HUNTINGTON — Based purely on the amount of sirens Thursday night, it sounded like the fire of the century had erupted in downtown Huntington.
But the reason behind all the noise and lights — much to the delight of the hundreds of people who lined 4th Avenue — was to promote preventing those fires before the sirens flipped on for real.
What’s become a beloved tradition and one of the longest-running parades in town (behind only Marshall University’s homecoming parade), the Huntington Fire Department hosted its 66th annual Fire Prevention Parade on Thursday evening.
“We take a lot of pride in this, and this is such a great way to promote fire safety to so many people,” said Capt. Mat Winters, an HFD fire marshal and the parade’s organizer. “We can’t prevent every fire, but we can prevent every fire death.”
About 20 local fire departments, both professional and volunteer, rolled in as they have for years for a bumper-to-bumper, slow-speed show of lights, sounds and hand-delivered candy — more than enough to sate even the most truck-crazed kids.
As usual, hundreds of spectators staked out spots on the sidewalk long before the first siren sounded. Local high school marching bands, Scout troops and civic organizations filled in between a seemingly endless stream of blaring sirens and shiny, red engines.
The parade also crowned Miss Ember, Miss Spark and Miss Flame — local elementary, middle and high school pageant and essay contest winners.
It’s a lot of variables that thankfully have been well-organized over the years and seem to work themselves out, said Winters, who volunteered to organize the parade for the first time this year. That comes even after they only began planning the parade in early September (rather than their usual July) and had to postpone the parade from Monday due to rain.
“The nice thing is that with all the moving parts to this parade, the people who had done this parade in the past did it so well that it just seemed to fall into place,” Winters said.
The parade is meant to instill in everyone the importance of fire safety, especially children who may not fully understand the danger that fires pose.
The theme of this year’s parade was “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape, Plan and Practice Your Escape.”
An escape plan includes having working smoke alarms on every level of the home and near all sleeping areas. It also includes ensuring two ways out of every room, usually a window or door, and a safe meeting place outside, such as a tree, light pole or mailbox. Plans are also recommended to be practiced twice a year involving everyone in the house, school or workplace.
National Fire Prevention Week, which gave rise to the parade, has its roots in the Great Chicago Fire on Oct. 8, 1871, which killed 300 people and left 900 homeless. Huntington’s first parade took place in the 1950s and was a mix of marching units and demonstrations in ladder handling.