LAS VEGAS - Christmas is typically a favorite holiday for many kids, but for children in southern Nevada whose homes were ravaged by fire, Christmas becomes a reminder of all they lost.
Fred Wechselberger, a dispatcher with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, decided he was going to make sure these kids have a Christmas, so he started Operation Fire Heat in 2008.
"When the holiday fires hit, he is one hundred percent committed and involved to making Christmas happen for these families," said firefighter Jayson Calhoun. "He started very small. He's doing it completely on his own, and he's now made it this huge wonderful charity. He's given back to the children in southern Nevada, and it's just been amazing."
"This is probably one of, if not the most, traumatic event they have gone through in their life, and they forgot about it at least for the time being," Fred said. "They're jumping around and excited and opening presents and jumping on the fire engine. It's just awesome."
Last December, the Fernandez family lost their home in a fire - days after they finished their Christmas shopping. Fred and Operation Fire Heat ensured everything was replaced.
"I think what makes it special is that Fred and the Fire Heat program spend all year prepping to help families at such an unfortunate time," Juan Fernandez said. "Normally, we're a family that's on the giving end and never thought we would be on the receiving end."
A couple of years ago, Fred delivered toys to the Suarez family and received a gift of his own.
"After the delivery was over, we were getting ready to leave," Fred said. "She ran back into the motel and told us to hold on. When she came out, she had drawn a little thing for us of her and her family and the firefighters and the house and the dog. I started tearing up, absolutely."
8 News NOW decided it was time to reward Fred for his efforts – giving him $800 as part of its new weekly series Acts of Kindness.