Students at Riverbend Elementary's Advanced Scholars Academy know a bit about what it's like to be a firefighter.
The academy's second- and third-grade classes visited Gainesville fire station No. 1 off Queen City Parkway Friday morning as part of a community service project.
"This is the first trip for community service we've taken," third-grade teacher Erin Blair said. "We started around the anniversary of 9/11, talking about firefighters and police officers and how they're heroes, how some of them lost their lives that day."
The students read books about emergency personnel and brainstormed ways they were thankful for these men and women in uniform.
"Each student wrote a letter to either a police officer or firefighter and illustrated them. We put them together in books, one for police and one for firefighters," Blair said.
The classes also raised money to buy a cake and other treats to present to the firefighters.
On Friday, students climbed in emergency vehicles, watched a truck return to the bay from an emergency call and timed firefighter Miguel Salazar as he put on new gear for the first time. Firefighters took the kids upstairs to the living quarters with its comfy chairs and TV, which one student referred to as "paradise" and insisted she didn't want to leave.
"I want them to get an idea about what we do and give them a little information about fire safety," firefighter Jay Grizzle said.
The field trip was possible for Advanced Scholars students because Riverbend got a seat-time waiver from the state Department of Education. The waiver means students don't have to be in a classroom to learn.
"It's going really well. The kids are having to adjust a little to project-based learning," Blair said. "We're teaching them more about collaboration and technology, and they're teaching us a bit about technology."
The next community service project for the Advanced Scholars second- and third-graders is a canned food drive. A school parent works with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and provided teachers with a list of which foods can be used to make a meal for a family.
Blair said the students will be in charge of collecting food and sorting it into meals, which will then be given to families of needy students.
In the spring, the students will go to the food bank to tour and volunteer.
"We're also going to do some in-school community service," Blair said. "Students will be keeping up with a log of volunteer work they do at home ... raking a neighbor's yard, for example."
Third-grader Luke England, 8, said he enjoys the new Advanced Scholars Academy opportunities.
"We do more fun stuff and make PowerPoints, work on computers and do new technology," he said.
Blair said the students also look forward to the field trips.
Firefighter Ryan Stamey said the engine and ladder truck are the most popular with students. The new slide at the station, however, was the popular draw this time.
Second-grader Jack Irwin, 7, said he enjoyed watching some of the firefighters and Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada go down the slide at the end of the visit.
Emely Trejo, 7, a second-grader, said she had seen fire trucks before at a wreck near Laurel Park, but she said she liked seeing them up close.
"We learned that we should always be safe," second-grader Allie Crump, 7, said.
Some of the safety tips Crump learned included testing door handles with the back of a hand to make sure they're not too hot to open during a fire.
Second-graders Alexander Simonton, 7, Austin Atha, 7, and Brady Hall, 8, said they want to be firefighters when they grow up.
"Awesome. Super duper awesome," Simonton said. "We liked it when he put the clothes on when we had to time him."
The firefighters present said they enjoyed teaching the kids about their profession just as much as they kids liked learning about it.
"The fire department is a group of men and women that are always available to help the community," Salazar said. "We will be there for their worst times if they need us. I want them to know they can count on us, and I hope some will consider this as a career."