KEARNEY – Their focus quickly shifted away from the nearby playground equipment when the big, red vehicle pulled into the parking lot.

The children, bundled up in coats, mittens and stocking caps, pressed their faces against the chain-link fence as George Wiedel began unloading his gear.

“It’s a fire truck,” one child exclaimed.

“Hi, fireman,” another shouted.

They were clearly excited about Wednesday morning’s activity.

Wiedel, a full-time fire engineer with the city of Kearney and a member of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department, visited the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Child Development Center as part of “Community Helpers Month.”

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Inside the center on UNK’s east campus, where he was surrounded by more than 20 children ages 3 to 5, Wiedel talked about his job and showed off some of the equipment firefighters use. Then the group headed back outside to check out the fire engine that caught their attention a few minutes earlier.

“I love coming to see the kids,” said Wiedel, who used the visit to promote fire safety and help the children recognize a firefighter, often wearing a mask like the one he displayed, is there to assist them.

Staff at the Child Development Center launched Community Helpers Month with that purpose in mind. It’s a fun and engaging way to teach kids about local professions and how they serve the community.

“We don’t want kids to be afraid. We want them to feel comfortable around these people and know they’re here to help,” said Shelby Hawks, the center’s lead prekindergarten teacher.

In addition to Wiedel, the Community Helpers Month curriculum includes visits from a University of Nebraska Medical Center nurse, UNK Police and Emergency Management, a dental assistant from Kearney Pediatric Dentistry and paramedics from CHI Health Good Samaritan.

“It’s definitely something we want to look at doing every year, maybe even twice a year,” Hawks said.

The Child Development Center currently serves only the children of UNK students, faculty and staff, but that will change when the university’s LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center opens next month. The new facility, located in UNK’s University Village development, has space for up to 180 children from infant to age 6, with spots available for Kearney-area families.

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