AKRON, Ohio — Akron firefighters respond to car crashes, provide medical care and rescue people from burning homes, but sometimes it's their quiet, community service work that changes lives and warms hearts.
Earlier this month, firefighters met a vibrant kindergartner, Mya Slater, during a safety town presentation at Rimer Elementary.
"She got their attention and they loved her, fell in love with her," said her father, Dwight Slater.
As they continued to talk with the 5-year-old girl, the firefighters began to realize her family was dealing with some personal and financial troubles at home.
"They spoke to the teacher and the teacher told them that her family was having some hardships and clothing was an issue for the little girl," said Lt. Joe Falkenstein.
Mya isn't the only child in the home. She has five brothers, including 3-year-old twins. They're being raised a single, working dad. He works at Akron Auto Auction, but admits money is very tight this holiday season.
"I love my little girl and I'm just trying to provide for all of my kids and keep a roof over their heads," Slater said.
Firefighters felt a strong desire to help the family and decided to adopt them for Christmas. Over the past few weeks, they've contributed about $750 to buy toys, games, clothing and more for the kids.
"We truly care. That's just typical for Akron fire is we go above and beyond," Falkenstein said. "We just wanted to do anything we can to help them smile."
On Thursday, Falkenstein filled up a shopping cart at Target on Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls. Gifts included a stuffed baby shark, a fire truck and shoes.
Other gifts have been ordered and will be delivered soon, including a new bicycle for Mya.
Slater, 34, was surprised by the generosity of the firefighters, but also extremely grateful. He said Christmas for his children would not be nearly as bright if not for the donated presents.
"That means a lot. Appreciation. Gratitude," he said. "They're good men and I'm very, very thankful."
The kindness is also an opportunity for Slater to take stock of how far he has come in his personal live. In years past, he struggled with drugs and got into trouble because of them, but he stressed his life is different now. His focus is on working hard and doing the best he can for his kids.
"I've been clean for three years now, so I'm just staying on the straight path," he said.
Falkenstein said the firefighters are thrilled they could make a difference in the lives of the family. They plan to deliver to the gifts to the Slater home on Monday afternoon.
"We're just real excited, real happy, real excited. It warms our hearts to be able to put smiles on these kids faces and help them have a wonderful Christmas," Falkenstein said.