When the annual Hampton Christmas Parade steps off at 1 p.m. Saturday, a familiar face won't be seen riding atop a Hampton Fire Department ladder truck due to national safety regulations.
Deputy Fire Chief Jamie Ayotte said he expressed concerns earlier this week to Chief Chris Silver that Hampton's past practice of allowing Santa and Mrs. Claus to ride outside the truck during the parade violates National Fire Protection Agency Guideline 1500, and in turn the department's safety and liability regulations.
The decision was made Thursday not to allow the Clauses to ride on the back of the vehicle, and several individuals have since voiced their frustration with Hampton-North Hampton Patch and posted their frustration with the decision on Facebook.
"I'm a little peeved," said retired Fire Capt. Rusty Bridle, an ambassador for Santa and the person in charge of the parade lineup for Experience Hampton Inc., which runs the parade. "I just think it’s been a tradition for a long time that Santa rode [on the back of the ladder truck] in the parade. We were able to work it out last year, and it’s a shame we aren’t able to do it now."
Bridle said Santa and Mrs. Claus rode with the Rye Fire Department two years ago because of similar safety concerns, and he said he's most bothered by the "last minute" change because he felt the issue was resolved last year. Bridle said Santa will still ride at the end of the parade in this year's festivities — just not in a HFD vehicle.
"I want to send out a big thank you to the Town of Rye for stepping up to bail out Santa in his ride in the “HAMPTON” Christmas Parade," wrote Bridle in a message to Hampton-North Hampton Patch. "Santa will be riding in Rye’s Antique Fire Truck."
Ayotte said the "last thing" he wanted to do was "create controversy or any bad will" because "this season is [his] favorite time of the year." Ayotte said the controversy has become "a little bit bigger than it should be," and said Santa and Mrs. Claus "are more than welcome to ride within the vehicle," just not outside.
"I certainly did not mean to hit the wasp’s nest with a stick here," said Ayotte. "I just wanted to make sure everybody was safe."
Ayotte said the policies dictated by the National Fire Protection Agency prohibits individuals from riding outside of the apparatus because there are no seatbelts on the back of the truck.
Firefighters — including Santa actors riding in parades — have died after falling off a ladder trucks, according to Ayotte. He said "obviously that's the extreme," but regardless is something he doesn't want the department to be a part of.
"Regardless of how careful someone can be, that was never designed for a firefighter to ride on it," said Ayotte, who said the decision was "discussed at length" this week. "It's a known potential risk. We have to prevent the preventable... I want to make it as safe as possibly can."
Santa and Mrs. Claus rode on the back of the Hampton ladder truck in last year's parade, as shown in the picture above, and Jill Essigmann was one of several residents to voice support online for their ability to do so again on Saturday.
"It wouldn't be the same without YOU!" she said.
A member of the Rye Fire Department confirmed with Hampton-North Hampton Patch the decision to allow Santa to ride on their apparatus, although declined additional comment Thursday.
Interim Chief William Sullivan wasn't available for comment.