Fort Dodge Fire Department Capt. Steve Hergenreter heard an unusual request Friday morning from one of the 30 children graduating from the annual Fort Dodge Fire Department Safety Village summer safety camp at Duncombe Elementary School.
As they prepared to perform one of the safety songs they had learned with their parents, guardians and grandparents, Hergenreter declined to share his voice.
“You don’t want to hear me sing anyway,” he said.
At least one camper did.
“Yeah,” came the voice from the crowd of children, “I do.”
The songs, which address staying low and crawling under the smoke to get out of a burning home and the dangers of playing with matches, were just a one part of the many safety lessons the students learned during the five-day camp.
Each day focused on a specific topic, Hergenreter said.
Day one was fire safety and police. Day two was medical emergencies and a visit from the UnityPoint Life Flight helicopter, which landed at the school. Day three was bike safety. On day four they learned about stranger danger, internet safety and firearms safety. Then, on day five, they focused on Operation Lifesaver train safety and learned how to call 911.
The students used some of their new knowledge almost immediately. The group asked someone who had stopped to talk to campers who they were and what they were doing right after their Stranger Danger lesson.
The lesson in dialing 911 was an eye-opener.
“Ninety-nine percent of children don’t know their address,” Hergenreter said. “They do need to learn their address.”
Fort Dodge Police Officer Joelyn Johnson, who in addition to her patrol duties is also the school/community resource officer, helped introduce the campers to police work.
“We want to be able to establish a relationship with them,” Johnson said. “We want them to understand that a police officer is their friend.”
She said that among the lessons the students learned were how to recognize a police officer. They also toured a squad car and one of the SUV patrol units, and a heard an explanation of everything on an officer’sduty belt.
“Kids are always fascinated by the tool belt,” Johnson said.
Most children don’t realize that when the belt and everything on it is put on a scale, it weighs about 20 pounds.
“That’s about half of their own weight,” Johnson said.
She also helped them to understand that, sometimes, her job isn’t fun.
“Sometimes we have to perform tasks that are not appreciated by everybody,” she said.
Logan McElroy, 7, of Fort Dodge, was one of the campers who attended the camp. For graduation Friday, he got a certificate and a new bike helmet donated by Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.
He was quite fond of the Life Flight helicopter.
“I liked all the cool stuff inside,” he said.
He also enjoyed the training course the Fire Department set up. It let the campers try some of the tasks firefighters get to do, including carrying hoses and spraying water.
His grandfather, Phil Reed, of Fort Dodge, attended the graduation.
He said it was McElroy’s second year and that, at first, he had to encourage him to go.
“They were somewhat reluctant to go,” he said. “By the end of Monday, they were excited about it.”
Zack Houk, 6, of Fort Dodge, graduated Friday too. He wore his child-sized fire fighters helmet to the ceremony – with a junior police officer badge stuck to the front.
He enjoyed the camp, too, especially the fire safety house.
“I liked going in a smokehouse with no smoke,” he said.
Hergenreter enlisted a lot of help to make the camp possible, in addition to volunteer camp leaders. He said he was grateful to the Fort Dodge Police Department, Life Flight, Webster County 911 Center, Operation Lifesaver, Blank Children’s Hospital and Nick Salmon, of Fort Dodge, who hosted the bike rodeo.
His firefighters got in on the action too.
“All three shifts have been here,” Hergenreter said. “We enjoy teaching them things to keep them safe they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”