This holiday season the flashing lights and sirens of the Bexar County 2 Fire Department vehicles are a welcome sight on the Far West Side as the department brings Santa perched on a fire truck down the neighborhood streets while tossing candy to the kids who run out to get a look.
The Santa Run is an annual tradition for the Bexar County 2 Fire Department, which visits multiple neighborhoods each night in December.
“This is a tradition that was brought along from the people who actually built this fire department,” Community Engagement Division Chief Rudy Khalaf said. “They wanted to spread the Christmas cheer, and a lot of times them going out and being involved with the public ensured that they were going to be around to actually provide this service. Back then it was solely volunteer, and so these were people doing things out of the goodness of their heart to spread their Christmas joy.”
In the Red Bird Ranch neighborhood last week, the fire trucks paused for a few minutes in one cul-de-sac, and Santa climbed down from his perch to greet kids, hand out candy and pose for photos.
Addison Fagan, 10, and her mom Cindy were in the crowd of neighbors chatting and shivering in the chilly night air as they gathered around the fire truck.
“This is the best day ever,” Addison said, “Unless you’re talking about Christmas, then that’s the best day ever. Christmas makes my spirit shine.”
Cindy said she knew the Santa Run was coming to her neighborhood — the stops are posted on the Bexar County 2 Fire Department Facebook page — but waited to tell the kids until just before Santa arrived as a surprise. That surprise was elevated when the convoy stopped in front of the Fagan’s home. The house erupted in excitement when they heard the sirens, Cindy said.
“The kids were all throwing on other people’s shoes trying to get outside as fast as they could,” Cindy said, laughing. “It was very chaotic. Home Alone, where they’re running down the hallway, that was us.”
The Fagans moved to San Antonio from Alaska a few months ago and had no idea this was a Bexar County tradition, but they appreciated seeing the fire department serving the community in such a positive way.
“I think it’s great because not everybody has the opportunity to take their kids to the mall to see Santa Claus,” she said. “My kids are full believers, and sometimes it’s hard to get around to doing it, especially with four kids.”
Khalaf said the Santa Runs are a lot of work, especially with the accelerated growth on the Far West Side. Getting to all the neighborhoods is becoming increasingly complicated, and Khalaf said he has to begin planning out the route sometimes months in advance to make sure they hit as many neighborhoods and streets as possible.
“We must have about 60 neighborhoods,” Khalaf said. “We added 13 neighborhoods just since last year.”
He also has to arrange which firefighters will help each night, choose someone to be Santa — usually a rookie — and shop for the candy, which, he said, costs several thousand dollars.
Sometimes parents complain online and in-person when Santa misses their street, but the positive responses outweigh the negative, Khalaf said, and the ultimate payoff is the joy they are able to create.
“The frustration of building this whole process and making sure that it’s going to work is all forgotten when you see these kids,” Khalaf said. “And it’s not just kids, grown-ups, too. Everybody’s out there.”