(TNS) - After the last fire truck in the annual Del Thomas Fire Truck Parade in Bloomington entered the parking lot at State Farm’s Corporate headquarters Sunday afternoon, the man for whom the parade was named, grinned from ear to ear.
“We’ve been doing this for so long,” he said of the two-hour event that kick starts Fire Prevention Week, “that I can’t remember how many we have done now. But I’m always very proud and know that we get a great turnout every time.”
Sunday’s parade, which featured about 35 fire trucks, representing each fire department in McLean County, was the 25th annual event. The parade started in 1982 when Thomas, then the fire chief at Hudson, persuaded other departments to organize the parade, which begins at Franklin Park and ends in the State Farm parking lot. Once there, families are encouraged to tour the trucks and visit with firefighters and first responders. Some departments distribute fire prevention materials and small plastic fire helmets to the children.
“That first year, people told us we would never be able to pull it off,” Thomas said, “but we did and I thought it was important to get the kids involved and you can see that they are really enjoying themselves.”
Three-year-old Steven McEldowney visited with Sparky the fire prevention dog, who sat on top of the lead fire truck in the parade.
“Yeah, he’s cool,” Steven said.
His parents, John and Kathy, said the parade serves several different purposes for parents.
“He gets to see the fire trucks and visit with the firefighters, too,” John said. “It’s a good thing for everyone.”
Sullivan Plath, 5, of Normal, was able to try on a full-sized firefighter uniform, including boots.
“It’s so heavy,” he said, “I can’t even move.”
Brian Marshall, 7, of Bloomington, was able to sit in the cab of a Towanda Fire Department truck, and pretended to steer, while also making the noises of an engine, and at times, a siren.
“I’m going to the fire so people need to get out of the way,” he said. “We can see the smoke from here.”
Brian said that someday, he hopes to drive a fire truck and be either a police officer or a firefighter.
“We come to this every year because he has so much fun and as he gets a little older, I think he understands more about what it takes to be a firefighter,” said his mother, Emily.
Jill Hoffman, brought her son, Dylan, 5, and daughter, Courtney, 4, to the parade.
“We have never been and actually forgot that it was today until we heard the sirens,” Hoffman said. “It’s a really fun thing for the kids and it’s a great learning tool.”
For the 25th straight year, there was also no rain at the parade.
“It just doesn’t rain on this event,” Thomas said. “I was watching the weather all week and wasn’t a bit surprised that it rained and then cleared up for Sunday. I don’t know how we have managed to have such great luck with this, but we have and today, with it being really comfortable, it’s just perfect.”
Fire Prevention Week runs through Saturday and this year, the theme is “Every Second Counts: Plan Two Ways Out,” said Illinois Fire Marshal Matt Perez in a statement released Friday.
Firefighters from all over the state, including Central Illinois, will be visiting schools to teach students the importance of fire safety.
Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow
©2017 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)
Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at www.pantagraph.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.