Confusion almost derails 'Santa Runs' in Montgomery County

- Each year, Santa takes a few days away from his reindeer to ride atop fire trucks and greet old and young alike in the neighborhood. This tradition is as old as Christmas cookies and egg nog.

“All of the sudden, my aunt was like, ‘It's Santa!’ So we all ran out and all the neighbors. It was a pretty exciting night,” said Oliver Williams, who lives in Bethesda.

“I remember when we were little and Santa used to do that and we thought it was so neat,” said Francine Frechette.

It’s a holiday tradition that was nearly halted.

“I'm glad they're bringing it back,” said Frechette.

The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department’s chief reportedly emailed a memo saying everyone on board the fire truck must be inside the truck and properly restrained, preferably with a seat belt, including Santa.

“Some people misinterpreted it that we weren't allowed to put Santa out anymore and it caused a lot of concern,” said Eric Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Rescue Association. “We received hundreds of emails and phone calls and tweets about Santa not coming this year.”

The Rockville Volunteer Fire Department temporarily suspended its “Santa Runs,” and on Wednesday posted on Facebook, “Santa is not permitted to ride on top of any fire engine.”

By Thursday night, a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department spokesperson said the chief’s message was misinterpreted. Santa Runs will continue as scheduled and Santa can ride atop the fire truck with a harness or sit in a secure chair with seatbelt.

“Santa will come on a fire engine, but Santa needs to be safe too,” said Bernard.

Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein did release a statement through a spokesperson saying he is sorry for any confusion.

The statement goes on to say, “At no time has he or anyone in his staff instructed any member of the fire and rescue service to refrain from engaging in [Santa Runs].”

Goldstein’s goal was to minimize risk and “any other characterization of these expectations is regrettable, misleading and a misrepresentation of the fact.”

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service issued this statement:

“The Fire Chief is sorry for any confusion that has arisen from claims that the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service (MCFRS) is no longer engaging, voluntarily or by mandate, in the annual 'SANTA Run' holiday tradition.  In fact, at no time has he, or anyone on his staff, instructed any member of the fire and rescue service to refrain from engaging in these activities. (There are 19 independent Local Fire/Rescue (Volunteer) Departments (LFRD) within the MCFRS). Rather, he directed all MCFRS personnel to engage best practices which minimize risk while engaging in these “Runs.”  Any other characterization of these expectations is regrettable, misleading, and a misrepresentation of fact.

“As the Montgomery County Fire Chief, Chief Scott Goldstein’s obligation is to ensure the highest levels of quality and efficient fire and rescue services to our communities.  It is also his responsibility to minimize, to the reasonable extent possible, the calculated risks our personnel daily accept in carrying out their daily duties. This includes riding, in a non-enclosed position and in an improvised  fashion, on the top of moving fire and rescue apparatus.

“Early this afternoon, in an effort to clarify accepted business practice, the Fire Chief issued our personnel an affirmation of our continued support of our annual “Santa Runs.”  He also directed our personnel to undertake specific, actionable tasks which minimize the dangers associated with an otherwise low frequency, but high risk activity. In short, the MCFRS will continue unabated and where supported by our LFRDs, a past practice of “Santa Runs.”

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