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The Great Airdrie Train Race is back

Members of the Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will once again go head-to-head in the eighth annual Great Airdrie Train Race, Dec. 19 at Nose Creek Regional Park.

The yearly charity initiative, a component of the Airdrie Festival of Lights (AFOL), will see the first responders compete from 6 to 9 p.m. as they battle to sell the most tickets to ride the miniature train. Proceeds from the sales will support two local charities.

“It’s always a fun night – Fire and EMS like to compete against each other,” said AFOL co-ordinator Michelle Pirzek. “The smack talk is fun, and it’s an all-around enjoyable evening.”

For firefighter Travis Smutt, this year will mark his first time taking part in the event.

“I’m hoping for a pretty big turnout,” he said. “It’ll be my first time at the Airdrie Festival of Lights, as well, and I just hope as many people can make it out as possible for this friendly competition between us and EMS.”

The money AFD raises from the $2 tickets will go toward the Tim Jackson Scholarship Fund. According to Smutt, the scholarship is named after Airdrie volunteer firefighter Tim Jackson, who died in 1997 as a result of injuries he sustained following a collapsed trench rescue.

“The fire department wants to keep his memory alive, and we choose students who have community spirit or represent citizenship [for the scholarship],” he said. “Those students represent who Tim was in the community, and what he stood for.”

On the other side of the ticket booth, EMS’s proceeds will support Airdrie and District Victims Assistance Society. The competition tends to raise at least $1,000 for the society, according to advance care paramedic Sheila Riccetto.

“We feel like they’re one of our silent partners, almost, in the emergency services world,” she said. “They come in after all the sirens are gone and they really support the victims’ families. A lot of times, they don’t get the credit for the hard work they do, so this is our way of saying thank you to them for everything they do after we’ve left.”

While the race is always in good fun, Smutt said, the two organizations are keen to out-sell each other. He added AFD and EMS have each won the ticket-selling race an equal number of times, with EMS tying up the overall series last year.

“No one has ever won two years in a row,” he said. “It always seems to trade back and forth.”

Last year’s race was so close, according to Riccetto, there was just a $1 separating how much the two organizations raised.

“We kind of ended up in a bit of a tie,” she said. “EMS raised more money, but fire sold more tickets. So this year, it will be about breaking that tie from last year.”

Smutt added the race is also an opportunity for first responders to interact with the public in a positive setting.

“I think it’s important for our front-line services to be in the public eye, more so than just being seen in our emergency-response capacity,” he said. “We do care, and we want to better our community as much as possible. This is a great way to do that, [while] promoting community wellness and spirit.”

Riccetto, who has been involved with the Great Airdrie Train Race for five years, said what she likes most about the initiative is that the funds raised stay within the city.

“They’re two very worthwhile charities and those dollars stay right here in our community,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing all of Airdrie out for the competition.”

Riccetto added EMS mascot Medic Moose will accompany the team this year.  

“I can’t wait to see the kids come out, ride the trains and check out the lights while we support a great charity,” she said.