By Amy Wenk
Clay Stedman loves fire trucks.
So to celebrate Clay’s fourth birthday, his parents threw him a party at Fire Station 4 on Wieuca Road in Sandy Springs.
Clay’s wildest firemen dreams came true that Saturday afternoon. He sat in a fire truck and hung out with firefighters. About 35 kids and 35 parents came to the fire station to celebrate with the birthday boy, who wore a white shirt that declared him “Fireman Clay.”
“I wanted something he would remember,” his mom, Margaret Stedman, said about planning the April 17 party.
She heard Sandy Springs residents can hold children’s birthday parties at the city’s fire stations for free and booked the location.
“It’s like a hidden secret,” Stedman said. “Sandy Springs has a goldmine.”
The city hosts about 15 birthdays a month, according to Melinda Carter who coordinates the parties for the fire department.
Station 4 Captain Scott McColl said Sandy Springs is one of a few jurisdictions to offer the weekend service to its residents. DeKalb County is another.
The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department does not allow birthdays at fire stations. “They used to but they no longer have the parties,” said Dianne Williams, secretary to Deputy Chief of Operations Tony Davidson. Atlanta stopped the service in 2009 amid severe budget cuts, she said.
Sandy Springs offers its stations, because Fire Chief Jack McElfish “is big on serving the public,” said firefighter Nem Pavlovic who led Clay’s party. Pavlovic handed each child a plastic fireman’s hat and then took the kids on a tour of the station.
“People only see us when bad things happen,” he said. “This is an opportunity for kids to see us in a non-emergency state.”
The parties also educate children and their parents about fire safety, McColl said.
The children at Clay’s party were instructed about a fireman’s protective suit and air tank. When told they could touch the suit, the kids giggled and swarmed firefighter Adam Daniele, who was modeling the gear.
“It’s awesome,” said Rebecca Jimenez, who brought her 2-year-old son Matteos to the party. “He loves anything with ambulances, fire trucks and construction. He’s having a blast.”
More smiles came as children took turns sitting in the driver’s seat of the fire engine and later when Daniele climbed a ladder from the fire truck into the sky.
“It was really fun,” said Buckhead resident Margaret Lesley who attended with her 4-year-old son Alec. “I would definitely consider doing one. It’s hard to come up with boy birthday ideas.”
The party ended with pizza and cake in the fire station lounge. Clay blew out the candles on a fire-themed cake and played with toy fire trucks on the floor.
Margaret had firefighters sign one of the toys as a keepsake for Clay. She gave the firefighters a grocery store gift card and the leftover snacks as thanks.
“It was beyond my expectations,” said Clay’s dad, John Stedman. “It’s the best party he’s had.”
To schedule a child’s birthday at a Sandy Springs fire station, contact Melinda Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.