Anaheim Fire & Rescue brings trees, decorations, and gifts to local families

By Elysse James

With a van nearly bursting with gifts, artificial Christmas trees, ornaments, stockings, and more, Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters headed into the city to surprise four deserving families.

“This is the Christmas spirit,” Fire Captain Chris Valente said. “The department can give back to kids that might not be as fortunate.”

Nevaeh Hernandez, 8, gets exited as Firefighter Cory Diederich looks through the bag for Christmas presents.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The firefighters carried the heavy bags of toys, the 6-foot tree, and the rest of the goodies up to the Palagio family’s second-floor apartment.

Avigail Palagio opened the door to a chorus of “Merry Christmas” from two Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters, an engineer, and a fire captain, as well as several Anaheim Fire & Rescue cadets and Community Engagement Manager Natali Rudometkin.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters greet Saul Ramirez and his brother, Hector Ramirez, at the door of their home as they deliver a Christmas tree to the family.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“Your family was chosen because you are doing well in school,” Rudometkin told Saul, 9, Hector, 8, and Joshua, 5. “Keep doing a good job and good things will keep coming your way.”

The boys jumped around the room in excitement and touched all the firefighters’ badges. They were so eager to open the gifts — all donated by Walmart Supercenter in the Anaheim Plaza — that they ignored their mother’s warnings to keep the gift bags closed until Christmas morning.

Hector Ramirez gets a high-five from Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. Christopher Valente as firefighters Jeremy Kunkle, left, Cory Diederich, and Cadet Christian Aviles deliver a Christmas tree with decorations. His brother, Saul Ramirez, is behind him.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

With a big smile, Joshua grabbed a basketball from his brother.

“We really appreciate it,” Palagio said. “We’re very happy we got this amazing gift.”

The families were chosen by Anaheim Elementary School District and by an apartment manager who reached out to Anaheim Fire & Rescue seeking ways to help two tenants.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters from Station 8, Capt. Christopher Valente, left, Dave Verdecia, and Cory Diederich carry Christmas trees, decorations and presents to families in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

At the Saldana Ponce family’s apartment, 8-year-old Carlos Ruben spotted the fire truck first. He led the team to meet his mother, 17-year-old sister, and 15-year-old brother for the gift delivery.

“I love giving,” Valente said. “You can see their faces, they light up. It’s pretty rewarding.”

At the next home, 4-year-old Evy Ulloa received a special present: a kitchen set and shopping cart, wrapped in shiny green paper and ribbon to be opened on Christmas.

Ayala Evy, 4, wears an Anaheim Fire & Rescue hat while playing with her sister, Isaura Ulloa, 19, as firefighters pay a visit.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I’m kind of in shock,” said Isaura Ulloa, 19, who planned to set up the tree and holiday decorations with her three siblings as a surprise for her mother, who was at work when Anaheim Fire & Rescue arrived.

At the Rocha-Hernandez home in the same apartment complex, twins Nevaeh and Savannah, both 8, were jumping around in excitement when the firefighters arrived. They were thrilled at the plastic fire hats, stickers, and of course the bags of toys and holiday décor.

Robert Ulloa, 17, left, Jacob Ulloa, 14, Sister Isaura, 19, Ayala Evy, 4, and Lucas Card, 10, right, with Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters Dave Verdecia, Jeremy Kunkle, Cory Diederich and Capt. Christopher Valente, back right, as the firefighters deliver a Christmas tree and presents.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I’m very happy, and grateful,” Melissa Rocha said as she led her shy 3-year-old son Xavier down to check out the fire engine.

“I’ve never been in a fire truck. This is awesome!” exclaimed Nevaeh. “I was really waiting for a Christmas tree. My favorite thing about Christmas is spending time with my family and having a nice time.”

As the sun sets, Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. Christopher Valente, left, and Engineer/Paramedic Dave Verdecia deliver Christmas presents and a tree to a family in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter/Paramedic Jeremy Kunkle, left, and Capt. Christopher Valente bring a Christmas tree and decorations to 8-year-old Rubin Saldana of Ponderosa Elementary School in Anaheim and Carlos Saldana of Katella High, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Rubin Saldana, 8, and his brother Carlos Saldana have their photo taken with Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters Jeremy Kunkle, left, Dave Verdecia, Capt. Christopher Valente and Cory Diederich after receiving a Christmas tree for the family.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Melissa Rocha stands with her kids, Xavier Hernandez, 3, left, Alize Hernandez, 5, Nevaeh Hernandez, 8, and Savannah Hernandez, 8, as Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters Capt. Christopher Valente, left, Dave Verdecia, Jeremy Kunkle and Cory Diederich deliver a Christmas tree, decorations and a few presents to the Anaheim family.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Savannah Hernandez, 8, sits in Anaheim Fire & Rescue Engine 8 after her family received a Christmas tree.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge