Santa getting ready to ride
Looking just a little perplexed, the Jolly Old Elf himself directed last-minute preparations early Christmas Eve as Russell Fire Department Cpt. Duane Bourguignon adjusted lights on the 40th edition of the Santa Express. There was nothing to worry about, Santa, as Duane has been a volunteer Express driver for years and knows the drill, prepping the rig and carrying Santa on his rounds in and around Russell Village. The proof was in the Christmas pudding with the final product once again thrilling children of all ages. Van Dusen photo

David Strong
Special to the Villager

RUSSELL – Last week, we talked about the 40-year history of Russell’s Santa Express. Now, let’s talk about the behind-the-scenes work that makes it all happen.

The most asked question about the Santa Express is: What would we do if a fire call came in during the express? This most secret of secrets is about to be revealed: Santa himself has received extensive training from the Russell Fire Department over the last 40 years, so much so that if a call were to come in, he would simply jump inside the truck and respond with us. Being the second longest-standing member of the department, besides Ron Hubbard, he might even assume command.

Another question we are often asked is, how do we ensure that every home is visited each year? Considering that the event starts at 5:30 p.m., it only gives us about four hours to visit every street in Russell, Marionville and North Russell. Plus, the Santa Express rarely travels any faster than a walking pace. This is another closely-guarded secret within the fire department, and the answer is that we rely on a little Christmas magic provided by Santa himself. Just as he is able to visit all the homes of the world in one night, he does the same for us. One might even think we were in two places at the same time.

Modern touch
As the department has modernized over the last number of years, technology has crept into the Santa Express. For a few years we could simply follow Santa’s progress with our pagers. Now we post updates to our Facebook page. It’s a great way for people to interact with us and post pictures of their special visit from Santa.

A large part of being involved with the Santa Express is experiencing the gratitude of all the people en route. As Christmas Eve is often a little chilly many people are worried about Santa getting cold as he completes his voyage around Russell, so it is common for Santa and his elves to be offered warm beverages to help keep the chill off them; especially beverages that have the ability to “warm” you from the inside. Unfortunately, some years this resulted in poor Santa not being as steady as he should be as he sat on top of the truck. His red nose and flushed cheeks were not always the result of the biting winter winds; sometimes they were helped by over-generous residents sharing their Christmas cheer. Fortunately the elves who ride along with Santa now take charge of this and make sure Santa remains steady and safe as he completes his route.

As Russell has grown, Santa’s helpers may not know every person we come across en route as in years past, but it certainly is a great way to meet new people and start traditions for new families. The first 40 years have come and gone, now we have the next 40 years to look forward to. The names will change, other people will take up the challenge, but you can be certain that as long as the Russell Fire Department exists, Santa will make his annual trip around Russell on Christmas Eve.

Share your photos
The Russell Fire Department would appreciate if anyone with past photos of the Santa Express would share them with us; please post them to our Facebook page so we are able to share them with the entire community.