Calgary kids’ birthday parties are almost non-existent during the coronavirus pandemic, but Calgary firefighters were able to brighten the day on Monday for one city four-year-old.
Now, the overwhelming response to the recent engine visit to the southeast community of Copperfield has turned into a new program that city firefighters hope will continue to drive community spirit during COVID-19 – Operation Birthday.
Luke Seegmiller, 4, had to cancel his birthday like so many others across the city. His mom Elizabeth still wanted the day to be special for her little guy.
She’d heard of the engine ride-bys before, so she reached out to the Calgary Fire Department to see if they could do one for Luke.
The program – Drive-by birthdays – is open to Calgary kids four to 12 years old, and for those ‘kids’ over 75 years of age. Visit calgary.ca/birthdaysurprise to register
Elizabeth didn’t initially get a response back, but a friend of a friend had some fire department contacts eventually it got back to the firefighters at Station 30.
“They had called and said, ‘yeah we’d love to come by sometime after lunch and say happy birthday,’” she said.
They did warn Elizabeth that unlike other Calgary Fire Department visits, Luke wouldn’t be able to be up on the truck for current coronavirus public health reasons.
In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, she understood.
Double fire truck birthday salute to Luke
The crew from Station 30 more than made up for the lack of a personal tour.
On Monday, they drove up with two trucks, including one of ladder trucks. They extended the ladder out to the family’s front porch and there was a box taped to it. Inside was a stuffed animal and colouring books – and a sign that said, “Happy Birthday Luke.”
“They just went way above and beyond what I expected,” Elizabeth said.
“I thought it would be like a quick drive by and wave out the window and say hello.”
Elizabeth was overwhelmed with the amount of planning and people it would have taken to do this. Between eight to 10 firefighters attended. They even dropped the stabilizers to the street to unfurl the ladder.
“I was doing everything I could to not start bawling because I just thought it was so, so special and it was just so awesome for them to go through that much work to plan it,” she said.
And Luke’s response?
“He was thrilled,” said Elizabeth.
She said they filmed the whole thing and Luke watched the video repeatedly.
Filling the neighbourhood with community spirit
While Luke was the guest of honour, other neighbourhood kids got to share in the excitement. Elizabeth said they scattered colouring books behind the truck as it departed. Kids scurried to the corner to grab a book and then head back to their porches.
It’s important at this difficult time for many to have something to take their mind off things, she said.
“I think it’s a nice distraction, and especially for the kids that have had to cancel their birthday parties and not go to school,” Elizabeth said.
“I feel like in a kid’s perspective, their school is closed or daycare’s closed, they can’t see their friends, parks are closed – that’s like their whole world.
“So for something like that, just to be special for them, I think is pretty important.”
Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said they wanted to make this available to all Calgary kids.
“As I say it started from very organic roots. And we really want to keep it as organic feeling as possible as we move forward with this,” Chief Dongworth said.
“But we want to give every Calgary the opportunity to have the same service.”
Dongworth did say that it’s always good for parents to keep it a surprise, because they may not always be able to get there if they get a priority call.