SURGOINSVILLE — Multiple fire, rescue and police agencies descended on the Armstead subdivision near Surgoinsville Saturday afternoon with lights flashing, sirens blaring, and firefighters in full turnout gear.
Their mission: to deliver the birthday surprise of a lifetime to 2-year-old best friends Braidynn Ebberts and Amelia Powell.
The COVID-19 crisis and social distancing mandates have put a kibosh on big gatherings, including children’s birthday parties.
As a result, fire and rescue agencies across the region have been performing drive-by birthday celebrations, including the Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department, which delivered a lot of noise, flashing lights and big equipment to Braidynn and Amelia’s doorstep.
However, the SVVFD wasn’t alone. Also in the parade were the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, Hawkins County EMS, and Hawkins County Rescue Squad.
“The fact that they are doing something like this for kids is amazing,” said Braidynn’s mom, Kayla Lee. “Due to the COVID, these kids wouldn’t have had a celebration, and they made that possible. The kids absolutely loved it and they were so happy with the gifts they gave them. Truly was an experience for them.”
Capt. Chris Vaughan is the contact to arrange an SVVFD drive-by party.
“After we’re contacted, they’ll tell us how old the child is, their favorite candy, what kind of toys they like,” Vaughan said. “Our members will come together and put together a little package with candy, a balloon, toys, or whatever the parent suggested we bring. We have a member who gets in full gear, and when we pull up at the house, we’ll stop, shut the road down for a second, and they’ll get out and deliver the candy and presents.”
Vaughan added, “The birthday child receives their candy and presents from a fireman wearing full gear and a mask. After they get their presents, we tell everybody goodbye and we go to the next one.”
On Saturday, Braidynn and Amelia each got a bunch of candy gummies and a balloon. Braidynn also got some toy fire trucks and a Mystery Mine helmet from Dollywood, and Amelia received a Barbie and some other small toys.
“Our members are buying all the stuff we give out,” Vaughan said. “If someone wanted to make a donation to help out with this we would take it, but for right now we’re doing it out of our own pocket. We’ll keep doing it as long as people can’t go out and meet and have their parties and are stuck inside.”
Anyone living in the SVVFD area who wants to arrange a drive-by party can email vaughan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Carters Valley VFD is providing the same service for residents in its service area. To contact the CVVFD, email Cartersvalleyvfd@gmail.com or call Paul Cappello at (423) 765-6252.
“It’s good to know there still good people out there who like to give back to the community,” Lee said. “These men put their lives at risk every day and still made time to do this for my kids, and that just speaks a lot about the department and the men on that crew.”