YULEE, Fla. – After 62 years of serving the community, the Yulee Volunteer Fire Department is shutting down.
The department posted on its Facebook page that its contract for service with the county reached its end, and the county decided not to renew it.
The loss of the department means the loss of one of Yulee’s oldest traditions. For the first year, the Santa Route will not wind its way through neighborhoods. The department has run the parade route the weekend before Christmas since 1958.
Chief Danny Lightsey has been with the department for 14 years and his father volunteered as well. For decades, men and women like the Lightseys have dedicated countless hours to assisting with emergency calls and community volunteering.
“We all loved what we did. We loved helping the community and being there in people’s time of need. I miss it, and I know that everyone down there misses being able to do what we did down there," Lightsey said.
The department went out of service over the summer. The volunteers can no longer afford to keep up with the cost of gear, truck insurance and maintenance.
Yulee calls for service will now be handled solely by Nassau County Fire Rescue.
“There’s definitely a need for paid professional staff to be on duty around the clock, ready to answer those emergencies because there’s a whole lot of people in Yulee now. It’s a whole different town than what it was even ten years ago," Lightsey said.
Charles Terry, who lives in Yulee, said he started taking his son to the Santa Route in the 1970s.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss to our community,” Terry said.
His son, William Terry, later began taking his son to the Santa Route.
“I have a special needs child that for 22 years of his life, we’ve took him wherever we had to so he could see Santa on the fire truck, and I had to explain to him yesterday it’s not going to happen," William Terry said.
The department posted on Facebook that people have been asking for donations for the Santa Route. Lightsey said he doesn’t know if it’s a scam or a third party group trying to help, but he’s asking people not to donate any money. The volunteer department has notified the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office of the situation.