Camp provides a close-up view of a crash scene
Megan Johnson volunteered to be the trapped motorist for the rescue demonstration at the West Penn Township CSI Camp at Commonwealth Connections Academy. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
Children attending the West Penn Township CSI Camp had an opportunity to watch crews demonstrate how they rescue a person from an overturned vehicle. The annual camp, for children in third through seventh grades, is being held this week at the Commonwealth Connections Academy.
Megan Johnson played the part of the trapped motorist and crawled into the upside-down red sedan. She covered her eyes with sunglasses and pulled a blanket over her head to protect herself from any flying pieces of glass.
One boy said to his friend as they watched, "She's just pretending. That's why she crawled inside."
A West Penn Township firefighter rammed the door jamb with a spreader. The vibrations knocked pieces of broken glass to the ground. With the spreader, he grabbed a piece of the door like the tab of a soda can and wedged the spreader further into the door. Little by little, the firefighter was able to pry the door open. Another firefighter brought in the cutter and with a few snips of the door hinges, it was free - as was the faux patient.
Just as if it was real, the paramedics placed a collar around Johnson's neck. Emergency personnel removed her carefully from the car, slid her onto the wooden stretcher and carried her to the stretcher on wheels. A paramedic covered her with a blanket and she was wheeled away to the ambulance.
Afterward, one of the firefighters talked to the children about the equipment they used and invited them to come get a closer look at it. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a swarm of children came toward him clamoring for look at what was used.
West Penn Township firefighter Jeff Bradford said the hydraulic cutting tool weighs 50 to 60 pounds. The children tried to pick up the equipment, some with better luck than others.
"I think it's a great experience for the kids to see what we do," Bradford said.
The children's assignment was to investigate the crash scene gathering notes and pictures.
Bradford said an investigation of a real crash scene can take about an hour, depending on the severity. In the case of a fatal crash, the investigation can take several hours. The investigator has to reconstruct the entire scene.
Haley Giuliano, 10, of Tamaqua, said she was surprised to learn at the camp that investigators have to take pictures from "every single corner" of the crash scene. She wants to be a detective when she grows up and the camp has only deepened her interest in the field.
Jonathan Barr, 11, also a student from the Tamaqua area, said this is his second time attending the camp.
"It was really cool," he gave as the reason he came back. Barr doesn't know if he wants to be a detective, police officer, investigator or firefighter, but he does know what he likes.
"I like to take pictures," he said, and he did, clicking away through the whole investigation.
The crime scene investigation camp was created three years ago. Sgt. Jason Lorah with the West Penn Township Police Department said he and Chief Brian Johnson were invited to participate in a CSI Camp held elsewhere in the state. Then he said, "Why aren't we doing this?"
Michele Bittner, a fifth-grade teacher in the Tamaqua Area School District, helped the volunteers developed the camp, an introduction into police and investigation careers. The children learn how to find fingerprints, create shoe castings, learn about canine officers, bomb squads and solve a crime scene at the end of the week.
Twelve children attended the first year, with the numbers growing to the maximum 35 this year.
"I did it last year," said Erika Gerhard, 11, of Tamaqua. "I think it was really fun and someday I think I might want to be in forensics."
All of the staff members at the weeklong camp are volunteers, and some of them give up their vacation time to be there, Bittner said. In addition to the police and fire department from West Penn Township, members of the Penn Mahoning Ambulance Co. offered their time.
The camp costs $100 and runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the Commonwealth Connections Academy.
Applications for next year's camp will be taken in April. For more information, see the group's Facebook page. Donations are always welcome, Bittner said, and can be made by calling her at 570-205-7482.