BELLOWS FALLS -- The shutdown of the federal government may have furloughed the National Park Service and the American icon known as Smokey Bear, but there are still people in Windham County who want to help you prevent fires.
The 126th Annual Bellows Falls Fire Prevention Parade is scheduled for Sunday and, as always, fire departments from the surrounding area are invited to send representation to the village as part of the culmination of National Fire Prevention Week, which ends Saturday. Last year's event was canceled due to rain.
The parade, slated to begin at 1 p.m., will start at the Bellows Falls Fire Department. According to Deputy Fire Chief John Cenate, all participants will march down Atkinson Street before taking a left on Westminster Street toward The Square, where there will be a review stand for the parade's judges. Cenate said trophies will be given out to the fire departments that have the newest fire truck, the oldest fire truck, as well as the one that traveled the farthest distance to get to Bellows Falls.
The parade will also feature the marching bands of various area schools, which will be awarded trophies for first, second and third place. Cenate said members of the BFFD -- including Chief Bill Weston -- will be the judges.
Nick Pelton, the instrumental music teacher at Bellows Falls Union High School, said the school's 34-member marching band will perform a variety of songs in the parade. He said the band will play the official school song, "50 Ways To Say Goodbye" by Train, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen and then an arrangement called "One Day More" from "Les Misérables" when members reach The Square.
According to Pelton, in his third year at BFUHS, it usually takes the band 20 minutes to walk the entire route of the parade. He said band members are excited for the performance.
"Our focus often shifts based on what we have coming up next," he said, "and for the past few weeks, this has been what we're all prepared for doing."
He said the parade is held "mostly for tradition" and "to let people view their hometown fire departments and Mutual Aid departments."
Cenate said the fire departments of at least Westminster, Saxtons River and Rockingham usually represent Vermont while those from Walpole, North Walpole, and Unity, N.H., come from across the Connecticut River.
The parade will cap off Fire Prevention Week, which actually spans from Sunday, Oct. 6, to Saturday, Oct. 12. Cenate said the week typically entails a fire prevention program for Central Elementary School students in kindergarten through fourth grade, with the curriculum for each grade building upon the information taught to its children the year before. The deputy fire chief said the lessons won't be held until next week due to New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing. He said a big focus is to make sure the much younger children, who are often afraid of firefighters dressed in full uniform and equipment, understand there is a real-life human underneath all that heavy gear.
Cenate said the BFFD also teaches a fire science class to seventh graders at Bellows Falls Middle School and allows any of the students interested to extinguish a small, controlled fire in order to see what being a firefighter feels like. He said the department was unable to do this last year due to construction at BFMS.
Though the parade won't take place until after National Fire Prevention Week is officially over, Cenate said his department is always available for safety tips. He said misuse of candles is a common start of fires and they should never be left burning in an unoccupied room. Cenate also said people should always make sure their smoke detectors have good batteries. The BFFD is even willing to check detectors for anyone who asks, he said.
Anyone interested in sending apparatus or marching units are asked to RVSP to the Bellows Falls Fire Department by Friday. The department's phone number is 802-463-4343.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.