The annual Christmas open house at the Shepherdstown Fire Department has been a holiday tradition for more than 20 years.
The event can be traced to the days when the fire department was downtown at King and New streets. It was common then for 200 people or more to visit the fire department to see equipment displays and enjoy cookies and a visit from Santa Claus, said Doug Pittinger, the department's ambulance chief.
Now, the fire department is in a sprawling facility along W.Va. 45 on the western edge of town. Last year, department officials decided to add something new to the celebration: a community dinner.
For anyone who wants it, the fire department offers a free dinner to say thanks to the community.
For 51 weeks of the year, the volunteer fire squad looks to the community "to give us this, give us that," said Pittinger, also is a paramedic for the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Fire Department.
"We felt it was our turn to do something for the community," said Pittinger.
Last year, more than 400 people were served at the dinner. On Sunday, the fire department prepared enough food for 700 people, Pittinger said.
People ate at rows of tables set up in the banquet room and by 1 p.m. - an hour into the event - 250 people had been served, Pittinger said.
"The response has been overwhelming," Pittinger said. Officials said later in the day that about 400 people were served.
While people ate, others took their children to a corner in the room to visit Santa Claus. After a visit with St. Nick, children were treated to a picture with Santa and a gift bag containing toys, a coloring book, crayons, candy canes and an orange.
Also open to the public was the front section of the fire department, where the firetrucks, ambulances and equipment are kept.
Children climbed on trucks and parents took pictures of the little ones perched on the equipment.
Vincent Tymon held his son, Stuart, as they looked through a display glass to see a 120-year-old steam engine that the department once used to fight fires. In those days, firefighters built a fire in the contraption, which caused steam to build up so it could suck water from a stream to fight a fire, Pittinger said.
"This is great they do this for the town," said Tymon, who has lived in Shepherdstown for three years.
Charline Brown said she started coming to the open house when her niece, Angel Holmes, was born and it has been a tradition for 13 years.
"It's nice that the fire department does this for the town," said Brown, a volunteer at the department who helps with bingo games on Wednesdays.