A fun way to learn: Public Safety Camp

Participants of the 2023 Public Safety Camp enjoy a splash in the foam pit.

It was a beautiful, sunny day with clear blue skies at Mt. Lebanon Main Park, as cheers erupted in the lower parking lot.

A steady stream of water rained down on the group of youngsters playing in the lot, while they laughed and splashed in the puddles. 

Far above them, a hose—coming from a tall ladder extended from the top of a fire truck—poured 1,000 gallons of water onto the area. 

This was the finale for a day filled with fun, but more importantly learning, at Mt. Lebanon’s annual public safety camp. 

Fire department deputy chief Rodger Ricciuti uses a hose to help kids clean off from the foam.

“The idea is to have a camp where kids can come out and they get to meet and talk with all of the public safety personnel—fire, MRTSA and the police department,” said police Cpl. Jeff Kite. “They get to see how we work together as a team. We really focus on teamwork.” 

Now in its 10th year, 36 youngsters, ages 9 to 12, gathered every morning this week for lessons from the Mt. Lebanon police and fire departments and Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA). The camp is one of the recreation department’s most popular, filling up within a few hours. There’s always a long wait list.   

“For us, this is an amazing opportunity,” said MRTSA Lt. David Terkel. 

The camp not only sparks an interest in youngsters in the public safety field, but it comes with a lot of lessons. 

“We’re teaching them life skills, such as CPR and Stop the Bleed,” Terkel said. “We hope that we’re helping train them to be good Samaritans and good citizens … There’s no age requirement to be able to help someone. Even if it’s understanding when someone might need CPR. It gets them to call 9-1-1 and start the process.”

C.J. poses with camp participants

On Monday, they got a tour of Mt. Lebanon’s public safety vehicles, getting to climb inside a fire truck, police car and ambulance. The police department even brought out their drones for show and tell. MRTSA therapy dog, C.J., also stopped by for a visit. 

“They love it,” Kite said of the kids. 

Camp members practice putting out a fire.

Tuesday was pool rescue day, where they learned both boat and rope techniques for saving people. While the youths likely won’t be asked to help with a water safety rescue, they are learning preventative safety measures that they can take. 

“If they can impart to their parents: Hey, we don’t get out of the car. We stay in the car and we don’t drive through flooded waters,” Terkel said. “We feel it’s really important to reach people at a very young age and to start teaching them.” 

The kids also met Ranger, a bloodhound from the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department and learned how K-9s are a vital part of public safety. (Mt. Lebanon police’s K-9 Bear was on vacation and unable to attend the camp.)  

On Wednesday, the camp featured a bike rodeo, where the kids learned the rules of the road and how to stay safe on a bike. This is the day the fire department also brought out its hoses and, with a little soap, created a foam pit for the youngsters to run around and play. 

Camp members help fire department Lt. Steve Noorbakhsh put a hose away.

They also practiced putting out a fire, using a real fire hose. 

“Remember: teamwork,” fire department Lt. Steve Noorbakhsh told the kids, as they worked together to put away the hose after use. “Let’s all work together.

“We’re hoping to reinforce our fire safety message,” Noorbakhsh said later. “We hope this sparks an interested in public service careers and helps create a passion for giving back to the community through firefighting.” 

Thursday was a field trip to the Pittsburgh International Airport’s Airport Rescue Firefighting Facility, and Friday is a mock DUI crash. 

“They really get to see teamwork among the three (police, fire and EMS) during that,” Kite said. 

If this sounds like something your kids might enjoy, stay tuned next summer. You have to sign up early. This camp fills up within a few hours and there’s always a waiting list. 

In the meantime, you can meet and enjoy some fun with Mt. Lebanon’s public safety personnel this Saturday at the final Rock the Block event of the season. It runs from noon to 3 p.m. at Markham Elementary School on August 12. 

For adults, the Mt. Lebanon police and fire departments each have their own citizens academies this fall. 

The Citizens Police Academy runs Tuesday evenings from September 5 to November 14. Applications can be found on their website. 

The Citizens Fire Academy is slated for Wednesday evenings from September 13 to November 10. You can apply via their website.