To cope with the recent budget cuts, the local fire department had to give up its 30-year old holiday tradition.
Instead of sending out fire engines to the local neighborhoods, the stations had Santa Claus greet the kids at three of their locations in Gig Harbor this year. The 3-day event started on Dec. 12 at the Gig Harbor Station on Kimball Drive. The festivities continued at the Artondale and Purdy stations on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, respectively.
For the past 30 years, the sent fire engines to the community to collect food and toys for the . Firefighter, Brad Harris, was in charge of coordinating the event this year.
"I wasn't too excited about moving it indoors. But once we saw people coming in and meeting the firefighters, I think it was for the best," Harris said.
"We had three engines driving around for five nights," the department's Division Chief-Prevention, Penny Hulse, said. "But with the economy, we had to look at different alternatives so the citizens didn't had to pay for the costs."
Harris said the fire engines have a mileage of about four to five miles per gallon.
Rather than accepting the defeat of the economy, the department came up with Plan B, and the annual Santa Run turned into the Santa Open House Project.
"It gave an opportunity for people to come in and talk to the firefighters and meet Santa," Hulse said.
While the community welcomed the new tradition, Hulse said she and the firefighters had a tough time walking away from something they've cherished for so many years.
"It was an ingrained event so it was sad that we had to give that up," Hulse said.
While the department stopped sending its crew out for the main event, it still managed to keep some of its tradition alive. Throughout the week, the firefighters sent Santa to visit several communities to pick up food and toys
"This event is about donating to FISH and since some communities had organized big food and toy drives, we couldn't not send Santa to them," Harris said.
Despite the changes, the fire department raised more than $500 and enough food and toys to fill a pickup truck.
"[The fire department] would like to thank everyone for their generous donations to help out those in need this holiday season," Hulse said.
Harris said he is already thinking about ways to top this year's success.
"I'm taking suggestions to improve for next year," Harris said. "I want to make it bigger, better and more accessible to the people."
Lt. Joel Schwarz volunteered to drive Harris, who sat in for Santa Tuesday night, to make a special visit to Raft Island and a nursery home. Watch the video from their trip.