Jewish Community Center Early Learning Center students from the Barley classroom waved at pumpkins and pets during an invigorating, bumpy ride on a vintage fire truck on Friday, October 30; and on Monday, October 26, the JCC ELC’s Prekindergarten Pomegranate students began the school-wide Stranger Danger unit with the help of Early Learning Center Director Norma Cahen and Senior Program and Operations Director Tom Wissinger.
Retired fire chief Rick Albers took several truckloads of children for spins around Almara Circle right next to the JCC, as part of Community Helper Week.
“We’ve been working on fire safety, we’ve had police officers come visit,” said JCC Early Childhood Assistant Director Mindye Mannel, who accompanied the kids on the rides. “The kids are having a blast on the fire truck.”
Albers, who retired in 2011 after 44 years fighting fires, has just as much fun as the kids during the rides. He owns four antique fire trucks, and co-owns another. One is a ladder truck, and the other three, including the one he brought to the JCC, are pumpers.
The particular pumper Albers shared with the ELC students is one of his most prized possessions. It’s a 1963 Seagrave model from the St. Matthews Fire Department that he found on eBay.
It also happens to be the same truck in which a 16-year-old Albers made his first ever fire run. It’s not just the same model. It’s the actual truck.
“Some guy up in southern Ohio near Ashland, KY, had it. When I saw it I said ‘I know that truck!’ and I started bidding on it,” Albers said. “I’ve got a sentimental attachment to it.”
Albers uses his truck collection to enrich the community. In addition to giving kids the experience of riding on an authentic antique fire truck, he drives the vehicles in parades including the Pegasus Parade and The Highlands Louisville Halloween Parade, formerly known as The Caufield’s Halloween Parade.
Mannel met Albers years ago through his parade work. This is the first year Albers has taken the JCC ELC children on a ride.
Albers, who began his career as a volunteer for the St. Matthews Fire Department in 1971, feels the memories of his long, distinguished fireman’s life flood back whenever he takes the 1963 Seagrave out on a field trip and passes familiar places where he came to the rescue.
“It’s like going back 40 years,” he said.
In the Stranger Danger program, Cahen introduced Wissinger as her friend and they both spoke to the children about what a stranger is. The pair also told them it is safe to interact with anyone in the facilities wearing a JCC badge.
After answering a slew of questions, Cahen and Wissinger exited the classroom. Wissinger then came back in alone without his badge and asked the children if they knew whom he was, and if he was a stranger or a friend. Cahen then came back into the classroom and she and Wissinger re-emphasized that if the kids are in the building and need help, someone wearing a JCC badge would be the person to assist them.