Return to story
Stafford, Spotsylvania and Colonial Beach students check out the Fredericksburg Mobile Command Post truck during a youth rescue camp at the Fredericksburg Expo Center.
David Lemke, 10, a Westmoreland County fifth-grader, takes an impaired-driving exercise with Wesley Melson of Colonial Beach Rescue Squad.
Bryce Dillard, 10, of Fredericksburg learns to rappel down the exterior wall of the Fredericksburg Expo Center during the Youth Rescue Camp on Saturday. The camp helped introduce area children to rescue skills.
Matt McGhee (left) of Spotsylvania and
Holding on tight to the rescue rope, 10-year-old Dominique Chaves didn't hesitate when she stepped off the roof of the Fredericksburg Expo Center.
Dominique, who said she was sometimes scared of heights, eased along the wall, seemingly fearless of the distance between the ground and her feet.
The helmeted girl was strapped into a harness as she tried rappelling for the first time at a camp focused on rescue squad skills.
"Keep on walking!" fellow campers called out. "Halfway there! Feet apart!"
"It was really fun!" Dominique said, a huge grin spread across her face. The experience entitled her and dozens of other kids to bragging rights.
The rappelling was a new addition for the third year of a Youth Rescue Camp, put on by the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads District 10, made up of squads from Colonial Beach to Madison County.
The parking lot at the Expo Center offered a series of activities to teach kids in the region about how to be safe and what types of skills first responders must learn. Simulations included everything from distracted driving simulation to search and rescue.
Behind the Expo Center, a Fredericksburg ladder truck lifted groups of kids to the top of the building. Firefighters and rescue squad volunteers held the ropes that guided the young rappellers down the wall.
"It doesn't do any good if you don't do it safely," Kelly Southard of Orange County Volunteer Rescue Squad said while demonstrating how to properly hold the rope.
He recommended that participants look at their feet against the wall--not toward the ground.
Bryce Dillard, 10, said the hardest part of rappelling was the first step.
"Your feet are diagonal and you look down and you're three stories up," said Bryce.
Rappelling isn't a skill that rescuers use every day, but Southard says it's something that must be learned and practiced for when it is needed.
Also during the daylong camp, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 learned how to do CPR and use AEDs, or automated external defibrillators. They learned about bandaging, splinting and mass casualty situations. The kids also toured Fredericksburg's Mobile Command Post.
The RV-size vehicle responds to all sorts of emergency calls in the region, particularly those involving hazardous materials.
"It might say Fredericksburg Fire Department on it, but we all help each other out," Lt. Victor Podbielski told a group checking out the high-tech unit.
The rescue camp is sponsored by public safety agencies and businesses in the community. The camp is free and open to all children interested in public safety.
Kaila Worrell, 17, was a camper last year, and signed up to be a counselor this year.
Worrell, who runs calls with the Colonial Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad, said it's good for her generation and younger to learn about what's involved with rescue squad work.
"It's just a lot of fun," she said about the camp. "Kids were talking about this all year."
Behind her, groups of youngsters who struggled to reach the gas pedal were learning that not only is navigating a course marked with cones difficult enough, adding distractions can make driving even more dangerous.
Colonial Beach Rescue Chief Wesley Melson sat in the passenger seat of an ATV as the kids practiced driving while simultaneously reading a text message on a cellphone.
Unfortunately, many orange cones were knocked to the ground and crushed under the vehicle.
While those cones won't suffer lasting damage, Melson presented sobering facts to the approximately 40 kids.
Distracted driving is the No. 1 killer of teenagers, the least-experienced drivers on the roads.
"What are you supposed to do when you drive?" he asked the full group.
"Watch the road!" they replied.
"That's what's killing you guys," Melson said. "This stuff is preventable."
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975