Learning what it takes to protect a community

Since 2002, public safety officials have given people they protect and serve in Blaine a glimpse at what they do through the Blaine Citizens Academy.

Firefighter John Connolly of the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department supervises Krissy Stodola of Blaine as she cuts through a windshield with a saw. The Blaine Citizens Academy offered many hands-on opportunities including cutting apart two totaled vehicles to better understand how firefighters rescue people after traffic accidents. Photo by Eric Hagen

Firefighter John Connolly of the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department supervises Krissy Stodola of Blaine as she cuts through a windshield with a saw. The Blaine Citizens Academy offered many hands-on opportunities including cutting apart two totaled vehicles to better understand how firefighters rescue people after traffic accidents. Photo by Eric Hagen

Bob Fiske, battalion chief with the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, credited former Police Chief David Johnson for bringing this program to Blaine after he had heard about citizens academies elsewhere in the country.

Although some participants over the years have been or have become volunteers with the police reserves or fire corps or community service police officers, the purpose of the citizens academy is not to train citizens to be part of the police force or a firefighter, but to educate them, according to Fiske.

“It’s to give them knowledge of what the police officers deal with, what the firefighters do and what we do in community standards as well,” Fiske said. “Most people come away with a really positive look at the safety services division.”

Rather than individual academies for each public safety division, the 16 participants that went through this year’s eight-week program from Sept. 4 through Oct. 23 learned how police officers make a traffic stop and arrest, the tools a firefighter uses to knock down a fire or get a trapped person out of a totaled vehicle, what police officers and fire marshals look for when investigating crime scenes, what code standards must be maintained in homes and businesses, how to do chest compressions when trying to get someone to breathe and much more.

“It’s been super interesting, very hands-on. I’ve learned a lot,” said Krissy Stodola of Blaine.

Fiske said they have had as many as 24 in one of the introductory classes, which happen once a year. The safety services division in 2011 started an advanced Citizens Academy 2.0 class for those who have already been in the citizens academy.

This secondary academy happens every other year, he said. Because the last class was this spring, the next opportunity for this class is in 2015.

“I just wanted to see what’s going on,” said Pat Sandin, a resident of Blaine for 52 years who graduated from the introductory citizens academy and the secondary citizens academy. She volunteered to help out with the citizens academy this time around.

Although the participants in this free course absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time, there are many hands-on learning opportunities. Sandin gained more appreciation for snowplow truck drivers when she got to drive one herself.

Driving a fire truck is not part of Onna Delton’s job as fire educator with the SBM Fire Department, so she was thrilled to get behind the wheel of a large fire engine one week.

Judy Baker, a volunteer with the fire corps, got to use a fire hose for the first time in citizens academy.

Stodola works for a bank investigating suspicious activities so she took the FBI’s citizens academy and then her mother told her about Blaine’s own citizens academy.

Fiske said it is always fun seeing people try things they normally would not do.

Blaine Police Officer Ben Johnson demonstrates how officers frisk a suspect after arresting them. The stand-in suspect is Bob Fiske, a battalion chief with the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, who has been assisting with the Blaine Citizens Academy since former Blaine Police Chief David Johnson formed it in 2002.

Blaine Police Officer Ben Johnson demonstrates how officers frisk a suspect after arresting them. The stand-in suspect is Bob Fiske, a battalion chief with the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, who has been assisting with the Blaine Citizens Academy since former Blaine Police Chief David Johnson formed it in 2002.

“Many people have a fear of heights so folks climbing up the (fire truck) aerial ladder and getting to the top of our four-story training tower and realizing ‘I did it.’ Those are exciting things,” Fiske said.

Patrol Sgt. Mark Boerboom of the Blaine Police Department appreciates the opportunity to “just be able to share what our job is all about. They’re very inquisitive.”

For some, their knowledge of what public safety officials do is what they see in media coverage. But Blaine Officers Russ Clark and Ben Johnson cautioned that they should not draw conclusions based on media coverage because it tends to look for the sensational stories or does not always fairly portray what happened.

If an officer shoots a person, it will typically get media coverage. Clark and Johnson demonstrated how long it can take to unholster their firearm, aim and fire so they are always aware of their surroundings and how far they are away from a suspect.

Video can be deceiving. In one example, it appeared an officer shot a man who was slowly placing his firearm on the ground. But the man was slowly reaching around his waist to grab a second gun. Thankfully, a back-up officer was coming around the corner and saw what was happening and yelled “gun!” to warn his partner.

The citizens academy participants got an appreciation for how hard it is for firefighters to pull an injured person from a totaled vehicle. The “jaws of life” tools can cut and bend steel with little effort so a firefighter instructor said they must be safe while working quickly because these tools could cut through fingers “like a hot knife through butter.”

They have a tool to quickly shatter side windows, but they have to methodically saw apart the windshield because it has plastic between the two layers of glass so that the windshield will not shatter if hot by a rock.

A challenge for code enforcement officials is that some buildings are grandfathered into old state code laws depending on when the building was constructed or when renovations occurred, Fiske said.

There are some codes such as not blocking exits that must followed by everyone, however, he said.

Fiske said blocking exits, exit signs not lit, sprinklers and smoke alarms not being tested frequently enough and limited or non-working fire extinguishers are the most common violations the code enforcers see.

At the graduation ceremony Oct. 23, a photo montage gave friends and family a visual representation of what the participants have been learning for eight weeks.

“I guarantee you they all go home and say, ‘You can’t believe what we did last night.’ This way, they get to see it, and we send them a disc with all the video and the pictures we took so they can remember that,” Fiske said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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