First responders fill in for canceled birthday celebrations

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the toughest things for a parent these days is explaining the stay-at-home order to a child. It can be more difficult if a child has to miss a special event, like their birthday party.

So when Alpine Township firefighters roll out of the station on a special call these days, their mission is less about saving a life and more about making a life a little brighter.

“A lot of the times, we’re seeing people at their worst moments,” Alpine Township firefighter Tom Katerberg said. “So being able to come out and help people that aren’t really in the thick of it, but are just kind of down because of what’s going on, it’s been great to help out.”

A child missing out on a birthday party is not a big deal in the larger scheme of things — unless you’re turning 5 years old.

“Their friends can’t come over and hang out and the playgrounds are closed. It’s very difficult for them,” Katerberg said.

So Alpine Township firefighters have joined a number of West Michigan firefighters and police officers who have started visiting the homes of children missing out on their birthday celebrations, all while following social distancing practices.

“We’ll come by. We’ll turn the lights on, we’ll start the Q (siren) and get the horn going and start waving to the kids. It’s actually brought out some of the neighborhood kids, too, trying to figure out what’s going on,” Katerberg said.

Alpine Township firefighters picked up on the idea after members of the Ross-Augusta Fire Department in Kalamazoo County posted one of their birthday stops on Facebook.

Soon, other departments were picking up on the idea, too. In Lake Odessa, police Officer Eric Tollefson can be seen and heard on video singing happy birthday to a local 5-year-old.

If ‘we’ll get through it together’ is the catchphrase for the COVID-19 pandemic, firefighters and police officers from all over West Michigan are going well beyond the call.

“We’re glad we can kind of bring some light in this dark time for them,” Katerberg said.

To find out if your local department is offering to send birthday well-wishes, call its nonemergency number.