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Cottage Grove Safety Campers soak up life-saving lessons

Minnesota State Patrol trooper pilot Mike Olson explains the importants of a pilots helmet to kids at the Cottage Grove Safety Camp July 21 at Hamlet Park. Olson has been a state trooper for 16 years and a pilot for the last year. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)1 / 10
Laila Jacobson, 8, is wrapped up with a magazine and gauze during a Safety Camp demonstration Tuedsay about first aid. The camp is sponsored by the police and parks and recreation departments. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)2 / 10
Cottage Grove police officer Shawn Ebeling demonstrates how to lift fingerprints off a glass during a crime scene demonstration Tuesday at Hamlet Park. The class was taught during the annual Safety Camp sponsored by the police and parks and recreation departments. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)3 / 10
Isaiah Lavergne, 8, gets comfortable as fellow Safety Campers wrap his leg during a first aid demonstration Tuesday. From left, Gretchen Kopren, 7, Grant Boyd, 11, and Masyn Hammer, 8, helped. The class was taught during the annual camp hosted by the Cottage Grove Police and Parks and Recreation departments. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)4 / 10
Safety Camper Gretchen Kopren, 7, poses with officer Mike Vandervort and his police K-9, Blitz. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)5 / 10
Cottage Grove Safety Camp participants clamor for an inside view of the Minnesota State Patrol helicopter July 21 at Hamlet Park. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)6 / 10
Sopping up the mud created after a fire hose demonstration, Parker Pietruszewski, 8, was one of over 80 kids participating in the Cottage Grove Safety Camp, hosted by the police and parks and recreation departments. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)7 / 10
Police K-9 Blitz takes down Cottage Grove police officer Nils Torning during a demonstration during Safety Camp in Hamlet Park. Blitz’s partner is Cottage Grove police officer Mike Vandervort. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)8 / 10
Cottage Grove police officer Mike Vandervort demonstrates how his partner, police K-9 Blitz, would subdue a combative suspect, who is played by officer Nils Torning. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)9 / 10
The pumper demonstration is one of the highlights of the annual Cottage Grove Safety Camp at Hamlet Park. A fire department fire truck rains down cold water upon campers at Hamlet Park. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)10 / 10

Investigating a crime scene, handling a police K-9 and manning a fire truck’s water hose are duties typically left to those in the public safety profession. But for two days each summer, local kids get a hands-on experience at the Cottage Grove Safety Camp held at Hamlet Park.

In its 21st year, the camp is put on by the city’s Public Safety, Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments to teach kids how to be cool in emergencies.

“Safety Camp offers an opportunity for us to educate these kids or at least introduce them to some of the dangers they may encounter in their lives,” said Cottage Grove police officer Gail Griffith, a longtime organizer of the event. “Our hope is they learn how to be safe and apply what they’ve learned if they face a certain situation.”

This year, 85 campers were divvied up into four teams to learn about CPR, first aid, extinguishing a fire, Internet, firearm and water safety, and much more. Molly Pietruszewski, the city’s recreation supervisor, said teaching kids early and often about what to do in emergency situations is the goal of the camp.

“We continue to host Safety Camp in Cottage Grove because having fun and safety are important key factors in our community,” she said, “especially when it comes to our kids.”

On the first day, Minnesota State Patrol pilot Mike Olson gave campers an inside look at the department's helicopter. Olson has been a trooper for the last 16 years, but for the past year has been flying the helicopter.

“It’s really a great job,” he said.

The turbine engine helicopter is capable of pumping out 670 horsepower, Olson said, but it typically runs at half that. It is equipped with a high-definition camera and a cutting mechanism on the front in case the helicopter gets too close to a powerline. It also has the ability to carry and dump liquid on a forest or vehicle fire.

Kids climbed into the chopper and scoped out the equipment stored inside.

Regions Hospital taught teams about first aid and how to properly bandage and stabilize someone who has injured themselves. And Cottage Grove police officers Gena Kroshus and Shawn Ebeling showed kids how crime scene investigators track criminals by fingerprints and footprints.

A major highlight each year is when the fire department wheels in a water pumper to cool off campers in the afternoon. Cottage Grove Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal PJ McMahon and firefighter Wally Barry manned the tanker, sparing no one in the fire hose’s wake.

Day two comprised of bike safety and the police K-9 demonstration by officers Nils Torning and Mike Vandervort, and police dog Blitz, a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, an almost rite of passage for the Safety Campers takes place: the burning of a junkyard vehicle.

“Our staff participate in an extrication before the car burn,” Pietruszewski said. “It’s great training experience for the fire staff, and it shows the kids from the outside that it’s not that scary.”

While some kids come back year after year, new participants are drawn to the educational experiences, too.

“In addition to all of the lessons they learn, the kids have fun bonding with each other,” Griffith said. “They are in teams with kids they didn’t know before Safety Camp, and they get to interact with staff from police, fire, EMS, and the parks and recreation department in a way they wouldn’t normally get to.

“Safety camp offers an opportunity for us to educate these kids or at least introduce them to some of the dangers they may encounter in their lives,” Griffith added. “Our hope is they learn how to be safe and apply what they’ve learned if they face a certain situation. Many of these kids bring the lessons they learn at Safety Camp home and share the information with their parents.”

A number of community businesses stepped up to donate food, supplies and other items for Safety Camp. Donors include: 3M-Cottage Grove; Adoorable Garage Door; Andersen Corp.; Bonngard’s Meats; Borst Construction; Cub Foods; Culver’s; Custom One Homes; J.D. Bobcat Service; John S. Germo; LA’Pooch Salon; LSP-Cottage Grove; Presbyterian Homes; River Oaks; Sam’s Club; Starbucks; T. Mann Excavating; Target; and Werner Electric.