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Hot flash: Everyone wants to be a firefighter at River Falls open house

Falcon News Service

October 4, 2017

Sparky, the fire department mascot, greets attendees at the Fire Department Open House on Sept. 25, 2017. Photo by Nathan Lukasavitz/Falcon News Service

For many children in River Falls, the 2017 Fire Department Open House on Sept. 25 had just as much to do with exploring a career path as it did learning about fire safety and prevention.

Hands-on activities and attractions at the open house event provided kids with the opportunity to dress like a firefighter, shoot water from a fire hose and explore the inside of the biggest fire truck in the department’s fleet.

As the kids climbed up into the truck and had their pictures taken by their parents, the captain of the fire truck, Doug Rudesill, heard over and over what the kids want to be when they grow up.

“A lot of them say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to come back and be a firefighter someday,’” Rudesill said. “They just like big trucks or standing next to the tall tires.”

While kids and their parents enjoyed the vast variety of games, features and demonstrations that the event offered, Fire Chief Scott Nelson enjoyed a different aspect of the event — one that had very little to do with fire safety or prevention.

“The food!” Nelson exclaimed. “The high school students in River Falls make that for us. Their cooking class actually makes us our meals every Monday night for training, so it’s a good partnership. We, of course, pay for the food, but then that helps their budget, and then they cook the food for us, and today they made us sloppy joes.”

Though the food was definitely a highlight for the fire chief and others, the head-organizer of the event, Pauline Williams, believes it was this year’s new features that drew a crowd of over 400 people.

“Every year we try to do something new,” Williams explained. “The new thing that we had this year was the seatbelt convincer, it’s called – the rollover simulator from the state of Wisconsin. That was a big hit. Of course, the inflatable obstacle course was a big hit with the kids.”

Aside from all of the kid-friendly attractions that were scattered throughout the block on Second Street, where the event took place, the fire department also had specific things available that were intended primarily to teach parents.

“We want to teach the parents that carbon monoxide detectors beep four times when they go off; smoke detectors beep three times,” stated Rudesill. “So when they come home, if they’re gone for a while and they hear a detector in the house, they should count the beeps.”

In addition to counting beeps, parents were also reminded of other things that they should keep in mind in order to prepare their households for what to do in the case of an emergency.

“You don’t think about everything, like the fact that you should have that escape plan and you should have the rope for being up high,” said Wendy Tokheim, a mother and River Falls resident. “Some of these things you have to remember to do and make an effort to do the evacuation monthly — or more often than you think.”

Although the event is heavily centered around teaching and reminding people tips regarding fire safety, it ultimately serves as an annual tradition that the fire department uses to help build the community.

“It’s a great way to introduce ourselves to the community, and to invite the community in and see what they pay for with the fire department,” said Williams, who in addition to organizing the event has also served on the department for 25 years. “The community always gives us great support for this, and it was nice from our perspective, too. A lot of city administration was walking around, which is great to see.”

Engaging the community in fun ways is something that is very important to the fire department, which retains its firefighters on a volunteer basis. Currently, 49 firefighters serve on the city’s fire department, according to Nelson.

“People’s lives are so busy that, frankly, it’s tough to keep people in the program,” Nelson said, “so we do a lot of fun stuff, and we make it enjoyable and make sure that they’re having a great time.”

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