bday patrol

City of Richfield police, fire, and public works departments have been busy the past few weeks providing “birthday patrol” parades across the city for children celebrating their special days while under the stay-at-home order. (Submitted photo)

Police, fire and public works officials have conducted more than 100

Each afternoon, sirens ring out across Richfield.

Is there a house fire? High-speed vehicle chase? No, in fact, it is just the opposite.

Those sirens signal the Richfield Fire Department, Department of Public Safety and Public Works Department arriving on the scene to celebrate birthdays throughout the community.

On May 11, the city marked its 100th ‘birthday patrol’ which has been a rallying point for Richfield children’s birthdays since the early days of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

“We aren’t the first city to do this,” Mike Dobesh, assistant Richfield fire chief said, “but we saw our neighboring cities doing these parades and knew we could learn from their efforts and make it something that would work for Richfield.”

“I wasn’t sure how this would work for the fire crews, but I was hopeful that it would be a positive experience. These birthday patrols began at the height of the stress and tension of our initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but they have truly become a bright spot in the lives of our crews,” Dobesh said.

Once the idea came up, the police department was easily persuaded to join in on the fun.

“We were happy to join in on this effort, and thought it would be a great opportunity to bring a positive moment to someone’s day, especially during these times filled with fear and uncertainty,” said Lt. Brad Drayna, one of the coordinators of the birthday patrol effort.

“Our birthday patrols have also been consistently growing,” Drayna said. “Our parades now often include large public works vehicles and even emergency vehicles from other agencies such as the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol.”

It didn’t take long for the Richfield Public Works Department to join in on the patrols, adding one of their larger vehicles to the daily effort April 20.

“We just wanted to be part of the fun and get to see the smiles on the faces of the children and families, too,” said Mark Huiskes, operations supervisor for the Public Works Department.

The birthday patrols began April 7 and typically cover three to four birthdays every afternoon between 2-4 p.m. The patrols have been coordinated through Kelly Wynn, senior office assistant for the city of Richfield, who has become the unofficial birthday patrol coordinator.

Wynn works with the Richfield Fire Department, Department of Public Safety and Public Works Departments to organize the daily route. She also contacts parents to notify them of the date and approximate time that the parade will be coming by their home or apartment.

“The feedback I get about the patrols has been the highlight of my day,” Wynn said. “I get phone calls, emails, pictures and videos from parents thanking everyone who makes the patrol happen. They tell me the looks on the kids’ faces have been amazing.”

The birthday patrols assemble each afternoon near the first stop on their route. Once ready, the members of the patrols switch on their flashing lights, sound their sirens, and slowly drive past the birthday child’s home or apartment, waving and cheering.

On the child’s end, there is plenty of awe, excitement, and sometime bashfulness at such a large-scale assembly of well-wishers, and their vehicles. Neighbors typically pop their heads out to see what the commotion is, and there are smiles all around.

“Many times our officers and firefighters handle negative and stressful incidents, so we sincerely appreciate moments where we can have positive interactions in our day,” Drayna said. “The birthday patrols have brought smiles to the faces of all of us involved, too!”

Looking ahead, the birthday patrols will continue to assemble daily for the duration of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order. Residents interested in signing a child up for a birthday patrol may register online at trimurl.co/eY6Jjo.

– Courtesy of Richfield Communications Department.

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