Two Maple Leaf traditions hosted by the Carthage Fire Department are back on the fall festival’s calendar after a two-year break.
For more than 35 years people made it a tradition on the third Saturday of October to stop by the Carthage Fire Department and enjoy all the pancakes and sausage they could eat before charging into the cool Fall air to enjoy the Maple Leaf Parade.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Carthage Fire Department hard, with numerous firefighters out for multiple days with the virus they caught in the process of simply responding to emergency calls, so having hundreds of people come to the fire station for even just one morning wasn’t considered safe.
The pancake feed and the Maple Leaf Safety Fair, which the department hosted on the second Saturday of October, were cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021.
New Carthage Fire Chief Ryan Huntley said he’s proud to have both of these events back in 2022.
“When Chief (Roger) Williams retired in December, I shook his hand and I told him I’d do everything I can to keep the fire department traditions alive,” Huntley said. “So to be able to bring these back, knowing how much it meant to the community, I take a lot of pride in that. Our station takes a lot of pride in that and just knowing we are doing what the community wants done means a lot to us.”
The Maple Leaf Safety Fair was held Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Carthage Fire Department’s north parking lot.
The fire department started hosting the Safety Fair as part of Fire Prevention Week, which this year runs from Oct. 9-15, 2022, a little more than a decade ago.
The Carthage Fire Department invites departments from around the area to bring a truck and join them for this event, and it features fun fire-safety-related games and events for kids.
“We get so many different fire departments from this area that show up,” Huntley said. “It’s not just good for the kids to come out and hang out and play but it’s kind of good for us too. Those guys, a lot of times we show up on scene when there’s an emergency going on and we say, hey, appreciate your help, go over to this side and set up, take care, see ya later. So it’s nice for us to sit down for a few hours and get to mingle with them outside of emergency calls and all that.”
Children get the chance to hold and use a real fire hose and aim it at a window to knock down a fake fire. They can tour the many vehicles on display from the fire departments, an ambulance, police or sheriff’s vehicles and even a tow truck.
The highlight of the day is usually when a medical helicopter comes in and lands in the middle of the parking lot, giving the public am up-close view of a helicopter in action.
“I think it’s such a highlight because the kids that are interested in the fire service, they can come to the fire station, they can put their hands on our trucks, they can get in and act like they’re driving and toot the horns,” Huntley said. “People don’t usually get the chance to be that close to a helicopter landing. Obviously we do our best to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can so they’re away from it, but the amount of air that thing moves and watching it basically come down as straight and as slow as it can and park it right in the middle of everything is just extremely impressive.”
Doors open for the Maple Leaf Pancake Feed at the fire station, 401 W. Chestnut Ave., at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15. Cost is $6 for adults and $4 for children between ages 17 and 8. Kids under 8 years old are free.
Retired Chief Roger Williams said the pancake feed was the brainchild of Chief Don Simmons in the mid-1980s.
Williams, who retired from the fire service in December 2021 after 44 years, said Simmons was big on having some kind of event where the fire department mingles with the public in some kind of feed.
In 1980 the fire department moved from its station around First Street and Grant Street to the “new station” at Chestnut and Garrison and Chief Simmons noticed pattern on every Maple Leaf Parade day.
“It was pretty noticeable that before the beginning of the parade everything kind of piled up around us,” Williams said. “People would use the back lot to unload and they’d be all over the park and all over the place. He and whoever else came up with the idea that this would be the perfect place to serve breakfast to these folks. There’s not enough places in town where they could get a good breakfast in the morning. It kind of grew from there. It could have been a year or two earlier but by 1985 we were doing this.”
The pancake feed became a tradition, with hundreds of people coming to the fire station and getting breakfast before hitting the festival.
The proceeds went into the Department’s benefit fund, which gave it a little bit of money to donate to different causes during the year, particularly causes involving kids. For several years, the department paid the rental on Memorial Hall for the Carthage Police Department to host its annual LaVerne Williams Christmas Party for Kids.
Huntley said the feed requires weeks of planning and preparation and an early start to the day for firefighters. The fire trucks are all moved out of the station and dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs borrowed from the Carthage School District are set up in the station.
At 4 a.m. firefighters are warming up the grill, preparing hundreds of gallons of pancake batter and thousands of sausage patties. From about 6 a.m.-10 a.m. people line up to get their day started with a good breakfast.
The pandemic forced the department to cancel the event in 2020 and 2021, but the community let the department know they missed it.
“People weren’t rude or angry but we started hearing aww, gosh, we were hoping you guys would have pancakes again,” Huntley said. “It’s pretty cool to see the tradition of all of those generations of people saying me and my grandpa used to go and me and my dad used to go, now I’m taking my kids. It’s definitely an eye-opener for us when we start hearing all that stuff with us getting up at 4 a.m. and doing all that legwork. We don’t always completely enjoy it all of the time but when we see that many people come through and everybody happy it makes it all worth it.”
The Safety Fair and Pancake Feed are just a couple of dozens of events planned for this weekend, through the week and through Saturday, Oct. 15.
People can go to https://carthagechamber.com/maple-leaf/ and flip through a copy of the Maple Leaf Program or call the Carthage Chamber of Commerce at 417-358-2373 for more details about the event.
Programs are also available at the Chamber office at 402 S. Garrison.