Operation FireH.E.A.T. is helping families who have suffered catastrophic fires by giving children presents for Christmas from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 each year.
“It is all about bringing happiness to the children in a very traumatic time in their life,” said Operation FireH.E.A.T. (Holiday Emergency Assistance Team) President and Treasurer, Fred Wechselberger.
The program, which has already helped four families this year, is a joint initiative between the Las Vegas Fire Department, Henderson Fire Department, North Las Vegas Fire Department and Clark County Fire Department. It started six years ago with dispatchers saving $5 a paycheck to help families in need during the holidays and has grown to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Wechselberger added that the program has evolved to not just providing presents, but also helping children have positive memories after experiencing a catastrophic fire.
“We can’t make the kids forget about the fire, but we can at least make it so that when they remember it, they have a good memory as well,” he said.
Ron Kline, a firefighter paramedic who also serves on the board of directors of Operation FireH.E.A.T., said that the program is especially important because it brings normalcy to children whose families have suffered through a devastating fire during the holidays.
“It is just great that the firefighters are able to come out and be part of the kid’s Christmas this year,” said Andre Henderson, 46, who sustained first and second degree burns on his arm while trying to get his girlfriend and two young children — 4 and 6 — out of the house during a fire that caused moderate damage to their home Wednesday. “The kids are flabbergasted because they didn’t think Santa Claus was coming this year, but Santa Claus came after all.”
Additionally, as part of the effort to appease children and their families who have experienced a fire, the program includes a fire safety education experience, where the children are able to tour the fire engine, wear firefighter hats and spray water.
“We have implemented fire safety education, so it is not just about presents but it is also about learning and outreach,” Kline said. “When we come in to put out the fire we are scary like Darth Vader to the kids, but this experience makes the kids not want to hide from us anymore.”
Henderson said that when the firefighters participate with the kids, it creates a positive experience for them and allows for the children to not see firefighters as scary figures.
“The kids really look up to the firemen and by the firemen participating with the kids, they are less afraid of them,” he said. “This is so great and amazing. I really appreciate it.”
Contact Maria Agreda at firstname.lastname@example.org and (702)383-0391.