ALTON, Ill. (AP) — As the big red ladder truck rounded a corner last week, its screaming siren and flashing lights were not signaling an emergency, but announcing it was on a most special run.
Once on Edwards Street late the morning of Dec. 7, Capt. Jesse Jemison of the Alton Fire Department rolled the big, shiny truck to a hissing stop in front of 4-year-old Jentzen Felt's house.
The child, who underwent his fifth round of in-patient chemotherapy Nov. 30, was more than ready for his treat as firefighter for a day. Jentzen was in his front yard, excitedly hopping from one foot to the next, then jumped straight up and down with a smile on his face when he saw the truck.
"Meet my friend, Chief Bernie Sebold," said Vicky Schiber, who arranged Jentzen's big day.
Sebold kneeled down to the little guy's eye level and handed him his important, white chief's hardhat.
"Can you hold this for me?" Sebold asked him, as Schiber and Jentzen's mother, Stacy Felt, 34, snapped photos. His grandparents, the Rev. Robert and Carol Bolinger of Alton, observed, smiling.
Sebold and Deputy Fire Chief Mark Harris then asked Jentzen whether he wanted to ride in the front or back seat of the truck's cab. The boy chose the latter, and excitedly climbed up the steps, with little help. Once he was strapped into his booster seat facing backward and his mother on board, the ride to Don Twichell Memorial Station 1 was under way.
Jemison took the long way across town, turning on sirens and lights, to Jentzen's delight. Harris said the child "loosened up," got chatty and had lots of questions along the way, including about various knobs and buttons inside the truck's cab.
"He is fascinated with firetrucks, and he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up," Stacy Felt said.
She said in August, doctors discovered her son has a rare, yolk sac tumor on the coccyx in his sacral, on the lower spine. The family's Facebook prayer page (Jentzen miracle) says the malignant tumor had grown 6 inches upward and had a drainage stent installed, because the tumor was resting on a kidney.
Jentzen has been receiving chemotherapy at St. Louis Children's Hospital, each time requiring a five-day stay. He is scheduled soon for a PET (positron emission tomography) nuclear imaging scan to determine how well the chemotherapy is working and to determine any future treatment.
"His (high) energy level is the talk around Children's, even through the chemo," Stacy Felt said.
At times, Jentzen appeared both a bit bashful and overwhelmed by the contingent of family, firefighters, reporter and photographer at the fire station. He only would nod when asked whether he was having fun.
Jentzen posed for photos while standing on the running board of a pumper truck inside the garage, and accepted a red plastic fire hat as a gift.
Engineer Tom Muffler showed Jentzen a shiny metal circular protrusion on the front of a pumper.
"That is where the siren noise comes out," Muffler said, pointing to the speaker.
The child and his mother then climbed into that pumper.
Not done yet, there was even more fun in store.
Jentzen headed to a wooden house cutout with "flames" in the windows and door used in the AFD's annual open house. The little boy expertly "doused" the fires three times with a thin yellow hose spouting water, each bit of flames flopping behind the cutout and disappearing. At one point, he even sprayed Sebold a bit, eliciting laughter from observers.
It then was time for a surprise visit from friendly, furry Sparky the fire dog.
"What are you supposed to do if your clothing is on fire?" Sebold asked Jentzen as he looked at the educational mascot. "You stop, drop and roll."
Sparky then did just that.
Sparky led the boy to the firehouse's dining area, where Jentzen, his grandparents, mother and firefighters enjoyed hot pizzas that Schiber brought to the station. While riding in the firetruck, Jentzen had told Harris that pepperoni was his favorite pizza.
Both fathers, neither Deputy Chief Mark Harris nor Sebold could remember the department having a special event such as Friday's for a seriously ill child in their cumulative 38 years of service.
"This is fantastic," Harris said.
Carol Bolinger said Jentzen is a joy to the family.
"Jentzen is just contagious; you just love everything about him," she said.
Robert Bolinger, pastor at Greater Life Church in Alton, said the outing was good for his grandson.
"I think it lifts him up," he said. "He has points of depression, and the chemo negatively affects him."
Jentzen also is the son of Chuck Felt; he has two sisters, Chesnee, 11, and Ava, 7.