Firefighters deliver Santa to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital

Allen Wallace photos.

Two Columbia Fire Department ladder trucks parked in front of Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital Monday morning. They were responding not to a fire, but to a request for help from a jolly old elf.

For the ninth year, firefighters brought Santa Claus to the hospital on Christmas Eve, using the ladder trucks to lift him and some of his helpers through the air to greet the patients from outside the windows before going inside to deliver greetings and gifts.

“Just one little smile for one child is worth it,” said Columbia Fire Department Captain Chris Branham. “Some of the kids in this hospital can’t go home for Christmas. Just to show that we’re here thinking of them makes a difference, and that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Branham started the Christmas Eve visit tradition after his daughter Rachael spent time at the hospital battling a childhood illness that could have taken her life.

“They told us she wasn’t going to live,” Branham said, arm around Rachael, who is now a healthy and successful college student. “Because of this place right here, she’s here with us today. The staff here at the hospital has done more for my family than anyone could imagine.”

Chief Aubrey Jenkins and many of Branham’s fellow firefighters were on hand Monday along with family and friends, some dressed for the occasion as elves, snowmen and reindeer.

Rachael Branham’s illness is almost a decade in the past, but her father still struggles to hold back tears when talking about it, and promises that it, and the work the hospital staff does for children like her every day, will not be forgotten.

“It’s all about the kids. Whatever we’ve got to do. As long as I’m with the fire service and even after I retire, I want to make sure this tradition continues,” Branham said. “I think with the support we have from Chief Jenkins and the fire department it will.”

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