On a December Sunday for the past 38 years, I and my Signal Mountain neighbors have detected a distant, slow moving siren. Our kids race outdoors for the Christmas “surprise” they’ve come to count on…from neighbors we count on throughout the year.

This December 17th, when the shiny Walden’s Ridge Emergency Services (WRES) firetruck rounds the corner, don’t worry, it’s not a crisis; rather some of the 61 volunteer rescuers conducting their 38th annual “Santa Train” through Walden and Signal Mountain neighborhoods.

As always, the firetruck will be decked out with Christmas greenery, rescue workers in full dress uniform tossing candy, and—most importantly—a jolly Santa (a.k.a. a firefighter willing to exchange his rescue gear for red velour and a polyester beard).

After nearly four decades of my childhood friends, then my children, and now my grandchild enjoying the Santa Train, this annual Mountain tradition still catches me by surprise. It’s just hard to believe these heroic neighbors, who stand ready to assist with all manner of crises 365 days a year, would sacrifice yet another afternoon for our community.

The “Santa Train” began caravanning through Walden and surrounding neighborhoods in the late seventies. The Emergency volunteers created it for a different kind of “rescue” — delivering baskets of food and toys to local families in need. It has evolved into a beloved annual act of simple good will and yet another way the dedicated WRES Force makes its presence known…as if responding to our community’s 400 emergency calls each year isn’t enough.

Volunteer Firefighter Patrick Halstead, AnnaClaire & Becca Ward of Signal Mountain.

New comers to our Mountain may not even be aware that the skilled men and women who have assisted them or a loved one in Walden are volunteers. Incorporated in 1975, WRES was originally headquartered in the home of Mr. Gene Glaze, one of the founding members generous enough to store its only fire truck in his garage. Before long, the operation moved to the old Walden’s Ridge Texaco Station on Taft Highway (now a lawn mower repair shop). Since 1980, WRES crews have dispatched from Station #1 on Taft Highway, next to Ace Hardware, and Station #2 on Sawyer Road. Today’s emergency fleet has grown to 14 and includes firetrucks, water tankers, brush trucks, medical response units, ATVs and UTVs.

The five dozen skilled volunteers range in age from 18 to 74. With day jobs including teaching, insurance, preaching, HASMAT agent, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and construction, these brave men and women shoulder a huge responsibility on our behalf. They train extensively to answer calls for everything from house and brush fires to car accidents to wilderness and medical rescues…all on their own time and at their own risk.

Sib Evans, Station #2 Captain, has worn a neck tie to work every day in his career at Unum and Emeritus Insurance Company. I wonder how many of his colleagues know the number of nights, over the past 22 years, Sib has exchanged his white collar for a WRES fire helmet. Sib reminds me of Clark Kent—a desk man by day and Super Man by night. He says, “it’s true that everyone here is ‘somebody else’ during the day, but when the need arises, they come to the Station and suit up.”  What a humbling thought for those of us fortunate enough to live on our Hilltop.

This spirit of neighbor helping neighbor continues to grow. According to WRES Deputy Chief Jim Gault, the Force is currently working with Hamilton County to build a new and improved station. Construction is slated to begin next Spring on the vacant property adjacent to WRES Station #1 (the old Lynn’s Market).

This December 17th, when the Santa Train reminds us these committed volunteers have our backs…let them know they also have our gratitude.

Big sister Emma Grace Ward questions why Santa is driving a fire engine instead of a sleigh…

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