Courier Staff Writer
Some of the floats were huge. Others were fancy. And one float was just deafeningly loud. But a few Oktoberfest entries had a deeper meaning for the people who built them.
Messages came from such diverse parts of the community as substance abuse orginizations, animal rescue groups and churches marching Saturday.
“Any oportunity we have to promote fire safety, we’re going to take it,” said Ottumwa Fire Chief Tony Miller.
This year, that included building a float — complete with a “house” on fire — for the Oktoberfest parade.
“Assistant Chief Mike Craff came to me and said they wanted to use the [Oktoberfest] parade to spread the message,” Miller said. “This is the first time in a long time the fire department had a float. Every chance we have, we’re going to [teach] fire prevention.”
Unfortunately, he said, that dedication gets a jump start every other week, on average, in Ottumwa.
“We had 30 working structure fires last year. That’s a really high number for a town this size. I’ve been doing this more than 30 years, and I’ll say of all the structure fires I’ve pulled up to in my career, at least half had no smoke detectors, or the owner had taken the battery out when it started chirping.”
The float helps residents know there are very few excuses for not having a working smoke detector. For most types of homes, firefighters in Ottumwa will come over and either give you a smoke detector, or even install a smoke detector at no charge.
The goal is that eventually, every home in town will have that basic life saving tool, he said.
Not every float is meant to teach the crowd a lesson. Another float’s participants wanted to honor the departed.
A group of Vietnam veterans designed a float with the names of the more than 800 Iowans killed during the conflict.
Some serve the purpose of bringing the marchers together, of showing support for each other and remembering they’re not alone.
A Wapello County support group for parents who have lost a child had their float this year, made up with clouds, angels and a gate.
“This year, we did a heaven theme,” said Bobbie Amburn, founder of the Footprints of a Child support group.
She started the group a year and a half ago after losing her baby, yet finding no support available locally. Now, heartbroken parents call her for support. And she’s found she can help. .
“But helping them, it helps me, too.”
Events like the parade are a good oportunity to get together and honor thier lost children. In fact, Amburn said, she’d only met some of the parents there Saturday on Facebook or on the telephone.
They ended their day by releasing balloons with their child’s name on it.
As they met in the Bridge View Center parking lot around Noon Saturday, the parents working the heaven float seemed tired but happy.
“We’re all still grieiving,” said Amburn, “and we’ll never forget. I know I never will. But it’s easier [when you can] talk to someone who’s been through it.”