Annie Louise Twitchell
Can you believe that no one knew what to do, the night Santa got stuck in the chimney flue?
It was the last town on his route, that cold Christmas Eve. Santa Claus had already flown all around the globe but now he landed in Winterville. One last town to go.
He double checked his list. Winterville was small, with only a few hundred people there. There were one hundred and nineteen children to deliver presents to, and then he could go home.
Santa steered the sleigh towards Winterville. It would be good to go home, to the glowing fireplace and a huge mug of hot chocolate and some good cheese and crackers. Mrs. Claus would have his slippers all warmed and ready for him to slip on and relax.
In the little gray house on Maple Street, all the windows were dark and all the lights turned off when Santa Claus arrived. Inside, everyone should be sound asleep: Mom, Dad, Lucy, and even the big old dog, Milo.
Santa guided his reindeer and sleigh down onto the roof, then picked up his bag of presents and tip-toed across to the chimney. He put the bag down first and climbed in afterwards. He thought about the presents and made sure he had everything: a rocking horse for Lucy, a big bone for Milo, a new blanket for Mom, and socks for Dad. Dad always got socks.
The little gray house, he thought, then the blue house, then a white house a little further down the street. Santa’s nose was cold and his fingers were beginning to ache from the frosty air. He did love Christmas Eve, but it would be so nice to get home to Mrs. Claus and take some time off on Christmas Day.
Distracted by the anticipation of a steaming mug of hot chocolate piled high with marshmallows, Santa forgot to pay attention to the chimney. Halfway down, the big red bag slipped and the rocking horse tipped and wedged itself sideways in the chimney.
Santa nudged it with his foot, but the bag was well and truly stuck. He tried to climb back up the chimney but the cord tied around the bag was caught on his boot and he couldn’t get free, not in the tight space of the flue.
How many hundreds of years had he done this? He’d never gotten stuck before, but now, tonight, he was well and truly stuck.
Tucked in her bed, with Milo close by, little Lucy had only just fallen asleep. She was supposed to be asleep hours ago, after Mom had kissed her good night and turned out the lights, but Lucy had laid awake, watching the snow fall outside her window, waiting and listening for Santa Claus.
“Help!” Someone called in a muffled voice. “Help! I’m stuck!”
Milo got up, and Lucy did too. They snuck to the door and peered out into the hall. Mom and Dad’s door was shut, and everything was quiet, but then Lucy heard the voice again.
Milo went down the stairs with Lucy close behind. In the living room sat the tree, all decorated and beautiful. In the fireplace was a package with the paper all torn.
Lucy picked it up. “Socks? I didn’t ask for socks, Santa.”
“Those are for your father, young lady,” a voice said from overhead. “Can you please go get him?”
Lucy looked up the chimney. All she could see was a red velvet bag and some gold cord. “Santa?”
Santa sighed. “That’s right. You should be asleep, young lady.”
“You woke me up,” she said. “Me and Milo both.”
Santa wasn’t usually claustrophobic but it was starting to feel a bit cramped in that chimney. “I am sorry for waking you. But can you please go get your parents? I find myself in need of assistance.”
“Okay, Santa,” Lucy said, and she scampered off upstairs. “Santa is stuck in our chimney!” She yelled, throwing open Mom and Dad’s door. “He says he needs an assistant.”
Dad sat up straight. “What?” He said, rubbing his eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Santa came! But he’s stuck in our chimney and he needs help!”
Downstairs went Dad and Mom and Lucy and Milo.
“What’s going on?” Dad asked, poking his head up the chimney to see.
“I’m stuck,” Santa said. “I seem to be in need of some assistance.”
Dad got to work. He pushed and he pulled, he prodded and poked, but no matter what he did, Santa couldn’t budge.
Finally Mom said, “I think we need to call someone.”
“Who?” Dad asked.
“The fire department,” Mom said. “They’ll know what to do.”
All around town, the firefighters were asleep too. Kate expected to be woken by Christmas music and jingle bells but instead she was woken up by her pager blaring out a tone and a dispatch. “Winterville Volunteer Fire, please respond to 15 Maple Street for a report of a man stuck in the chimney.”
Kate jumped out of bed and pulled on her pants and snow boots. She hurried out to the garage and got in her truck, and drove across town to the fire station.
Jimmy and Pete and Greg and Levi were all coming, too. At the fire station Kate kicked off her snow boots and jumped into her bunker pants and boots, pulled on her hood and jacket, and went to start up the engine.
The big red ladder truck and the big red engine pulled up outside the gray house on Maple Street. Levi took a walk around the house and Kate went inside to talk with Mom and Dad, while Jimmy and Pete and Greg got the ladder set up.
“Santa is stuck in our chimney,” Lucy told Kate.
Kate smiled at the little girl. “We’ll get him out. Don’t you worry.”
“Just don’t break the toys,” Santa said, his voice echoing in the chimney.
“We’ll try not to,” Kate promised.
Levi came inside and peered up the chimney with his flashlight. “I think I see the problem,” he said. “Something in the bag is wedged up against a brick that sticks out. If we can budge it a little bit, I think we’ll be okay. But we better get the big man himself out of there first.”
