Firefighter dads make a special visit to their kids’ school

POCATELLO – At her kindergarten graduation last year, Lucy O’Donnell held up her hands in the air, vexed.

Where was the fire truck?

Since her dad is a firefighter, of course he’d be bringing it with him, she thought.

Lucy O’Donnell at her kindergarten graduation, wondering where her dad is. Photo courtesy of Ann O’Donnell.

But her dad, Brian O’Donnell was stuck at work and had no idea she was expecting the big yellow engine. When he found out, he promised Lucy he’d make it up to her another time.

And on Wednesday, he did.

Brian is one of a handful of “fire dads” with kids attending Indian Hills Elementary who teamed up to bring their fire trucks for a show-and-tell the students won’t soon forget.

Amy Bidwell’s third grade class lines up to go inside a BLM fire engine. Paul Davis, a BLM engine captain and father of two Indian Hills students, shows off the fire truck.

Firefighters from the city of Pocatello, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Idaho National Laboratory spent the morning teaching kids about fire prevention and what it’s like to be a structure or wildland firefighter.

“The future (Fire Management Officer) of Idaho might be in one of these classes,” Chris Berger, a spokesman for the BLM, said. “This might be what sparks a passion (for this career).”

The kids got to spray fire hoses, go inside the engines, try on heavy backpacks, learn about chainsaws, pulaskis, and rhinos, and see firefighters dressed in their protective gear.

“They treat us like royalty,” one student said as she sat perched on the bumper of a bright red fire engine.

A group of students poses on the bumper of a Pocatello fire truck.
Lila Lou Nielsen tries on a wildland firefighter’s backpack.
A Pocatello firefighter shows a jaws of life tool to a crowd of first graders.

“It’s fabulous,” principal Jill Johnson said of the event. “Kids are engaged, they get hands-on experiences, and it promotes safety. Plus, the kids love seeing their parents in action and are proud of them.”

Bridger Davis (10) said he couldn’t believe it when he was at recess and looked over and saw his dad, Paul Davis, who is a BLM engine captain.

“It was kind of funny,” Bridger said with a big smile.

Paul Davis, a BLM engine captain, poses with his children Bridger (10) and Mila (7), who attend school at Indian Hills Elementary.

Jasper Williams (10) said seeing his dad, Dustin Williams, made him “really happy.” Dustin is an assistant fire management officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“It’s cool, we get to see the equipment and shoot down targets with hoses,” Jasper said.

Dustin Williams, an assistant fire management officer for the BIA, stands with his son, Jasper, in front of a fire engine.

Brian’s wife, Ann O’Donnell, a special education teacher at the school, organized the event and said it was especially meaningful because firefighting parents are gone so much during the fire season.

“First responder children have to deal with their parents missing birthdays, family vacations, etc. because of their unpredictable schedule or long shifts,” she said.

Wildland firefighting is like a marathon – it can take days, weeks, and even months to suppress wildfires, Berger said. And that means wildland firefighters miss important family time.

“Speaking as a fire dad, it’s crushing when you come home exhausted after being gone for two weeks, then you’re home for two days, and then you’re gone another 5-6 days,” he said. “It wears on the family … I missed my first kid’s first steps, and you can’t get that back.”

Wednesday’s event was “priceless” for connecting those dads to their kids.

Ben Myers, an engineer for the Idaho National Laboratory’s fire department, stands with his son Carver Myers, in front of a BLM engine.

“They can’t take their kids to work for a day, so we’re bringing work to the kids,” Berger said.

When Lucy’s first-grade class came out, she finally got her wish: her dad was there and – at long last – the big yellow engine.

Ann O’Donnell, a special education teacher, stands with her husband Brian, a wildfire operations technician for the BLM. Their daughter, Lucy, is in first grade at Indian Hills.
Carly Flandro

About Carly Flandro

Reporter Carly Flandro works in EdNews’ East Idaho bureau. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity, and equity. You can follow Flandro on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send her news tips at [email protected]

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