San Francisco firefighters join Christmas decorating competition

A dozen fire stations in San Francisco are bringing holiday cheer into neighborhoods across the city by competing in a decoration competition.

On Wednesday night, the judges – including the fire chief – made the rounds to check out the displays.

A KTVU crew visited three stations to give everyone a look at the competition.

Station 38 in the Pacific Heights neighborhood is a dazzling display.

 "We were successful in winning last year so we knew everybody was going to chase us, so we stepped it up a little bit more," said Lt. Ken Smith. 

  The defending champion crew said new additions include a handmade chimney and lights strung on trees along the street.  Smith said it took twelve days to put this all together, a gift of joy to neighbors.

 "Giving them something from our heart that captures who we are and what the city is all about," said Smith.  

 A fire truck carrying the judges went to each station in the competition. 

A tradition that ended 73 years ago in 1948, but was brought back last year to bring light into the darkness of the pandemic. 

 "This is a wonderful opportunity for people to get out and see the stations and how much care our firefighters take in decorating everything and bring a little joy to people," said Fire Chief Jeannine Nicholson.  

 Station 8 in Soma impressed at least one judge.

PHOTOS: Viewers decorate their homes, trees with lights and more

 "I see the lights, the color , the inflatables, said 18-year-old DaMaury Robinson, "The little details that nobody thinks about."

 He and another 18-year-old judge, Nikko Robinson, are aspiring firefighters from Mission High School's Fire and EMS program 

 Nikko Robinson said he's looking for "effort, creativity and Christmas spirit" when judging the displays.

 Another judge said the friendly competition is a boost to mental health.

"Little things like this help raise the morale of our first responders because they see awful things every day and to have fun in the community and lighten things up every now and then is really important," said Maria Polyzos with the nonprofit National First Responders Fund.   

 Station 39 on Portola near West Portal was also in the competition.

It's decorated with all the traditional trimmings with an added touch of creativity: a firefighter putting out flames on a tree. 

Firefighter-paramedic Che Soriano said there's no particular theme to his fire station's display, but that the goal was "get it as bright and beautiful as we can for the holiday."

 The station that wins first place receives $3,000. Second place gets $2,000 with $1,000 for third place.

The money came from the Firefighters Credit Union.

The winning stations donate all their prize money to the San Francisco charities of their choice.

To donate to the National First Responders, click here.