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Firefighters bring smiles to all in birthday salute drive-bys

“This has been such a joy,” Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said. “They all come out and join in the fun ... Seeing all the smiling faces is just terrific. It not only puts a smile on their faces, it puts a smile on our faces too.”

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Gunner Bible (left), who turned 5, his brother Gage Bible, father Chris Bible and mother Nicole Boggs stand at the end of Cole Avenue and watch as fire trucks and other large vehicles drive down Cinosam Road Thursday, April 9, for Gunner's birthday. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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NISSWA — Emergency lights on, check.

Sirens on, check.

A hand ready to wave, check.

Once these things are checked, firefighters with the Nisswa Fire Department are in their fire truck, ready to go and put a smile on a child's face. The fire department has been busy with a new project it began in light of the COVID-19 response of businesses closing and social distancing. The department has been taking requests from families in its area — Nisswa, Lake Shore, Lake Edward and Merrifield — to do birthday salute drive-bys in these uncertain, challenging times.

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The fire department did three birthday salutes Thursday, April 9, and have 10 more booked in through May 17. Firefighters are focusing on children ages 16 and younger and adults 90 or older.

“This has been such a joy,” Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said Thursday as he was driving to the next birthday salute on Cinosam Road to celebrate Gunner Bible’s fifth birthday. “They all come out and join in the fun. We love it and we haven’t had any issues with (firefighters) volunteering for this.

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Interested in a salute from Nisswa FD?

Families in the Nisswa Fire Department area can go to https://tinyurl.com/sdff3qq to fill out a request form for a salute or email josh@nisswafire.com with any questions.

The fire department cannot provide any rides or walk-throughs of their trucks with children because of the social distancing.

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“Seeing all the smiling faces is just terrific. It not only puts a smile on their faces, it puts a smile on our faces too.”

On this birthday salute, Bailey led the pack of several big and smaller Nisswa fire trucks, as well as a Nisswa city plow, a tow truck and a Crow Wing County sheriff’s deputy squad. The Nisswa Police Department, Minnesota State Patrol and North Memorial Health Ambulance have also participated in some of the birthday salutes.

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Family and friends wish Gunner Bible a happy birthday while social distancing Thursday, April 8, on Cinosam Road. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Bailey said this is one thing the Nisswa Fire Department can do for the community in these unprecedented times. Bailey said they have forms on their Facebook page where families can request a drive-by salute and then once it is on the schedule firefighters can sign up for the ones that work with their schedule. There are 27 firefighters in the fire department.

Holding a big gold “5” balloon, Gunner stood at the end of his residential road at Cinosam Road, with his parents Nicole Boggs and Chris Bible and little brother Gage Bible, waiting for the fire trucks to go by. They all had smiles on their faces and waved as the trucks drove by.

Nicole Boggs said she thought it would be fun to have the fire trucks go by on her son’s birthday so he would have something special to look forward to — since they can’t go anywhere for his birthday.

After the drive-by, some friends of the family dropped off a bag of candy for the birthday boy.

Other fire departments in the Brainerd lakes area including Brainerd and Pillager have also done a drive-by salute or two.

“We have done several birthday parades over the last week or so,” Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said. “The kids and families do enjoy them. Unfortunately, we have been overwhelmed with requests and cannot fairly answer all of them. We are all fully committed to serving the community, but we are no longer doing these events. Please remember to follow all the social distancing guidelines and not gathering in large groups.”

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Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler said they put something on their Facebook page about being a part of birthday celebrations, but “we weren’t going to advertise it a whole lot because if we get too inundated with it will be difficult to do it all and we don't want to miss anyone.”

Mission Fire Chief Eric Makowski Budrow said they haven’t done any, but would encourage residents if they would like to have a birthday salute drive-by to contact them online at missiontownship.org/fire-department , on Facebook or call the fire hall at 218-765-3259.

Makowski Budrow said this is a positive thing for the firefighters and the community and something to help put some normalcy in everyone’s lives.

“We’d love to do this,” he said.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.

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