WASHINGTON COUNTY — Ten struggling families will have some of their needs and wants met this Christmas thanks to the donation efforts of fire departments throughout Washington County.
Angel Trees were set up in Ivins, Santa Clara, St. George, Washington City, Hurricane and New Harmony fire departments. The elaborately decorated trees include tags indicating the needs and wants of families taken as individual projects by firefighters, their families and community members.
The gifts are then delivered to each home on fire engines with sirens blaring and lights flashing to alert the coming of Santa Claus. This occurs over the course of a week, with each fire department taking a different day Monday through Saturday.
The “Angel Tree Project” started as a small program at the Santa Clara Fire Department in 2014 after tragedy struck a family with a long history of firefighting service.
Kurtis Lake, who served as a firefighter for 26 years, 17 of those years as a captain, died Dec. 12, 2014, of a heart attack.
His daughter, Krystle Lake, a firefighter and EMT with Santa Clara Fire at the time, responded to the call for help, not knowing until she arrived that it was her father. He died after receiving an hour of CPR.
Kurtis Lake was known for going all out with Christmas lights on his family’s house each year. He would then match the price of the home’s steep holiday power bill to spend on a family in need.
When he died, Krystle Lake was facing a hefty ambulance and doctor bill for her late father’s medical expenses. She contacted the medical services hoping to work out a payment plan for the bills she could not afford to pay outright.
Instead, Krystle Lake said, they insisted on covering the bill on her family’s behalf.
“They told me ‘You and your family have done so much for us and our community, you’re not going to pay us a penny. You’re not going to see a bill ever, we take care of family around here,’” Krystle Lake said.
Inspired by this act of kindness and her father’s spirit of giving, she said, she decided to start the Angel Tree Project at the Santa Clara Fire Department.
“They inspired me to find a way to pay it forward,” Krystle Lake said of the kindness she received in her family’s time of grief.
In that first year, she was able to provide for two families.
In subsequent holidays, the program’s reach grew. In 2015, Ivins and Washington joined Santa Clara in the charity effort. This year’s program grew to six fire departments benefitting 10 families.
Krystle Lake coordinates with KONY 99.9 FM’s Coins for Kids and local school districts to identify families in need then decorates and donates the Angel Trees to each fire station with family tags attached.
Fire personnel and their families select tags from the tree and then buy and wrap gifts before delivering them to recipients’ homes in a procession of fire engines.
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