“I can’t get out,” Santa called down. “The cord is caught on my boot and I can’t climb back up.”
Kate hummed thoughtfully and looked up the chimney again. “I wonder if we could get the cord loose. I can see it from here.”
Levi stepped back to give her some space, and started talking on the radio with Greg. Greg thought they could get a rope down the chimney for Santa to climb up, as long as he could get free from the cord.
“Miss Lucy,” Kate said, turning to the little girl. “Do you have a broom anywhere?”
“Yeah!” Lucy dashed off to the kitchen. Something crashed, and Lucy called, “I’m okay!” then came running back with a broom and dustpan.
“Thank you!” Kate took the broom and poked it up the chimney. She tried to catch a loop of the cord but instead she found she could move whatever was in the bag and stuck on the brick.
“I can move the bag,” she told Levi.
Levi got back on the radio. “We can move the obstruction but we need that rope first. I don’t want Santa Claus falling down the chimney and crunching Kate.”
“I don’t want to do that either,” Santa said.
It took just a couple minutes more but Greg got a rope down the chimney to Santa, and Levi got a hook instead of the broom handle, and Kate got soot on her nose. Then it was a couple quick tugs before Santa’s big red bag dropped down into Kate’s arms. She hauled it out of the fireplace and set it by the tree as Greg carefully lowered Santa the rest of the way down the chimney.
Santa climbed out of the fireplace, his rosy red cheeks and bright red suit all covered in soot. He took a big deep breath and looked around at the firefighters, Mom, Dad, Lucy, and Milo, and then he smiled. “Thank you all,” he said. “Now, it’s nearly dawn, and I have to finish my deliveries.”
“How many stops do you have left?” Kate asked.
“There are one hundred and eighteen children, although only sixty-one houses.” Santa sighed. “I best be on my way. But first… presents.”
He picked up his big red velvet bag and took out the wrapped presents, tucking them carefully around the Christmas tree. Lucy crept over and touched the largest package, which looked suspiciously like a rocking horse, and Santa shook his head at her. “It’s not time quite yet, little one.”
Kate laughed. “Sorry, kiddo. But I have an idea. Santa, you’re running out of time.”
Santa nodded and picked up his bag. “That is true, my dear.”
“We can help. This is our town, we know where everyone lives. You just tell us which packages go where and we can get them delivered.”
Santa thought about this, looking outside at the snow and then at Lucy’s tree. He stroked his beard and rubbed his nose and finally said, “Are you sure?”
Kate and Levi both nodded. “Yes sir,” Levi said. “We’re here to help.”
“It’s not an emergency,” Santa pointed out.
Levi shrugged. “We’re all awake now. If there is an emergency we’ll have to go, of course, but we can help for a while anyway.”
“I want to help!” Lucy yelled, then added, “Please?”
All the adults looked at each other, then Mom nodded. “Go find your snowsuit.”
Lucy dashed off to the hall to find her snowsuit and boots, and Kate turned to Santa. “Hey, Santa,” she said. “Do you remember that firefighter helmet you gave me when I was a kid? It was black with a pink shield?”
Santa nodded, his eyes twinkling. He gave the red velvet bag a good hard shake and then opened the bag and held it out to Kate. She reached in and pulled out a black helmet with a pink shield on the front, just the right size for Lucy. The front of the shield read “Lucy” on the top and “Winterville Christmas Fire Department” on the bottom.
Lucy came back, all dressed up for the cold, and held her mittens out to Kate. “Help?”
Kate knelt down and helped pull her mittens on, tucking them into the coat sleeves so no snow could get through, then she gently set the helmet on Lucy’s head. “Now you’re ready to help.”
Then they all went outside. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer were still up on the roof of the little gray house, and Greg was scratching the reindeers’ ears.
“Jimmy, can you take Santa up the ladder to his sleigh? We’re going to get that down here and help him finish his deliveries,” Levi said.
Jimmy helped Santa up the ladder. “I always wanted to see this,” he said, running his hand over the sleigh.
“Do you want a ride down?” Santa asked.
Jimmy nodded eagerly and hopped in beside Santa, who then clicked his tongue to the reindeer. They took off from the roof and soared overhead before turning in a circle and coming back to the yard beside the fire trucks.
“We’ll take the south side of town,” Levi said. “Kate, you and Lucy and Santa can do the north side. We should be done pretty quick.”
Santa gave his bag a good hard shake, then handed out the presents. Now each package had a street address, instead of just a name.
Levi and Pete helped Kate and Santa sort out all the packages and tuck them away with the tools and equipment on the trucks. Mom and Dad helped too, and Lucy just watched. Was this really Christmas, or was she just dreaming?
“What do reindeer like to eat?” Mom asked Santa. “Our neighbor has horses and I could borrow a bale of hay.”
“Hay would be good,” Santa said. “I know they’ll be getting hungry before we head home.”
Dad and Greg stayed home to feed the reindeer. Mom and Kate and Santa and Lucy all rode in the ladder truck with the funny backwards seats, and Levi, Jimmy, and Pete took the engine.
