The Weehawken Volunteer Ambulance Corps won second place in a statewide decorating competition held as part of the Wallington Fire Department’s 2012 Holiday Parade a few weeks ago. Held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Wallington invites fire departments and ambulance corps from around the state to participate. Departments won prizes for being the best decorated and having the best music, amongst others. Carlstadt won first prize in the category for Best Decorated Ambulance, with Weehawken second.
Weehawken’s ambulance, dubbed “Ambulance of the Future” by Lieutenant Yves Saad, was decked out in nearly 14 nets of Christmas lights, totaling about 2,000, and had specially-constructed wings on both sides. The lights blinked in sync with Christmas music emanating from a speaker system mounted on the roof.
The ambulance was wrapped entirely in silvery Mylar and aluminum foil, and its wings were mounted with smoke machines. The vehicle’s back doors were left swung open, with an enormous inflated Christmas penguin sending out holiday wishes to onlookers.
“One day someone just said ‘ambulance of the future,’ and that was that.” – Lieutenant Yves Saad
Saad and fellow lieutenant Numargo Vasquez, as well as corpsman Joe Burns, spearheaded the effort to decorate the ambulance, although numerous other volunteers, as well as their friends and families, pitched in.
“We do it out of pocket,” said Vasquez, “so really whoever wants to help helps, and that’s the way it goes. We don’t do it to win; we just love participating in the parade.”
This was Weehawken’s fourth year attending the parade, and the first time they have won anything. In 2009, they simply adorned their ambulance with a few strands of lights, unaware of the extent to which some departments decorated their vehicles.
“I remember we got there that year,” said Burns, “and it was pretty clear we were underlit. After that we tried pretty hard to win.”
In 2010, they wrapped their ambulance up like a large present, with a message written across the side, “To Wallington. Merry Christmas. From Weehawken.” Their third year, the strategy was simply to cover the vehicle with as many lights as possible. Still, “After the second or third year, we sort of stopped caring [about winning], and just started enjoying ourselves,” said Vasquez. “It was a huge surprise to hear our name called. The competition is very tough. We were pretty excited.”
Wallington had considered cancelling the parade after Hurricane Sandy because so many of the participating towns had suffered due to the storm, said Burns, including Weehawken.
“So many of those towns up in Bergen County took a lot of damage from the storm,” he said. “No one from Wallington thought anyone would want to still do the parade, having to decorate and everything. But we were in, and so were they.”
Saad said that decorating the ambulance this year was done with more of a purpose than years past.
“A lot of kids came out, a lot of families, and it meant a lot to everyone, us included,” he said.
The corps is undecided about how they’ll decorate for next year, but one idea that has been floating around is “the crazy ambulance.”
“Everyone just gets to do whatever they want to it,” said Saad. “That’s why it’s crazy.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org