Safety Day at Gilpin Elementary School

Air Life, local first responders reach out to students with vital message

By Patty Unruh

“Safety Day” was brought to the students of Gilpin County Elementary on May 22 by several first responder organizations. Air Life, Gilpin Ambulance Authority, Black Hawk Fire Department, Central City Fire Department, Timberline Fire Protection District, the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Department, Central City Police, Black Hawk Police, Colorado State Troopers, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Drive Smart all convened on the school’s football field to inform the students on various kinds of safety. The main purpose was to teach the children about fire safety, stranger danger, the importance of buckling up in the car, and what to do in case of an emergency. The students also met the individuals that will be there to help in a stressful situation.

Diane Stundon of the Gilpin Ambulance Authority (GAA) said the Colorado State Troopers, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Black Hawk and Central City police departments, and Drive Smart were all new this year, and she hopes to have them back again next year.

It all started last year when Stundon asked her daughter’s teacher if GAA could come in and do a presentation to her class, and it led to preschool through fifth grade participating. Stundon explained that when she was young, High Country (now Timberline) would teach students about safety, and that education helped her family when they lost a house to fire. Safety Day may help today’s students in similar emergencies.

Pilot Cayce Batterson of Air Life made a perfect helicopter landing on the field that sunny morning. He and two flight nurses, Kathy Myers and Beth Ahl, instructed the children on helicopter safety. Batterson said Air Life was started in 1983 in Denver, making 2013 their 30th anniversary. Air Life is a medical transport service and takes patients to hospitals from highway accidents and other scenes.

The kids were invited into the chopper by twos and threes and were allowed to touch the equipment to see what it could do and where a patient goes. The children examined the search lights, radios, and devices that help people breathe, keep their heart working, and receive fluids intravenously. Batterson, Myers, and Ahl answered the children’s questions about a career as a pilot or flight nurse and what subjects they would have to take in school that were needed for those careers.

Batterson explained that when Air Life began, there was just one pilot and one nurse, so the pilot also provided some medical care. However, it was found that it would be better to have two nurses and have the pilot focus on flying. “I have no medical training and am not responsible for medical care,” he noted, “but I do assist if asked, following instructions given to me.” He ensures that the helicopter stays running and supervises the safety of people moving around the outside of the helicopter.

The morning would be spent with the children, Batterson advised, and in the afternoon, there would be a safety in-service session. That session would involve the helicopter personnel meeting with local law enforcement, fire departments, and ambulance services to advise them on helicopter landing safety, radio communications, and the types of illnesses and injuries for which a responder would summon a helicopter.

One attraction for the children that was almost as appealing as the helicopter was a cute puppy tucked inside Nurse Ahl’s uniform. “We found it under our helicopter when we landed,” she marveled. Apparently it belonged to someone had brought it that morning to school. “It’s not a rescue dog!” she laughed.

In addition to Air Life, several law enforcement agencies were present to interact with the youngsters. Colorado State Trooper Jason Sparks said the kids learned about general public safety, strangers, guns, and anti-bullying. The kids had the opportunity to see a myriad of Trooper equipment: a photo scale and digital scale for drugs, laser device for measuring speed, portable breathalyzer, general evidence kit, gas mask, ballistic tactical shield, safety vest for swift-water rescue, and a spit hood. Sparks elaborated on that interesting item by saying that if a person is spitting at them, they put it over the person’s head; the individual can still breathe, but can no longer target a Trooper with saliva.

One young man tried on the vest, helmet, gas mask and riot shield and wore them for two minutes, finding the gear very heavy. “Imagine also holding a ten-pound rifle and standing for one hour,” the Troopers told him.

Jerra Matthews, an emergency medical technician with Gilpin Ambulance Authority, gave kids a “show and tell” through the ambulance. Dave Reynolds and Dale Sternlicht, paramedics, were also on hand. The kids observed stretchers for moving patients, a blood pressure apparatus, and stethoscope. The crew advised the children how to dial 911 and how the ambulance personnel work with the fire department.

Matthews explained, “We showed them different things they might experience as patients. They also got to be the EMT.” She said, “We have a new electrical pram—the patient lays on it and it lifts into the ambulance hydraulically, so the EMTs don’t have to do the physical lifting. It saves our backs.”

She noted that the kids were especially interested in the snowshoes, bunker gear, and swift water rescue gear. They also loved trying on the headsets and talking with each other. Two of the kids said they wanted to be paramedics, so the ambulance crew got some new recruits out of the session.

Captain Kevin Martschinske of the Black Hawk Fire Department told the kids to give their parents some homework: to help their children plan an escape route from their house in case of fire and to plan where to go. The children were instructed in fire safety, and one of the firemen gave the children a “stop drop and roll” demonstration. The youngsters examined the thermal image camera, which is an infrared device that aids the firefighters in finding people in a burning building.

Sgt. Troy Hendricks and Deputy Clinton Wenholz of the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Department related that the kids observed a demonstration of SWAT team equipment. They said not many Gilpin residents know of the SWAT team. Usually the team works in high-risk warrant situations; this year they have utilized the team twice with barricaded subjects.

Safety Day was a great success, and GAA hopes to make it an annual event at the school. GAA has also applied for a grant to do a community-wide safety day.

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