Dressing as elves, snowmen and reindeer is not in the official job description for firefighters with the Columbia Fire Department. On Christmas Eve, however, they do just that to bring holiday cheer to children who can’t be home for the holiday.
“We want to do whatever we can to bring cheer to these kids,” said Capt. Chris Branham, who has organized the firefighters’ visit to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital for each of the last six years. “Any little thing we can do to bring a little smile.”
They brought plenty of big smiles Dec. 24. Ladder trucks lifted Santa and his elves high above the parking lot, giving more than 50 children, even those too ill to have visitors, a chance to see St. Nick appear through their windows, waving and blowing kisses.
Santa and the crew then headed inside, delivering presents from room to room in a Columbia tradition Branham started after his own daughter, Rachel, spent time fighting for her life at the children’s hospital 7 years ago.
“7 years ago, we were here,” Branham said. “I know exactly what it’s like to have a kid in the hospital.”
Rachel, now 17 and completely healthy, joined her dad, and many of the firefighters who joined Branham and Chief Aubrey Jenkins for the hospital visit brought their families too. “Being firemen, that’s what we do,” Branham said. “It’s a big family thing. It puts a big smile on our faces.”
Damon Redding was among the kids Santa and the firefighting elves visited. Damon greeted everyone with high fives and hugs, clapping his hands and smiling. His mom, watching him, was much happier about another gift.
“We’re going home today after 9 weeks,” Wendy Redding said. “That’s all that matters to me, but he loves all of this.” Branham understood her feelings from his own experience.
“You see your princess in the hospital and they tell you they expect the worst and she’s not going to make it, and then a miracle happens and she’s there beside you, healthy as can be,” he said. “This hospital and its staff is our miracle. Whatever they need. That’s what we’re here for.”