Hotel holiday: Firefighters bring gifts to displaced Summerlin-area family

Firefighters came to the rescue Dec. 14 after a devastating fire displaced Christopher and Kathryn Cole, and their young northwest Las Vegas family. By the time the flames were extinguished, there was nothing left but the studs.

The Coles — along with 2-year-old daughter Penelope and near-1-year-old Christopher Jr. — lived in a house belonging to Kathryn Cole’s grandmother, Kathryn Mays, who was also displaced.

The family had completed the majority its Christmas shopping, with the gifts sitting under the tree, when the fire hit. All of them were lost. The children still received some presents at Christmas, from other people.

The family celebrated Christmas in the hotel room.

“It’s no fun living in a hotel when it’s Christmas,” said Christopher.

Firefighters again came to the rescue Jan. 9, when Operation Fire H.E.A.T. (Holiday Emergency Assistance Team) did its best to replace the gifts.

“We reach out to (affected families) and ask for their Christmas wish list,” said Jayson Calhoun, H.E.A.T. president and a Las Vegas Fire & Rescue firefighter who coordinated the effort. “We focus on the kids first, and whatever’s left, whatever we’ve budgeted for the family, we give to the adults.”

When firefighters arrived at the family’s hotel with siren wailing, the children displayed more interest in the firetruck than the presents or the firefighter dressed as Santa. But that didn’t mean the effort was less appreciated. The firefighters placed bags of gifts on a grassy area for Penelope to inspect.

“One of the cool things is that the guys who were there, fighting the fire, come along to deliver the toys,” Calhoun said. “We want them to see, to get the payback, of the recovery of the family.”

Brett Strong, captain with Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, was one of those fighting the Dec. 14 fire.

“It feels really good to do this,” Strong said, “to see the community pull together and help this young family.”

Operation Fire H.E.A.T. was founded by 911 fire dispatchers with the Fire Alarm Office at Fire & Rescue headquarters. This is the ninth year that H.E.A.T. has helped families. Las Vegas Fire Station 43, 6420 Smoke Ranch Road, was the staging area.

Usually, the nonprofit purchases a child-sized firefighter’s costume to hand out. Calhoun looked everywhere, including online, and couldn’t get one in time, but he was able to locate most of the requested items. The items were age-specific and included toy cars, dolls and games.

DAY OF THE FIRE

The blaze began about 1 p.m. Kathryn Mays, for whom Kathryn Cole was named, was in the nursery with the baby when the contents of a pot on the stove caught fire.

Penelope came into the nursery and got her grandmother’s attention. She didn’t know how to say “fire,” but Mays could tell something was amiss.

“I looked around the corner and I saw the smoke,” Mays said. “I’m not the type to panic. I just thought, ‘Do what you have to do.’ I had to work fast. That’s how I operate.”

She grabbed the infant.

Christopher, who was coming home from work at McCarran International Airport, opened the front door and got a face full of smoke.

“It just whooshed at me,” he said. “There was smoke everywhere. Penny ran to me, so I took her outside. Grandma had Junior. Everything happened so fast.”

Everyone got out in time, but the baby had burns on his face and was rushed to a hospital. He has recovered.

Kathryn Cole was at work at TELUS International. Once the firefighters were on scene and his son was on his way to the emergency room, Christopher went to get her.

“He told me what happened and I had to run and get my keys and my brain kind of flopped,” Kathryn recalled. “We went straight to the hospital … I was crying, thinking the worst. But when I saw him (the baby), he was smiling and laughing.”

One of their dogs, Mickey, a miniature boxer mix, was in the backyard and escaped unharmed. But Minnie, a Shih Tzu-Lhasa apso mix, didn’t make it.

“She went back into the kids’ room (in all the confusion),” Kathryn Cole said. “She was always the protector.”

The extended family was getting ready to move into an apartment. It will take three to four months for the house to be rebuilt, they were told.

Visit operationfireheat.org.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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