The fourth year of Santa parades by South King Fire lit up neighborhoods on Dec. 12 — one of four nights they do routes in Federal Way.
With a sprinkle of air horns and sirens, the fire trucks and a trailer wound through neighborhoods lined with families waving. Some were following along on the new GPS Santa tracker that the fire department added this year. Others were surprised by the parade and had the chance to participate for the first time.
The parade is also a way to collect food donations for food banks to serve the community of Federal Way. Several members of Federal Way’s parks department looked out for neighbors holding bags and boxes in the cold night so they could slow down for the hand off.
Two locations had donations of hundreds of pounds of food that they had gathered just for the event, and the designated bus was full by the end of the night.
Santa filled the night with cheery phrases on a loudspeaker, reminding kids to be good by eating their vegetables and cleaning their rooms — and complimented the lights and decorations as he passed by. Santa and Mrs. Claus stopped for photos and to pass out candy canes as often as they could while still trying to stay on time.
South King Fire Capt. Brad Chaney told The Mirror that the fire department started doing the Santa parade during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you can’t go to Santa, we’ll bring Santa to you,” said Chaney, adding that it is something that the firefighters love to be part of. “It’s nice to do something different and it connects us to the community. It reminds us why we do what we do.”
The community members who play Santa and Mrs. Claus have been part of the parade since the beginning, but said they got into the role just as a one-time favor to a friend.
Santa, played by Joe Gryniuk, said he had a friend who was the assistant manager of a Starbucks in town and tried to convince him to play Santa at the store during the holidays: “I said here’s the deal, I either come in on a helicopter or a fire engine,” said Gryniuk.
Sure enough, his friend reached out to the fire department and after that, he couldn’t say no. Now he and Mrs. Gryniuk say playing the part is a joy. The first year they joined the Santa parade was especially memorable.
“We had been pent up for so long,” he said. “We had 40-year-old men crying, people running into their yards and chasing us down.”
“We get so much more back,” Gryniuk said. His wife, Debbie, added that she loves seeing the “joy, the anticipation and the awe” on the faces of young and old alike.
“We’re just regular joes, but once we get in the trailer its like rockstar status,” said Gryniuk, a retired professor.
The South King Fire Foundation awarded the Gryniuks with the Whitney Bellinghausen award last year for their dedication to bringing holiday cheer through the parades. The award is named after the daughter of former South King Fire Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen. She died in a car accident in 2008 at age 20.
“The holidays can be one of the most challenging times of the year for some families in our community,” said Interim Fire Chief Van Valkenburg. “We’re fortunate to have such strong partnerships with our local cities to ensure the Santa parade is a success year after year.”