Savannah Anderson had been planning her 16th birthday for a couple of years.

Since her April 16 birthday was also her “golden” birthday, she was hoping family and friends could celebrate with her.

She couldn’t have the party she’d been planning due to the shelter-in-place order being extended. So, members of the Nevis Fire Department, along with Hubbard County sheriff’s deputy Josh Oswald, made sure it’s a birthday Savannah will always remember.

“This year, with COVID-19, it was hard to figure out how to make her birthday special, so we had to improvise,” mom Stacey said. “I had seen that other fire departments were using fire trucks to surprise kids on their birthday, so I messaged their Facebook page and Nevis Fire Chief Chris Norton said he’d take care of everything.”

The Jaime and Stacey Anderson family lives in Nevis Township, on a gravel road just outside of town.

“The evening of Savannah’s birthday, we went on a walk to get the mail,” Stacey said. “When the fire trucks came, all of the kids were surprised.”

Savannah has two sisters. Chloe is 8 and Eastynn is 4.

“They had every vehicle in the fire department out there,” Stacey said. “The people inside all waved and a couple of them yelled happy birthday from their vehicles. It definitely felt good to know that through the things that are going on right now there are so many people who are willing to do things for others just to help out. We’ve only lived here for five years and we feel that this is the best community we could have chosen to live in. Chris said there were over 3,000 people who viewed the birthday video off their Facebook page, and I had over 700 views on mine.”

Since they couldn’t gather in person, extended family members sang “happy birthday” to Savannah on Zoom. She also got to enjoy her favorite dinner of crab legs and shrimp served with ramen noodles.

“I want to say thank you to everyone who had a part in making my birthday so special,” Savannah said. “I was so surprised! I had no idea this was going to happen or what was going on until I saw the birthday banner on the ambulance. Thank you to the Nevis Fire and Rescue and Hubbard County Sheriff's Office for doing this for me. I hope you all continue to stay safe.”

She said she hopes to have a birthday celebration with her friends this summer at the Nevis beach. “It’s a fun place to be in the summer,” she said.

Savannah has her permit and is also practicing her driving during this time of sheltering at home and looking forward to getting her license when things open up and she can complete her behind the wheel training.

Norton said anyone who wants the department to come to their child’s birthday can contact him through their Facebook page or by email at nevisfire@arvig.net.

“A lot of the folks in the department are still working, but we will try to get as many trucks out as we can,” he said. “We had the whole fleet for Savannah’s birthday. People are getting a little stir-crazy and everybody who was there really enjoyed it. You could tell by the reactions of the kids it was a complete surprise to them.”

More birthday drive-bys

Park Rapids Fire Department member Crystal Krautremer has been organizing celebration drive-bys in Park Rapids.

“What originally started as a fire department-based birthday salute has progressed to something even better,” she said. “I love doing community events. The entire Park Rapids community has gotten involved, so it’s no longer just the fire truck going to celebrate our area youth’s birthdays. The Hubbard County Sheriff's Office, Park Rapids Police Department, North Memorial Ambulance, and the Department of Natural Resources have all been a part of our birthday parades.

“I think it is monumental how the agencies have all banded together as a cohesive unit to bring joy to our community. With the stay-at-home order and the social distancing, it’s really changed how we’ve been able to interact with the community. So many events have been canceled and we have to come up with innovative ways of showing the community that we are still here and support them.”

To date, the Park Rapids group has completed 13 birthday salutes and have more scheduled.

“People should let us know ahead of time so we can plan to be there,” Assistant Fire Chief Ben Cumber said. “They can contact us on our Facebook page.”

Kaye Soderberg, whose daughter, Lilyan, just celebrated turning 9, said having the fleet come by made her daughter feel special. “After she got her goodie bag, she came running back and said, ‘Mom, how did they know it was my birthday?’ It really is the simple things right now.”

Melissa Sitz said she wanted to give a huge big shout out to the Park Rapids Fire Department and North Ambulance for making her daughter Evie’s fourth birthday so super special. “I appreciate all you guys do for our community,” she said.

The Menahga Fire Department is also offering birthday drive-bys. Anyone who would like to brighten a child’s birthday with a fire truck drive-by with lights and sirens may contact the Menahga Fire Department on their Facebook page or call or text Travis at 218-255-7659.