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‘First responders are friends': Pa. school children get to know emergency responders

Elementary school children in Hazleton swarmed into the cockpit of a medical helicopter, petted a police dog and got a look inside an armored rescue vehicle


Flashing lights attracted pupils to a state police vehicle, including a boy who said he wanted to be a policeman.

Lehigh Valley Health Network EMS

By Kent Jackson
Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.

HAZLETON, Pa. — Elementary school children swarmed into the cockpit of a medical helicopter, petted a police dog and stuck their heads into the turret of an armored rescue vehicle.

They also encountered a mannequin on a stretcher beside an ambulance, talked with firefighters about smoke detectors and sounded sirens on vehicles of emergency workers who visited Heights-Terrace Elementary/Middle School.

The visit on Friday taught children one basic lesson.

“They know first responders are friends,” Allyson Trella, who wore an orange vest and helped direct students to the vehicles parked outside the school, where she is a math intervention teacher.

Angelica Nunez, while holding her pre-school daughter, Amelia, with one arm, took a photo with her phone of her kindergarten daughter, Adely. Parents and children also took selfies with rescue workers.

Trella said the school welcomes parents throughout the year to give tips for reading to children or keeping learning fresh during the summer.

Hazleton firefighter Ron Floyd, while standing beside a fire truck, told kindergartners to give their parents a quiz.

“Go home. Ask mommy and daddy if you have working smoke detectors,” Floyd said.

He called smoke detectors the No. 1 tool. Before firefighters arrive, detectors can give families time to escape before their house fills with smoke.

Flashing lights attracted pupils to a state police vehicle, including a boy who said he wanted to be a policeman.

“That’s awesome,” Trooper Martin Bibla told him. “You have to be a good student first, right?”

Inside the MedEvac helicopter of Lehigh Valley Health Network that landed on a field north of the school, one girl said she wanted to fly.

“You can go to school to become a pilot,” Bill McLaughlin, a flight paramedic told her.

The helicopter usually flies 3,000 feet high at 160 mph, McLaughlin said.

Flight nurse Bill Terry said the seats fit the children better than when he sat in them.

Pilot John Mason said the helicopter carries an incubator for newborns. Based at Hazleton Regional Airport, the helicopter also transports patients between hospitals and from crashes.

To land, the helicopter needs a space at least double its dimensions, or 70 feet by 90 feet, plus an additional 15 feet. Mason appreciates it when knowledgeable first responders mark off a landing spot, as Hazleton firefighters did by placing orange cones on the field at the school.

An armored rescue vehicle, a fortified body set on a truck chassis, comfortably holds a dozen officers, so children piled in. They took turns sticking their necks into the turret and looking over the roof.

Since the $250,000 vehicle arrived in September, police have used it for training and shown it at events like the gathering at the school.

When children saw A’Sheridan, a patrol dog of the Hazleton Police Department, they all wanted to pet him. His handler, Officer Brandon McGinnis, asked the pupils to take turns one at a time. A’Sheridan, named for a dog that searched for bodies at the Pentagon on 9/11, patrols and detects narcotics, so he takes bad people and bad things off the streets, McGinnis said.

Later, Mayor Jeff Cusat wore a protective sleeve so A’Sheridan could demonstrate how he apprehends people. McGinnis said A’Sheridan only bites when he tells him to.

The dog also can help search buildings or find people who get lost.

McGinnis and A’Sheridan trained together for six months at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia, a program paid for by the Rotary Club of Hazleton. Now A’Sheridan, aged 3 1/2 , and McGinnis live together.

Patrolman Gerald Palermo of Butler Twp. police showed pupils the life vest, life ring and throw rope that he carries for water rescues.

Shana Wendling, an EMT with Lehigh Valley Health Network, opened doors of an ambulance and rolled out a stretcher. A mannequin on which EMTs practice intubations, covered up to the neck by a blanket, reclined on the stretcher.

“One of the kids walked up and said ‘Are you OK?’” said Wendling, who complemented the youngster. “That’s the first thing you say.”


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