy thing,” rather than the station’s usual serious interaction with people in the community.
Beltsville’s Santa is not the only one in the area. Several stations, both in Prince George’s and other counties, have similar traditions.
The Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department in Montgomery County has been doing its own “Santa runs” for about 20 years, said Captain Jason Vogt. Chief David Ayres of the Arundel Volunteer Fire Department said his station sends out two Santas each December in order to be able to cover its entire jurisdiction.
“The public loves it,” Ayres said.
Connor, who has served as the Beltsville station’s main Santa for the last four years, did not need to be asked to fill a position where he gets to make kids happy.
Asked if he volunteered for the role, he said, “Of course I did!”
The Santa Tour will continue on Dec. 14, 16, 18, 19 and 20.
To get more information on the station’s scheduled routes for these nights, visit their website at www.beltsvillevfd.com.