Jim Feldhusen continues tradition as ‘Firefighter Santa,’ despite cancer treatments
|Published: 12-05-2023 11:28 AM
On Saturday, “Firefighter Santa,” also known as New Ipswich and Greenville firefighter Jim Feldhusen, donned the iconic red suit, with a few notable differences, including firefighter boots and helmet instead of a red cap, and climbed aboard the Greenville fire engine for a tour about town.
Feldhusen plays Santa every year for the department’s annual holiday tradition, as well as for the New Ipswich Fire Department’s Pictures with Santa fundraiser. He was determined to continue the tradition this year, despite a diagnosis of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus – esophageal cancer – earlier this year, and being in a recovery period from his latest round of chemotherapy.
Greenville firefighter Jay Antos said the members of the department told Feldhusen there was no expectation of him donning the suit this year if he didn’t feel up to it, but that the role was his if he desired. But Feldhusen was up for the job, donning a heated vest and jacket under his Santa coat to help combat his chills, but otherwise ready to go.
“Even though Jim has gone through multiple chemotherapy treatments and will have upcoming radiation treatments, he insisted on, and has been looking forward to, doing the Santa tour for the kids in town,” Antos said. “This drives straight to the point of who Jim is, always selflessly wanting to serve the community even in spite of all he is going through himself.”
Feldhusen said he wanted to continue the tradition that he has been part of for so long. The tour predates his joining the department, but he said he has seen the tradition grow and become something children in town look forward to each year, and he wasn’t about to let them down.
“The first year I did it, we had some people waving from windows. Last year was probably one of the best years we’ve had – hundreds of people came out,” Feldhusen said. “The year we had COVID, the chief – Charlie Buttrick at the time – he insisted that we do this. It was important to show the community that we’re still here.”
And that, Feldhusen said, is the core of why he fills Santa’s boots each year, and why it was important for him to still play the role this year.
“The reason it’s important to me is because I love the reception we get. I love the looks on the kids’ faces. It’s not just kids, either – adults wave from windows, and wait for this. I want them to know that I’m going to be there as Santa, and if there’s an emergency, I’m going to be there as well,” Feldhusen said.
Feldhusen added that being in a volunteer department, it’s traditions like this that show the town that the department is part of their community, not just people that show up on their worst day.
“Truly, I do this for the community, and let them know that yes, we’re here, yes, we care, and no matter what, we’re here as a department to be your knights in shining armor, or just to be your Santa Claus coming in on the sled,” he said.
Charlie Jackman acts as Santa’s helper in the guise of Buddy the Elf from the film “Elf.” He said it has become a tradition he looks forward to every year.
“Jim’s a great guy; you couldn’t ask for anyone better. You really couldn’t,” Jackman said.
Jackman said as a 21-year veteran of the fire service himself, he was saddened but not shocked when he heard of Feldhusen’s diagnosis.
“To hear that he ended up having cancer, unfortunately, didn’t surprise me, because a lot of us do catch cancer. It catches up to you after awhile. But Jim’s got a lot of resilience, and the good thing is he loves people. And this is why I look forward to this on a yearly basis,” Jackman said.
Feldhusen’s doctors believe his 40 years in the volunteer firefighting service was a contributing factor in his illness, as a 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters have a 62% higher risk of getting esophageal cancer than the general public.
Both the Greenville and New Ipswich fire departments have rallied around Feldhusen, including holding a workday at his home to help winterize it and starting a GoFundMe page to help offset the costs associated with his treatment. The Feldhusens plan to make a temporary move to Boston in December, in preparation for six weeks of radiation therapy.
Feldhusen said he has completed his rounds of chemotherapy, and the treatments have shown results, shrinking his largest tumors by 30%, and two smaller tumors by half. Following the radiation treatment, he expects to undergo surgery to remove the tumors.
Donations in support of the Feldhusen family can be made through the GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/fundraiser-for-one-of-our-own, or by specifying a donation to the New Ipswich Fire Fighters Association, a 501(c)(3) organization, by sending a check to New Ipswich Fire Fighters Association, P.O. Box 324, New Ipswich, NH 03071
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or email@example.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.