By Jesse D. Leon and Colin Weatherby
Special to DNAinfo
SOHO — Sleigh bells, not sirens, signaled high drama for firefighters at the New York City Fire Museum Sunday.
In an annual Christmas tradition, volunteers and firefighters from Ladder 1 on Duane Street acted out a Santa "rescue" on the SoHo museum's roof. Throngs of children screamed with delight as Santa was slowly lowered to safety from where he “crash-landed” on top of the three-story building.
“I don’t know what happens. Every year he gets stuck up there,” joked Damon Campagna, the museum’s executive director.
Under the red velvet suit and beard was Jim Vreeland, a retired FDNY captain, who has been acting the part of distressed Santa for nine years. In that time, the crowd has grown from less than 50 when he started to almost 250 this year, making it a feature of the museum’s holiday calendar.
Although no one can say with certainty when the museum started plucking its jolly visitor off the roof, Vreeland, 65, who worked at the Duane Street firehouse, says that the annual Santa rescue began long before his time.
“When you hear the kids screaming and yelling, it makes it worth it,” Vreeland said. “I don’t know whether it’s the red fire truck, the red Santa Claus or the height that they had to go up the bucket, but the kids love it.”
The fire museum exhibits detail the evolution of firefighting in New York City. Based in a former firehouse on Spring Street, the museum is home to memorabilia dating back to New York City’s first settlers.
Parents said they loved the combination of holiday fun and civic education. Brooklynite Carol Einhorn brought her 3-year-old son, Griffin, to the spectacle hoping to get him excited about New York’s Bravest.
“There are all sorts of holiday things around the city that have Santas and other holiday figures, but here he gets to learn about New York City and a really important group of people who help us,” Einhorn said.
Lt. Vincent Lanzante, who has been with Ladder 1 for three years, agreed that the Santa rescue is a great way to teach kids about firefighting.
“They get to see a little bit of actually what we do, setting up the truck and going up the rescue ladder,” Lanzante said. “It’s Santa, so it’s all in good fun.”