Engine 33 and Santa pay visit to youth at Bridesburg Recreation Center to hand out fire safety literature and gifts
By Melissa Komar
Children enrolled in the after school program at Bridesburg Recreation Center received an invaluable gift from Engine 33 firefighters Thursday afternoon.
Firefighters and Santa Claus gave each child a gift bag filled with a bike helmet, fire safety literature, fire safety coloring books and a $20 Toys R Us gift card.
Last year, Chalie Sgrillo, a firefighter at Engine 33, worked with staff at the rec to spread some Christmas spirit to a family in need.
With support from captain Jimmy Stinson, Sgrillo reached out again this year, and one specific family could not be identified, so the firefighters decided to broaden their impact and give to the entire after-school program, which includes 75 children.
Sgrillo is the “house money guy” at Engine 33; he collects $5 from each firefighter, each pay to put aside for fire house necessities and various donation causes throughout the year.
Anything leftover usually goes toward a neighborhood family in need during the holidays.
Sgrillo had previously organized sponsoring families when he was stationed at firehouses in North Philly and brought the tradition to Bridesburg when he arrived as part of a citywide mass transfer a few years ago.
“The key is for Engine 33 to be part of the community, which every firehouse should be,” he said. “The second part is fire prevention — to bring awareness so the kids can go home and check their smoke detectors … have an escape plan.”
The visit kicked off with Engine 33 pulling up to the rec center with Santa riding shotgun.
Children erupted into an impromptu rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as the big man in red made his way toward the entrance, flanked by the firefighters.
After exchanging some high fives with the kids, who range in age from kindergarten to sixth grade, Santa and his special helpers led the caravan into a basement classroom, where each child was called by name to receive his or her special gift.
This was the first time Santa and Engine 33 coordinated a special visit with the after-school program to hand out gifts, but neither are strangers to the rec.
“Santa and the firefighters have been part of various functions at the rec including the tree lighting ceremony and a safety presentation with our preschool program,” said Mike Groves, assistant recreation leader. “We had the firefighters out to talk to our kids to make them more comfortable around them and teach them safety.”
While the children knew Santa and the firefighters were stopping by, they didn’t know the reason behind the visit, “so it was a great surprise,” Groves said.
Siblings Maria, 11, and Luke Janjanin, 8, were happy to find themselves on the nice list.
“It was very nice that they came here and gave us presents,” Maria said.
Luke “thought it was cool” Santa rode in the fire truck, but thought “it would be more cool if Santa got to drive it.”
The firefighters were just as excited for the visit.
“It’s a wonderful feeling coming here and the kids are singing for you, although I think it was more for Santa,” James Hogan joked after passing out the gift bags.
Hogan was joined by fellow firefighters DereK Moffett, Patrick Moran, J.R. Smith, Joseph Lepchuk, and Brian Fitzgerald.
“The guys do a great job at Engine 33 and we appreciate everything they do,” Groves said.