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Fire, police agencies sponsor Christmas for families in need

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Serve your community.

Don't become callous.

Do what you can to help.

Those tenets, according to Clayton County Fire Department Chief Alex Cohilas, are the gospel of public service.

"We preach these things all the time here," Cohilas said. "There is a reason for the season, and the fire department is committed to those ideals."

On Thursday morning, standing in the fire engine bay at department headquarters, Cohilas and about a dozen firefighters and paramedics made that commitment clear by giving a load of Christmas presents to a young man and woman and their four children.

The presents were wrapped in multi-colored packages of all-sizes, filling up a red minivan. For Christmas, the fire department, assisted by Chick-fil-A, sponsored a family of six.

Earlier this year, firefighters responded to a fire at the family's Rex mobile home. Melchor Vasquez and Julia Sanchez were in Atlanta, and Sanchez' 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, Michelle and Eric, were trapped inside the Ga. Highway 42 trailer.

"It was a near-disaster," Cohilas said, standing next to the family. "It was a very heart-rending call. Due to the efforts of the Clayton County Fire Department, they were saved."

Eric suffered severe burns, but has recovered since the July fire.

Firefighter Sherry Amarman, who responded to the fire, said he "almost lost his arm, but didn't." He still rubs ointment over his arm daily, to treat the scarring. Firefighters felt bad for the family, which has suffered much over the past several years, and chose to adopt them for Christmas.

Earlier on Thursday, a similar scene played out at the Clayton County Police Department's headquarters.

Chief Jeff Turner stood in front of five families holding a stack of brown envelopes.

"I'd like to give you each a million dollars," he said. "We don't have a whole lot of money to give, but it's money and gift cards and we hope you can use it to buy what you need to make a nice Christmas for your families. Our concern, here, is children, and y'all do have some beautiful children."

Sharalla Hill, holding her 2-month-old baby boy up against her tattooed neck, smiled. The little boy, Demond, opened his brown eyes wide and stared off toward the back of the room.

The police department, with the assistance of the Department of Family and Children Services, Costco, the Vision Center, the Morrow Target and the Morrow Wal-Mart, sponsored Christmas for five families.

"I think it was the kids," said Wal-Mart Manager Dan Fagan, trying to explain why he and his company wanted to help the police department with Thursday's gift-giving. "Kids and Christmas. Those two go together. Whenever you hear of kids in need, that strikes a cord, and we go into action."