June 25, 2013
By Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel
The sights for these backyard birthday parties: the flashing lights as the fire truck pulls up to the curb. The sounds: the wail of the sirens — and a bunch of excited kids.
In some places in Palm Beach and Broward counties you can request a fire truck and crew as free entertainment at a home and, in some places, a city park birthday party.
Some fire departments make birthday appearances between emergencies that get priority, and say it’s an important way to draw positive public exposure. But other departments say such appearances can drain resources, and it would not be fair if a birthday child gets turned away.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue sends trucks to birthday parties upon request.
“Usually when you see a fire truck, it’s for an emergency, your house is on fire or somebody is having a medical problem,” said Capt. Albert Borroto, whose agency contracts with several cities, including Wellington and Jupiter. “To experience it in a happy moment, when their house isn’t burning down, it’s nice to be able to interact with the public.”
Fire agencies that attend parties include Lighthouse Point and Pompano Beach. But if they get an emergency call, they’ll leave.
Southwest Ranches used on-duty firefighters with an active fire engine, but officials recently decided to keep the truck for emergencies only. Starting in July, off-duty volunteer firefighters will make party calls in a refurbished 1975 fire truck, said Chief Lee Bennett.
Charles Bell said his son Chance’s third birthday party at a park in Lighthouse Point this month was definitely memorable. The ladder truck arrived with two firefighters, who allowed the 15 children to sit in the driver’s seat, try on helmets, and pose for pictures.
“They drove up and beeped the horn,” Bell said. “The kids loved it.”
There are benefits to a fire truck showing up at a private birthday party, acknowledges Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, such as public outreach, even as taxpayers shell out for the transportation.
“But what do you do when you have 200 kids [who want to] have their birthday sponsored by the city fire department?” he said. “You have to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”
Plantation gave up the service years ago — citing the cost of fuel and the almost daily requests which became “unmanageable.” Delray Beach also said its agency can’t spare the fire trucks and people for private parties.
Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue, which contracts with seven cities, is just too big and the volume of requests would likely be daunting, said spokesman Mike Jachles.
“It would not be practical to go to every kid’s birthday who wanted a fire truck there,” he said. “How could we possibly please everybody?”