Fire company cancels 2020 Christmas parade in Gloucester Township

Blackwood unit cites COVID issues for its decision earlier this week

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: The Blackwood Fire Company announced the cancellation of its 2020 Christmas Parade last week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Joe Cipriano cited social distancing guidelines and various other precautions that made the event potentially dangerous to currently host.

As COVID-19 continues to force the cancellation and postponement of local events,  residents of Gloucester Township will go without yet another staple of the holiday season.

Earlier this week, the Blackwood Fire Company announced on its Facebook page the cancellation of the annual Christmas parade, following an internal meeting of  commissioners and township officials.

In the post, the company noted that the pandemic and its necessary safety and social distancing precautions make the annual event unrealistic.

“With the current state of the pandemic, and having to properly maintain social distancing practices, we felt it was best to cancel the parade for this year,” said the post. “There is a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into the parade, especially the night of, and with the amount of people it takes to properly make this parade a success, along with the amount of people that attend every year, we felt the responsible thing for us to do is to cancel it.”

In a request for comment by The Sun, Fire Chief Joe Cipriano said his company  had discussed the feasibility of hosting the annual parade since the beginning of the pandemic, when it seemed likely COVID-19 would disrupt normal, everyday life.

“It’s been a concern of ours since the onset of the pandemic,” Cipriano explained. “It was quite a lengthy discussion at our company business meeting, and (pretty much) everyone was in agreement that it would be the responsible thing to do to cancel it this year.”

According to Cipriano, the parade has been an annual tradition for nearly four decades and has been cancelled a handful of times because of bad weather. But this year’s cancellation sticks out as a unique circumstance.

“Our biggest concern was the crowds that usually gather for the parade along the route,” the chief said. “It’s always a very well-attended event because it’s a fun event and, I think as of right now, we are the only fire company that has a parade on that Saturday.

“In light of everything that’s going on right now, we want to make sure that everyone stays healthy.”

After the parade, the fire company typically invites judges, parade members, firefighters from other township departments and parade attendees back to the firehouse for an awards ceremony, but that isn’t feasible this year because of social distancing, as well as Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order capping building attendance at 25-percent of indoor capacity.

While it received questions and information requests this summer from the usual planners of the parade, the fire company decided to wait until this month for a final decision. That timing would have allowed planners enough time to get floats ready in the event the parade could still be held.

Looking ahead, Cipriano is hopeful the fire company is able to host next year’s event.

“I know it sucks for a lot of people; a lot of families and fire companies look forward to it every year and spend two or three months in preparation for it,” Cipriano said. “We’re looking forward to next year, and hopefully 2021 can be better.”