Mills Fireman

Put yourself back in elementary school.

There are many memories you might recall.

Recess time, your first crush, your first best friend or your favorite teacher, all might be someone’s strongest memories.

Wednesday afternoon at Mills Elementary School, a lasting memory was imprinted in the minds of five students as they met two important people in the community.

From the Klamath County Fire District No. 1, firefighters Jake Weems and Brody Nelson came to visit the elementary school to give five select students a ride around the block in their fire truck.

The day was made to recognize five students, one from each grade level, as students of the quarter.

Kindergartener Lydia Bravo, first grader Yatzari Morelos Pena, second grader Yureni Pena, third grader Anne Marie Rodriguez, fourth grader Presley Simmons and fifth grader Maria Morales, were elected as students of the quarter.

Based off the student’s attendance and etiquette in class, they were chosen and given the opportunity to ride alongside the two firemen.

“Cool, scary and kind of nervous, that is how I felt,” Rodriguez said. “I am not that type of social person, really much. I would like to stay in my room but I would also like to go out and do stuff; but I would also like to stay in my room. I am like that kind of social person.”

As Rodriguez and Yureni Pena got off the firetruck, their classmates waved and cheered for them by a gate around the school, waiting to play with them and see the hat they received.

Weems and Nelson followed them into what was left of recess. Nelson handed out Klamath County Fire District pencils as Weems ensued to play soccer with the students and played on the jungle gym.

“The goal is the kindergarteners have five, six years. If we come four times a year, they have 20 or up to 24 chances to maybe get a ride on the fire engine,” Weems said. “Every time they ask us, ‘how do we get on the fire engine?’, we tell them to be a good listener to their teacher, be respectful and be a good student.”

The two firemen were like two celebrities, with students asking them any question that came to mind. The day ended with Weems and Nelson eating lunch with the students before they had to respond to a call.

“We try to encourage good behavior, good listening. I started this program with the fire department. I have kids of my own and thought it would be cool to encourage kids to have good behavior,” Weems said. “Mills Elementary happens to be in our fire response area, so I figured it was a good place to start.”

Weems’ idea to start the fire truck tour began four years ago when he approached Mills Elementary Dean of Students, Jeff Haudenshild, about visiting the school routinely.

On occasions, there has also been an ambulance that comes to the school as well.

The visit goes beyond the surface as Weems recalls several students who he remembers by name.

“There is a third or fourth grader who has remembered us through the years, Melodie, who was one of the first recognized students when she was in kindergarten,” Weems said. “Every time she sees us, she comes and reminds us, ‘oh, I got to do this when I was in kindergarten. I remember.’ She never forgets to tells us that each time we visit.”

The life of a fireman is no walk in the park.

As they visited Mills, Weems and Nelson were in the middle of their 48-hour shift, and started working at 7 a.m. the day before.

There are three different shifts and three different crews for Klamath County Fire District No. 1. Weems and Nelson have made it a priority to be the familiar face each time they visit Mills.

Not everyone has appreciated the fire trucks as a neighboring house complained about the bright lights and sirens the previous time the event took place. Weems talked to management at his fire department on what was appropriate for them to do and reminded neighbors about the purpose of the event.  

Just as Rodriguez hinted about her nerves, some of the students of the quarter had a fear when they saw or rode on the fire truck. On the contrary, many of the boys who rode with the fireman, were rowdy and enthused each time they were able to honk the horn.

“Melodie was really shy at first when we met her in kindergarten but she is not shy anymore,” Weems said. “It has helped for times when we have responded during medical calls or fire calls in the Mills neighborhood; then they are not as scared of us. They come up to us and say, ‘you guys came to our school.’ We create that trust.”

As of now, Klamath County Fire District No. 1 is content about helping the Mills area but have thought about expanding their fire truck tour to different schools and locations in Klamath Falls.

“There is always this thought that kids are going to be scared of the firetrucks, the loud noises or the gear and I think this is a good entry or bridge to let them see that we are just normal people like they are and not to be scared,” Nelson said. “We have come and kids got hurt on the playground equipment and that is kind of where it goes back to we come, it is loud and noisy, everyone is watching and maybe they can see a familiar face when we are here, if that was to happen.”

Weems remembered instances when he came to Mills for small injuries that occurred during recess, as well as attending a parent who had a medical condition scare at an event last year.

In the end, Weems wants the children to remember him positively.

“Some of the kids do not remember times we have come and helped them for medical calls. It is good for us to have a positive reason to come to this school,” Weems said. “We are four years into this program now. The kids are not scared of us now.”