ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Big Country celebrated Independence Day over the long weekend, and one Abilene neighborhood is no exception. The Hillcrest area celebrated the 4th of July with its 26th annual parade. While most residents celebrated the nation’s independence, some celebrated for a different reason.

“Well, I can sleep at night and not worry that the house is going to burn down,” said Alan Cluke, an organizer of the Hillcrest neighborhood July 4th parade.  

Even though he has always invited first responders to his parade, the festive event is now honoring them more than it has before, feeling as though the community owes them a thank you. 

“The Mesquite Heat Fire- that’s a scary thing,” said Cluke. “And the firefighters were doing all they could to put it out.”

Lieutenant Baker Bryant told KTAB/KRBC he was thankful the firefighters were recognized, but that he is always ready to work when something breaks out.” 

“You can maybe relax a little bit, but you still have to be on duty for whatever might come,” Lt. Bryant said. “So you hope that maybe people will be safe, and you won’t have a lot of incidents to respond to.”

Another organizer, Star Ferguson, said because of the fire and other things that are currently going on in the world, the community needed to be unified. 

“And this neighborhood is strong in unity… Not necessarily in where we go to church or how we vote, but we all love the USA,” explained Ferguson. 

The sentiment rings true for Bob and Betty Hale, who have been Hillcrest residents since 1961. 

“It shows that we aren’t rioting,” said Betty. “We’re just enjoying each other.”

Both parties say they believe the parade unifies their community, which is most important. 

“You have to be united,” Bob added, “and it unites us in a way whether you are political or not.”

The neighborhood met together after to eat ice cream at Hillcrest Church of Christ, a tradition they have been doing since the beginning in 1996.