Fire department escorts Santa Claus


December 14, 1998|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN SANTA reports for duty in Elkridge, he expects grueling hours.

Two weeks before Christmas, he and his wife visit every Elkridge neighborhood and give every child they see a candy cane and holiday greetings.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus rely on transportation provided by the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department.

For several years, volunteers have pulled out their latest rescue squad car -- sirens blaring, lights flashing, air horn blasting -- and driven Santa through the neighborhood.

Robert Lisle, deputy chief of the Fire Department, coordinates the "Santa Detail."

He planned the route and ordered about 3,000 candy canes.

When Lisle drives the squad car, he sounds the rhythm of "Jingle Bells" on the car's air horn.

He planned stops in Aladdin Village, Capital Mobile Homes, the Elkridge Trailer Park and Dorsey Friday.

On Saturday, the Clauses started at the Super Fresh at Elkridge Corners at 9 a.m.

They traveled through the community hanging onto the truck, waving and shouting, "Ho, ho, ho!"

In the evening, they attended a Christmas party at the Harwood Park Methodist Church.

Yesterday, the Clauses had a pancake breakfast at the fire hall and visited other neighborhoods until evening.

For several years, Gene Poligardo -- a board member at the Fire Department -- has played Santa.

Debbie Peddicord has accompanied him as Mrs. Claus.

Robert Fadrowski and John Zimmer have served as alternate Santas.

Last year, Poligardo's wife, Bonnie, says she woke up and heard a strange noise.

Her husband was saying, "Ho, ho, ho" and waving his arm in his sleep.

The department usually assigns two vehicles to Santa -- a squad car and a utility car. Santa climbs into the utility vehicle if the squad car is called to an emergency.

Occasionally, Santa has responded to an emergency himself.

Several years ago, Fadrowski, dressed as Santa, was riding on ** the back of the rescue squad car when an accident was reported on Interstate 95.

After arriving at the scene, Fadrowski stepped off the back of the vehicle, grabbed the cutting tool -- or "jaws of life," the first in the county -- and freed a woman trapped in a car.

Fadrowski says the woman was surprised to see Santa rescuing her. Fadrowski told her: "Santa performs all kinds of miracles."

Another time, Fadrowski says, he was riding on the back of the engine in his Santa regalia when a call came in reporting a fire.

The two other crew members dropped him off at the fire hydrant and asked him to lay out the hose.

Neighborhood children gathered to watch in awe as Santa worked. "You've got to be really careful not to get the beard stuck in the hose," Fadrowski says.

The Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department has always attracted loyal and committed volunteers.

Lisle began volunteering at age 15, when his neighbor, Fire Department volunteer Ricky Godfrey, got him involved.

Fadrowski, 35, started going to the firehouse at age 7 to hang out with his big brother, Marty, who volunteered there.

Eighteen years ago, as soon as Fadrowski was of age, he became a volunteer firefighter.

Now 75 volunteers are on the rolls, 30 of them active, and 15 employees staff Chief Joe Slavotinek's Fire Department.

The department dates from 1942, when a handful of men organized to protect their homes and property.

The group wanted to be prepared if Elkridge became the target for enemy bombers during World War II.

They built the town's first fire engine from parts scavenged from secondhand dealers and junkyards.

They assembled a 1934 Brockway truck with a 300-gallon water tank, a bell and a red warning light and siren.

Then they covered the engine with a coat of white paint and named it "Daisy."

On July 13, 1943, Daisy was recognized as the first piece of equipment built by hand under the auspices of the Civil Defense.

Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin took a ride in Daisy, and actors portrayed Elkridge residents in a program, "Not for Glory," which aired nationwide on NBC radio.

Honoring our own

In a book also titled "Not for Glory," written by Melissa Lauber and published to honor the department's 50th anniversary, Bill Merson Jr., honorary life member of the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department, described his "most memorable call."

It was his first fire -- a house fire on Old Washington Road a couple of days after Christmas.

It was the only call he ever went on with his father, Bill Merson Sr., who died the next month.

Bill Merson Sr. and his five brothers, Sam, Jack, Don, Tom and Oliver, served as volunteer firefighters.

Don Merson was the first paid staff member of the Fire Department.

At Bill Merson Sr.'s funeral, the firehouse was draped in black and the engine was part of his procession.

People lined Old Washington Boulevard, and the siren sounded as his coffin passed by.

In Lauber's book, Bill Merson Sr.'s wife, Doris, is quoted as saying, "There's just no words for the way that made me feel."

Jack and Sam Merson still live in Elkridge.

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