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Girl offers firetruck ride to classmates displaced by Portage house fire

Brad AllenMay 24, 2019

Olive Preuss, 7, ignited Portage firefighters’ hearts Wednesday when she offered a priceless gift to a couple classmates after a local family was displaced by a house fire two weeks ago.

Passing up the chance to ride inside a firetruck to St. Mary’s Catholic School on Wednesday morning, Olive asked the Portage Fire Department to instead take her friends Easton Van Zile, 7, and Avery Van Zile, 5.

“It made me happy,” she said. “Because I was helping a friend.”

Portage Fire Department Capt. Mike Nachreiner said Olive’s act of kindness made her the heroine of the day and deserved recognition, rather than the firefighters she and her friends look up to as heroes.

Easton said he liked meeting firefighters − and they made sure to ask him how he was doing. The engineers flashed the truck lights and honked the horn, and Easton said he loved it.

He hopes another child will soon get a chance to ride along with Portage firefighters.

During last weekend’s Best Fest gala fundraiser at St. Mary’s Catholic School, the Portage Fire Department donated the opportunity for a free ride-along to school with firefighters as part of a community raffle.

“It’s a great public service and community service that the department can do on a positive note,” Nachreiner said.

Nachreiner said Olive’s family won the auction for a firefighter ride-along, but the second-grade student at St. Mary’s wanted to share that gift with a friend in need of some good news.

Olive asked firefighters to instead take her friends Easton and Avery Van Zile to school in a fire truck.

Nachreiner said the Van Zile siblings had a fun experience and were greeted by many smiling and cheering classmates at school.

The Van Zile family lost their two dogs in a house fire May 10.

Since the house fire, parents Maggie and Travis Van Zile expressed gratitude to many friends, neighbors, family members and nonprofit organizations that came together to help them afterward.

Nachreiner said responding to house fire calls can be unpleasant, especially if a family is displaced. He believed taking the Van Zile children for a brief venture around the downtown area gave them something to look forward to.

“I gave Olive a big hug. I just thought it was a very, very kind gesture for a second-grader to do for one of her classmates,” Nachreiner said.

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