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How Burlington works to keep people safe at annual Christmas tree lighting

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 6:01 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - We’re just a few days away from the kickoff of the Christmas season in downtown Burlington.

Downtown businesses and the city are preparing for crowds of people to come to see the tree light up once again.

Some say it’s the most wonderful time of the year on the Church Street Marketplace as the garland has been hung and the tree is ready for its big moment Friday night.

However, the recent tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas parade once again brings into question the safety of gathering in big groups, but Burlington police say they are ready for the event.

Final touches were put on the tree late Wednesday afternoon ahead of the Christmas tree lighting on Friday night. The event is back again this year after a hiatus due to COVID.

“This is a big cornerstone event of the community, so folks are prepared and safety is top of mind and we are really excited for a fun day and weekend kicking off the holiday season,” said Colin Hilliard, the advocacy director for the Burlington Business Association.

The Burlington Business Association is also encouraging people to wear masks if they are going to be close to one another watching the tree lighting or going into shops to keep everyone safe.

Burlington police say they will continue with their normal precautions such as barriers at the top of Church Street, plus DPW snowplows and an emergency response vehicle blocking the pedestrian entrances to ensure people’s safety.

“We want people that come down to the marketplace to have a great time and we are there to make sure they do that, so we take that burden on ourselves to make sure people are safe and keep our eyes out for anything that might look out of place,” Burlington Deputy Police Chief Wade Labrecque said.

These precautions were put in place after the Boston Marathon Bombing and truck attack at a German Christmas market several years ago. This is why the heavy vehicles are stationed at the entrances.

These fears were renewed in the past week when an SUV drove into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Former WCAX News Editor Bethany Goff witnessed the tragedy.

“We grabbed our kids and stepped back on the sidewalk and made sure everyone was OK,” Goff said.

Goff says her family and the group they were with were OK but they did see the SUV run into some people. Six people died and nearly 50 others were injured.

She says their tight-knit community has come together after the tragedy.

“We’re in this together and I think that’s really been something people have held onto is they have the support of the community,” Goff said.

She says after the horror of that experience, it’s good for everyone to keep a watchful eye out in big crowds, something Burlington police encourage people to do as well.

“I think it’s important not to live your life in fear but it is important to have that healthy awareness of your surroundings,” Goff said.

Goff says she hopes people in the Burlington area continue holding tight to those in their community, and her message is to hug your kids and family extra tight.

The tree lighting event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.

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