COTR Success Truly ‘Takes The Village’

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Very few realize the huge production far behind the scenes in getting for Christmas on the River. It literally “takes a village.” This week the grand production that is COTR is all behind those unsung heroes who have toiled for weeks and some for months in the preparations.

All city departments, the volunteers, even the residents who make certain their homes are decorated, yards manicured, and Christmas lights are glowing in plenty of time for the first weekend in December, join in the effort required to show off Demopolis at its very best.

Demopolis Fire Chief Ronnie Few said his department was out in force on the final day of the celebration, Saturday, many of these firefighters unnoticed and posted at various locations at the different places where people were gathered. “All events have a fire fighter presence,” Few said. “We have EMS personnel, two carts equipped with medical equipment, fire barrells. Last year was my first year to experience Christmas on the River and I was there observing. We had a constant fire watch in place and I noticed some things we tired to improve upon this year.”

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One saftety improvement was asking barbecue vendors have sand on hand, just in case. Firefighters also encouraged the barbecue teams to space tents better to prevent ropes from getting too close to barbecue areas. When the tents went up this year, firefighters were on hand for an inspection, looking for electrical cords that could cause a hazard to ropes too close to an open flame, among several other hazards.

The Demopolis Police were also out in force with safety on their mind. Acting Chief Tim Williams said he has worked Christmas on the River for so long it’s second nature. “I’ve been doing it for 22 years,” he said. “Even before I was a poice officer, I was a ride-along when I was just 19 or 20.”

His main task is usually directing traffic, which is extremely congested during this nationally recognized festival, in addition to answering calls and lost children or parents. “It’s all hands on deck,” Williams said, during Christmas on the River. “Every employee works on that final day. It’s really more walking than riding, though we have 4-wheelers and golf carts.”

Williams said he is usually on site before daylight on the final day of Christmas on the River, and he is still working until quite late after the fireworks show to ensure the safety of visitors to Demopolis. “It’s just all day long,” he said. “I can’t remember when I’ve seen a Christmas on the River. About all we see is the fireworks and we can be so busy then, we don’t even see those.”

Still the effort is worth it all. Williams said he enjoys seeing the faces of young and old who are wowed by the Children’s Parade, the night parade and fireworks, Fair in he Square, Christmas in the Canebrake and the theater production that is all part of he affair.

“The kids love it and the adults, too,” Williams said. “It’s good for Demopolis and I just ask my people to be courteous.”

Over at the Public Works Department, Mike Baker said everyone cooperates several weeks ahead of time to get ready. “Everybody works together to get it all in place,” he said. “Mainly, Public Works makes sure the town is clean and presentable. We handle the decorations and make sure all the lights are working. We place barricades and rope off areas and keep things clean.”

Now that the COTR celebration is over, Baker said the departments will meet again to critique the success or mistakes the team observes and make notes on how to do it even better next year. Baker has been involved in Christmas on the River since the first one held 37 years ago.

Before Baker’s team is done, the Sunday morning clean-up team has to put things right in the city of Demopolis. “By noon everything is back as clean as it was before it started,” he said.

“What I enjoy the most is seeing it all come together after the hectic goings on before,” Baker said. “I really like it when we can say, ‘Hey, you pulled it off.’ It all just seems to blossom and it’s fun to see how much people enjoy this.”