Gresham's Birthday Firetruck: One-alarm celebration
Last weekend a Gresham girl turned 9-years-old, celebrating as the world continues to slowly get back to normal.
Though there were balloons and cake and amazing decorations, she wasn't able to invite all of her friends due to distancing and safety. Like everyone else, celebrating a birthday seemed strange during COVID-19. But in East Multnomah County, her parents had a way to bring something special to the party.
The birthday girl got a visit from a bright red, vintage Weston Kia firetruck driven by Brad Roe. There was a stuffed Dalmatian, a speaker-system playing happy birthday and the girl got to sit behind the wheel of the nearly 70-year-old truck.
"The best part for me is driving up and seeing the smiles on their faces," Brad said.
The occasion was the latest drive-by birthday for the Weston firetruck. Brad has spent the past 13 months cruising around the region bringing an air of celebration to someone's special day during a time when traditional gatherings are discouraged. It was a way to spread cheer throughout the region while staying safe.
In the beginning, most of the requests to see the 1954 Chevrolet firetruck were for kids' birthdays, as parents wanted a way to make the day special. But as word spread, Brad found himself attending birthdays for people of all ages.
He has done drive-byes for birthdays ranging from a 1-year-old to a 104-year-old longtime resident.
"It doesn't matter how old you are — everyone loves seeing the fire truck," Brad said with a smile.
Forged on Facebook
The notion to expand the firetruck's presence in the community was born during breakfast and fueled by a local Facebook page dedicated to spreading positivity.
Last March, as COVID first shut everything down, Councilor Sue Piazza created the Gresham Helping Gresham Facebook page as both a fun diversion from trying times and a way to support others. Community members shared funny stories of dealing with homebound kids, gave tips on what stores had restocked depleted groceries, and connected with neighbors to lend aid.
"I created the group because I figured we would all be stuck inside for a while," Piazza told The Outlook last spring.
Perusing the page, Brad thought about posting a picture of the Weston firetruck and an offer to swing by the home of someone celebrating a birthday. He had driven the rig during Fourth of July events and the annual Gresham Teddy Bear Parade, and thought it would be a fun way to spend the afternoon.
"I was trying to think of ways I could reach out to others," he said.
He posted the image, only expecting a few messages. Instead, the phone calls came flooding in, and with help from his wife Jane, the pair booked 20 drive-byes.
"It just took off," Brad said.
Over the last 13 months, he has visited 252 birthdays and high school graduation parties, traveling more than 4,000 miles. His record was 14 in one weekend.
And Weston KIA has been supportive throughout, helping pay for gas, fixing up the truck when it needs repairs, and giving Brad the time to venture out to so many birthdays.
"I've been working here for 34 years, and I am at a point in my life where I want to make a difference," he said.
Brad credits his father, Ross, as the inspiration for his kids to follow a path of giving back.
The Grant's Pass resident spent a lifetime volunteering and supporting others. While living in Michigan, Ross was instrumental in creating the I-500 Snowmobile Race in the small town of Sault Sainte Marie. In 1968, he found the location for the one-mile race and worked to build the track.
That race would morph into a massive annual event that brings thousands of tourists into the community and provides millions of dollars for local businesses.
After moving to Oregon and opening Roe Motors, Ross again stepped up for his new home. When a wildfire ravaged the nearby forest in 1988, he coordinated a replanting effort by recruiting the Boy Scouts. That morphed into an annual three-day planting that has local children putting in nearly 5,000 trees around Grant's Pass.
"My dad always had this mindset of doing things for others," Brad said.
Ross loved the arts, and always found a way to get youths involved in various charitable efforts. He was passionate and dedicated to his community, until two years ago when he died after a battle with cancer at the age of 91. In Grant's Pass he was honored with the tree event being renamed the Ross Roe RePlant.
And though he wasn't around when his son came up with the idea of the birthday drive-byes, it was his example that paved the way.
"My dad would have thought this was all awesome," Brad said. "For 55 years I saw my dad giving back to the community — if I can do 1% of what he has done, I will be happy."
In addition to the birthday drive-byes, Brad has also started a restaurant gift card giveaway.
Three times a week, he posts a photo to the Gresham Helping Gresham page highlighting a different eatery in East County. People can enter for a chance to win by commenting something positive about the restaurant on the Facebook post. Brad then randomly selects a winner to receive a $50 gift card.
"It is a way to help out the restaurants that have been hurting," he said. "It's also about spreading positivity."
The Weston birthday fleet is also expanding. The dealership is fixing up a second firetruck to travel around the region, doubling the opportunities for celebrations. The second truck was built in 1953, and will also be painted bright red.
Even when everything goes back to normal, and people don't have to socially distance on their birthdays, Brad still wants to travel with the firetruck and give out gift cards.
"There are so many people we want to support — I don't want to stop doing this," he said.
If you want a visit from the Weston firetruck for your birthday, post on the Gresham Helping Gresham Facebook page. Ask for Brad Roe or the birthday truck, and a moderator will get you in contact to schedule a visit.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.