Although the Lenten season has begun, the Catholics in the group had no need to worry about enjoying the classic St. Patty's day meal instead of sticking with fish or vegetables. The firefighters had that all covered.

FRANKLIN - St. Patrick's Day came early to the Franklin Senior Center on Friday, as members of the Fire Department spent lunchtime serving plates of corned beef and cabbage, with potatoes and carrots, to a few dozen seniors.

Although the Lenten season has begun, Catholics in the group had no need to worry about enjoying the classic St. Patty's day meal instead of sticking with fish and vegetables.

Firefighters had that covered.

"Maybe next year we'll try not to plan it on a Friday during Lent," said firefighter/paramedic Doug Perro, going on to quip, "However, we talked to Father Brian (Manning, of the Parish of St. Mary), so you get a special dispensation ... if you're over 59."

The comment drew guffaws from the gathered diners, many of them clad in shades of green.

It was the first of what members of the Professional Firefighters of Franklin Local 2637 expect will become a new annual tradition.

While Irish ballads played, the town's fire staff brought out trays brimming with plates of corned beef specials catered by the Franklin Elks. Friendly banter and laughter filled the room as the department officers and firefighter paramedics shared friendly conversation with their guests.

"Everyone is so excited about this," said Senior Center Director Karen Alves.

She said the firefighter/paramedics are "the people our folks see all the time" when they have medical issues, or need assistance with safety issues within their homes, so it was great for seniors to be able to socialize with them in a less serious scenario.

Perro, who serves as the Fire Department's Student Awareness of Fire Education (S.A.F.E.) and Senior S.A.F.E. officer, with the support of the union led much of the planning for the event. The luncheon also included having members of the department personally deliver meals to the homes of 13 seniors unable to make it down to the senior center.

"I do a lot with the seniors, so I thought we could do a little more outreach," Perro said.

Through the Senior S.A.F.E. program, firefighter/paramedics provide many services for seniors, including checking their homes for safety issues such as fall and slip hazards, and correcting them. They also help seniors with installing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and changing batteries.

Talking about the inspiration behind inaugurating the St. Patrick's Day luncheon, Perro explained, "we're just trying to be more of a presence down here at the senior center." It is hoped that by becoming more familiar faces among the town's seniors, any anxiety seniors may feel about calling for assistance will be dispelled.

Union President and fire Capt. Chuck Allen said the union was very much on board with starting up the new tradition.

"We love doing this stuff. It's not all just about responding to fires and medical calls. It's about being part of the community," he said. "That's what the Franklin Fire Department is all about."

Union Vice President and firefighter/paramedic Paul Molla said he was impressed with the high turnout for the luncheon.

"This is really a great event," he said.

Fire Chief James McLaughlin and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Barbieri mingled with seniors throughout the luncheon as well. McLaughlin credited the union, calling the event a great community service.

Town Administrator Jamie Hellen stopped in as well, and, like Molla, was impressed with the enthusiastic turnout.

"It's a great way to do outreach, and for our seniors and (fire) staff to develop that personal contact," he said.

Anne and Don Woodring were among the guests at the luncheon.

"I think it's a very, very nice thing," said Anne Woodring.

Diane Kelley agreed. "It is wonderful," she said.

Firefighters and their Elks caterers also earned a ton of brownie points from Claire Vaughan.

"I grew up in South Boston and I can say this is the best corned beef I've had in years," she proclaimed. "It brings back a lot of memories."

Among the visitors on Friday was the Fire Department's mascot, Sparky, who visited each table and posed with seniors for photos. Perro got some laughs as he took the opportunity to tease the Fire Department's fellow men and women in uniform: the Franklin Police Department.

"Sparky's our dog," he said while introducing the mascot to the group. Then, grinning mischievously, he joked, "If you ask me, he's a lot more friendlier than Ben Franklin," referring to the Police Department's own real live, very endearing and super-popular therapy dog.

The luncheon was topped off with some games of Bingo. Taking the helm at the senior center's Bingo masterboard, Molla proved to be an entertaining Bingo master as he plucked balls from the table's blower compartment and called out the numbers.

"You're enjoying that too much!" one of the nearby Bingo players called out, to a chorus of chuckles.

It's probably safe to say Bingo master will be Molla's job next year, too. Just as the Fire Department has a new tradition to carry on, he's got a new duty to uphold.