Some suburbs embrace kids' birthday parades, others stay away during COVID-19

  • First responder parades to celebrate kids' birthdays have become all the rage in some suburbs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of Elgin also holds neighborhood parades, pictured here, twice a week during the stay-at-home order.

      First responder parades to celebrate kids' birthdays have become all the rage in some suburbs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of Elgin also holds neighborhood parades, pictured here, twice a week during the stay-at-home order. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • A birthday party for a 13-year-old in Round Lake last month consisted of a parade of cars including police and the mayor.

      A birthday party for a 13-year-old in Round Lake last month consisted of a parade of cars including police and the mayor. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/9/2020 5:51 PM

Police and fire vehicle parades to celebrate kids' birthdays have become all the rage in some suburbs, but other towns have stopped doing them because of an onslaught of requests, while others have eschewed them altogether.

The parades are staffed by on-duty personnel with emergency calls always taking precedence, first responders said. Proponents say they put smiles on residents' faces during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others say strict adherence to the state's stay-at-home order means avoiding events that cause families to come out to watch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The South Elgin & Countryside Fire Protection District had nine birthday parades scheduled Tuesday and more than 80 this month, Fire Chief Steve Wascher said. The feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive" apart from a few negative comments about wasted resources, Wascher said.

"We are out on the road and we are bringing joy to a lot of kids who can't have a birthday party this year ..." he said. "It's been a blast."

Elgin police officers also are doing lots of kids' birthday parades, which sometimes are as simple as two patrol cars with lights and sirens going, Cmdr. Jim Bisceglie said.

"We love it, and we are trying our best to fulfill every request that we can," he said. "These are trying times, everybody, and we are trying to stay engaged with our community safely."

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The city of Elgin has gone a step further by holding "Light Up the Day" parades twice a week since March 31, each in a different neighborhood and with participation from police, fire and public works vehicles. Those will continue for as long as the stay-at-home order is in place, Bisceglie said.

On the other end of the spectrum are suburbs like Libertyville, whose officials decided not to do any kids' birthday parades to follow to the letter the recommendation that all nonessential services be postponed, Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Pakosta said.

The fire department also wants ensure its three fire stations are fully staffed at all times in case of emergencies, Pakosta said.

"We would love to participate," he said. "It's just one of those things where we have to do what's best for our community and our residents."

The Carpentersville Fire Department did two kids' birthday parades at the end of March and then stopped after being inundated with requests, Fire Chief John-Paul Schilling said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We took a stance of, it's either all or none -- and we can't do it all."

However, Carpentersville works with partners such as Community Unit District 300 to organize larger events, such as a recent police drive-by for students of one specific elementary school, he said.

Ashley Eccles, communications coordinator for Lake in the Hills police, said the department has refrained from using the word "parade."

"We are trying to be sensitive to this pandemic. You never know what your neighbor next door is going through," she said. "We just say we're driving past their home."

There are 13 such events scheduled through the end of April, she said. When they are for kids with special needs, the vehicles can drive by without activating sirens, she added.

West Dundee Fire Chief Randy Friese said he didn't know of any requests for kids' birthday parades, but village officials have been discussing organizing some sort of socially distanced event during the pandemic.

"We are trying to decide if it's appropriate to do a parade or something on Facebook," he said.

Bloomingdale police have driven by 10 to 15 kids' homes for birthdays in the last week and are fulfilling as many requests as reasonably possible, said Police Director of Public Safety Frank Giammarese.

"Some departments frown upon it because of the order to stay inside," he said. "We get that, but we wanted to do something for people, and I think it's a great representation of our community and how we feel about our residents."

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