Sister Lakes F.D. takes to roof for burn campPublished 7:25pm Sunday, August 1, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
A police-escorted parade of 25 to 64 firetrucks led by more than 200 motorcycles is the first memory children selected for burn camp make. People line streets in Portage and Texas Township to see the parade pass by.
Sister Lakes has been sending a firetruck for a few years. Last summer SLFD organized a roof sit to raise funds for burn camp. With a $10,000 goal after some $7,300 was raised on the first try in 2009, Leslie Dale will be collecting donations until Aug. 15. Call her cell phone at (269) 605-9408 or the station at 424-3145, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We work out of our homes,” said Director Mike Longenecker of Jackson.
“We don’t have an office. We put all the money toward the kids. These guys are awesome what they’re doing for us because it doesn’t happen without fundraisers like this.”
“We turned the speakers on last night and had ’70s and ’80s music blaring until 4:30 (Saturday) morning,” Dale said. “There were like 10 of us who stayed up here last night and had a blast. We country line danced in the parking lot, hollered at cars and had tons of fun.”
Dale, the former Leslie Collins, graduated from Union High School in 2002.
Growing up, she worked here at the dollar star in Myers’ plaza.
Now she’s a firefighter as well as an EMT and the mother of two.
“This year I’m going to be there when they all arrive,” Leslie said. “I know I’m going to cry the whole time I’m there.”
“When they come in, you cry for a little bit and when they leave, you cry for a little bit, but in between it’s all fun,” Mike said.
This will be the 16th summer for Great Lakes Burn Camp, according to Longenecker, who helped found what has grown to where there are also four-day winter camps.
The week-long camp serves all of Michigan and “a little bit of northern Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.”
The camp, staffed by volunteers, has had as many as 102 youngsters, but averages 85.
Longenecker was a Jackson city firefighter, playing in a charity hockey game against Ann Arbor firefighters.
“We did a lot of fundraising donated to the University of Michigan burn unit. We had a gentleman in Jackson hit by a drunk driver, pinning him in the vehicle and killing his wife. He was burned 75 percent. A year after his accident he wanted to skate. The summer of ’94 he wanted to chaperone at burn camp in Minnesota. He came back wanting to start a camp in Michigan. We met at a little cafe in Jackson and a plastic surgeon out of Kalamazoo brought the executive director of Pretty Lake, a Kiwanis vacation camp in Texas Township.”
Pretty Lake offered a week at the end of its camping season for the burn survivors.
“Nine months after our first meeting we had a camp for 45 kids,” Longenecker recalled. “Now it’s grown to where we don’t hire Pretty Lakes people, we bring in all of our own. We have as many staff as kids. We take super care of the kids. We have 24-hour nursing care, a child psychologist on-site and pretty much a firefighter-paramedic in every cabin. I’ve got a Coast Guard rescue diver as part of my lifeguard team.”
Food is “made from scratch” by four chefs. During the week they do a lot of “regular activities” associated with summer camp such as arts and crafts, swimming and archery. There is a boat for water skiing and SCUBA diving instruction.
“We’ve got a few kids barefootin’ now,” Longenecker said. “We’ve got one girl deathly afraid of going in the water who ended up being the first barefoot” skier. “We work with the kids. There’s lots of team-building going on, ropes courses. We’ve got a spinning banana tube that purposely rolls them all off so they have to work as a team to get back on. They have fun, but they’re learning skills, too, that they don’t even realize. The last two years the U.S. Coast Guard brought a helicopter in to fly over the lake.”
West Michigan Air Care brings treats to its former air passengers to reinforce the message that helicopters can be fun as well as air ambulances rushing them to hospitals.
There’s a carnival on Thursday and a dance on Friday, followed at 10 p.m. by a private fireworks show over the lake. Then it’s time to watch a video recap of the week that has already been assembled to music with footage of every camper.
Campers depart carrying a backpack crammed with school supplies.
“While they’re at camp, if they need shoes, clothes, underwear, socks, they get it,” Longenecker said. “Winter camp, if they need boots, coats, snow pants, gloves, they get it. Swimsuits, we take care of the kids. We have a lot of kids repeat. Last year, I had 13 former campers back as staff. This year, for the first time, my program director is a former camper. She was burned as a baby and has been to every camp we’ve ever had. We do scholarships for college and trade school because they miss so much school for surgeries. The program director is 25 years old and has had 35+ surgeries.”
Lakeview Inn delivered the sitters pizzas. Myers donated chicken for lunch.
Sister Lakes sends a firetruck to escort burn campers ages 6-17 in a procession that in a few weeks will assemble at Kalamazoo’s Wings Stadium on Sprinkle Road.
The ride hosted by Wind and Fire Motorcycle Club, starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22, with door prizes, a 50/50 drawing, free water available before the rode, free food after the ride, ride pins for a $10 donation or patches for $5. Contact Bill Warner at (517) 206-1115 for more information.
Staff members are not allowed to pry into how a camper was burned.
“But they sit together and talk to each other. That’s the best thing because they find out, ‘Somebody else has been through the same thing I have.’ It’s incredible for their well-being. They get in their swimsuits and nobody’s staring at them. It’s great for their self-esteem. As long as you’ve been to a burn unit” youngsters qualify.
“One girl was burned on her forehead,” he said. “As a teen-ager, with peer pressure to be beautiful, everybody teased her and made fun of her scars. I’ve got another girl who was burned 90 percent. Her first year at camp she was 5 years old. Every day we changed dressings and splints. We had a boy who was a double amputee who paddled a kayak across the lake. Our staff took medical tape and secured gloves and paddles. It took him longer than everybody else, but he did it and that was huge for him. He pretty much did everything on his own, including climbing up in the trees to do the rope course. Kids learn they can still lead normal lives. A lot of times parents want to shelter them. They just need encouragement.”