Santa didn’t go down the chimneys, this time. It was dawn, and the pink and gold sunlight was peeking out from under the snow clouds. Santa walked up to the front doors and knocked, and when someone answered the door, he handed out the presents.
Lucy and Kate and Mom helped him carry presents, and they went pretty quick. Soon there was only one house left.
In this house lived Naomi, a little girl who was very sick. She was in Lucy’s class in school but Lucy hadn’t seen her in a long time.
“We have to be quiet,” Kate said to Santa. “We don’t want to scare her or get her too excited when she sees you.”
“I know just what to do,” Santa said. “Little Lucy, come here.”
Lucy trotted over. “You can be Santa Claus today,” he said. “Can you do that?”
She nodded, feeling very solemn and serious. Santa took his big red scarf off and wrapped it around her, and Mom handed her the present for Naomi while Kate took the present for her mom, Beth.
Kate knocked on the door, and Beth came to answer.
“Merry Christmas,” Lucy said, trying to sound like Santa. “This is for Naomi.”
Beth looked like she wanted to cry. “Oh, come in,” she said, holding the door open wide.
Lucy stepped inside with Kate. There wasn’t a Christmas tree or stockings anywhere to be seen, but Naomi’s hospital bed in the living room was surrounded by pretty Christmas lights, and she had a cozy red blanket wrapped around her.
“Merry Christmas, Naomi,” Lucy said, and handed her the present. “I hope you feel better.”
Naomi smiled, and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Lucy.”
“We won’t stay long,” Kate said to Beth, handing over the package. “We had a special guest today and we just wanted to make sure you both had something for the holiday.”
Beth hugged Kate, and hugged Lucy too, then Kate took Lucy’s hand and walked outside, back to the fire truck.
Lucy was quiet as she walked beside Kate. She climbed up into the ladder truck beside Santa and sat down.
“Well?” Santa asked softly.
“Santa,” Lucy said, “Can you change my present? Can you make Naomi better?”
He sighed a little, and his jolly face turned sad. “I cannot. I’m sorry. I can only give gifts and fix broken toys, not sick people. But I can tell you a secret.”
“Yeah?” Lucy looked up.
“There are other people who can help Naomi. When Naomi had to go to the hospital, Firefighter Kate helped get her there. The doctors and nurses at the hospital helped, and so did the ladies at church who made meals for Naomi and her family so they would have something to eat even though they were so busy taking care of Naomi. The man at the bank who helped pay for Naomi’s hospital bills helped, too. And you, too, young lady; by giving her a present today, you helped too.”
“Oh.” Lucy sat and thought, while Kate drove the ladder truck back home. As Kate pulled into the driveway and parked, Lucy looked up at Santa again. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a helper,” she said.
“I think you already are,” Santa said. “I am very proud of you, you know.”
Kate came to the door and helped Lucy out of the truck. “Thanks for helping, kiddo,” she said, and Lucy gave her a hug, saying, “Thank you, too.”
Dad was waiting, with hot coffee and hot cocoa and cookies. Santa took a thermos for the trip home, but he was eager to get back to the North Pole.
Lucy stood on the front step and watched as Santa flew off. “Merry Christmas to all,” he called from the sky. “Thank you!”
Lucy realized just then that he had forgotten his scarf, still wrapped warmly around her. She ran inside. “Mom, Santa forgot his scarf!”
Mom and Dad were sitting around the Christmas tree with all the firefighters, with Milo snoozing by the tree. “I don’t think he forgot, Lucy. I think he meant for you to have it.”
“I think so, too,” Kate said. “Merry Christmas, Lucy.”
“Merry Christmas,” Lucy said. “I think this is the best Christmas ever.”
A couple of notes:
This is, obviously, a fictional story. The characters are not intended to represent any specific individuals, alive or dead, and the story may not represent best practice because “Santa Claus stuck in a chimney” isn’t really in the protocol books.
Secondly, did you know that an estimated 65% of firefighters in the United States are volunteer firefighters? (NFPA, 2020.) Volunteers may be paid per call or may work without any compensation, depending on how the service is set up. They typically work full-time in other positions and fields, and they respond to emergency calls when they have the opportunity and availability to do so. In my county, for example, currently we have one department that is staffed 24/7, and the rest are a mix of per-diem (staffed for specific days/shifts, but not 24/7) and on-call/volunteer. When someone calls for help, they go. Sometimes they’re leaving their families in the middle of Christmas dinner or waking up in the middle of the night for a chimney fire.
Thirdly, one of the reasons I wanted to share this little story today is because I’m just a few days away from bringing home Orion, my black lab puppy who is going to be trained for a first responder therapy dog. I know first hand from my own experiences how much a dog can help with the stresses of the job and I’m excited to work with Orion with the goal of offering that support as a resource to our local first responders. It will be at least 18 months before we can begin working, and I have all of the essential items for his first few months. However, I am still coordinating for some of the supplies, training, and courses he and I will both need. I usually share some links when I share a short story, in case folks want to help support my writing, but for this month anything that folks contribute will go towards the puppy fund and making sure Orion has what he needs. You can check out the following links if you’re interested; if not, please enjoy the story, hug your family, and remember to breathe.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I love you.