Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 | 4:40 p.m.
When fire broke out at Antonio Harris’ North Las Vegas home Thursday, the unemployed father of two lost everything — including the few presents he had managed to buy for his children.
“It was such a shock to happen so close to Christmas,” he said. “I had the worst year and a half of my life.”
But Wednesday brought a little relief.
Harris, his fiancé, Romalisha, and his children, Tristina, 3, and Trenton, 4, were surprised when Operation Fire H.E.A.T. — Holiday Emergency Assistance Team — and members of North Las Vegas Fire Department Station 51 delivered a Christmas tree and gifts to the family.
The children were greeted at the front door of a relative’s apartment by Santa and were led to a fire truck filled with toys.
The children received two new tricycles with helmets, pillows and handfuls of wrapped gifts.
But the excitement didn’t end there, as Tristina, Trenton and other neighborhood kids were invited to look around the inside of the fire truck, spray water from a hose and honk the horn.
“They are unemployed, so they weren’t going to have too large of a Christmas, but the presents that they did have already were consumed in the fire,” Operation Fire H.E.A.T. President Fred Wechselberger said of the Harris family. “We got a hold of them, found out what they want, and we’re going to hook them up.”
Operation Fire H.E.A.T., a nonprofit group started by fire dispatchers four years ago, collects donations from dispatchers throughout the year to help families who become fire victims at the holidays.
Wechselberger said the organization helped nine families and bought $13,500 worth of gifts for 25 children last year.
For Harris, the gifts brought joy and a relief.
“I’m impressed,” Harris said. “I’m just happy and glad they came out.”