Oak Forest Fire Dept. launches Project Fire Buddies for kids battling illnesses

OAK FOREST, Ill. (WLS) -- Firefighters with the Oak Forest Fire Department started a new program aimed at bringing smiles to the community they serve.

The Project Fire Buddies was launched three years ago, after the department realized more needed to be done for the children they meet on emergency calls that are battling challenging illnesses.

"I had an idea of these little guys, like let's bring a fire truck over and hang out. If they're healthy enough, we'll play catch if not we'll play a board game. We'll do whatever it takes," said Oak Forest Fire Department Firefighter/Paramedic Kurt Degroot.

Fire Buddy Pablo Flores was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer that forced him to have his leg amputated. He thought his soccer days were over but Fire Buddies gave him a chance live his dreams taking him to a playoff game for the Chicago Fire.

"Kurt approached me about doing this for Pablo. He is older so it's harder, for a younger kid I can see, but to go the extra mile to fit it in for a kid his age it's amazing," said Pablo's mom, Eileen Flores.

"It gives you something to look forward to, you have all this bad stuff that's happening, so it just something nice that you get to experience that you've always wanted to experience," Pablo said.

Firefighters, paramedics, lieutenants and chiefs all donate their time to give kids an uplifting experience.

"Every time we go out for Fire Buddies whether it is at somebody's house or it is here, it's nothing but smiles and open hearts and open minds. It's been one of the best experiences in terms of giving back that we can do," said Oak Forest Fire Lieutenant Gary Kasper.

"You feel good when you go above and beyond, so I like that high that you get from it," DeGroot said. You know in the same sense is if you can do something that actually changes someone's life, to just make their day."

Fire buddies is also starting a "Fill the Pack" Program. They are working to collect school supplies for over 200 kids this summer.

For more information on that and if you know a child that needs a fire buddy visit the Project Fire Buddies Facebook page.

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