Still in high school, 15-year-old Sarah Hill envisions going into law enforcement someday. Even younger, at age 8, Natalie Spannknebel could see herself as a police officer when she grows up.
That’s music to Hayley Collins’ ears. It means CampHERO is working.
“We’ve had a good number of success stories,” said Collins, a deputy with the Dane County Sheriff’s Department, who is based at the Northeast Precinct in the Village of Windsor.
Started in 2012, CampHERO offers girls across grades K-12 hands-on learning about working in the protective services, such as police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS). Collins has been involved since the start.
“What is so rewarding is seeing girls come in who are so shy and timid at the beginning of camp interact with female role models in the protective services and become completely different girls who are starting to believe in themselves,” said Collins. “It’s nice to be a positive influence. In law enforcement, you don’t always get that kind of interaction.”
Meeting up with former campers, some of have told Collins that they’ve done EMS training or plan to enter the police academy. Not all of them began CampHERO with such thoughts in mind.
“Maybe they didn’t have an interest or maybe they had an interest and it helped them jump forward,” said Collins.
There is nothing else like CampHERO, according to Collins. It was co-founded by Madison Fire Department EMS Training Captain Jen Roman, and it attracts campers from as far away as California and Texas, as well as closer locales such as Janesville, La Crosse and Eau Claire. Learning new skills and exploring careers in the protective services is what CampHERO, which spans two weeks in July, is all about.
At the same time, girls who go through it gain courage, build confidence and develop character.
“They get exposed to different teaching, and they find they can do anything,” said Collins.
Collins said Roman came up with the idea upon realizing there were proportionately less women in the protective services than men. It will take some time for the numbers to become more closely aligned.
CampHERO was developed by the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin-Badgerland Council in tandem with local police, fire and EMS agencies. However, girls who are not in Scouting can take part. Most of the camp takes place at Madison College in the Protective Services Building. Some of it is held at Camp Brandenberg in the Town of Dane and just outside of Waunakee. Depending on the age group, campers will have overnight stays or simply be bused in for the day.
The camp caters to different ages. Those in kindergarten and first grade go to CampHERO for a half day, while high schoolers attend the camp for six days.
Since the first camp, Collins has taken on a variety of roles. She said she sees a lot of the same faces year after year. And even if they don’t eventually go into the protective services, they learn a variety of useful skills.
Tayler Spannknebel is the leader of Troop 7116, made up of second-year Brownies from seven different area elementary schools from DeForest, Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Madison and Cottage Grove. Her troop started going to CampHERO as a reward for work they’d done.
Spannknebel said camps like this are important. She does not accompany her scouts to CampHERO, nor do their parents. There is a reason for that.
“They need to learn skills on their own, without parental interaction,” said Spannknebel.
That way, the girls learn independence and life skills. And they’re not just taking tours of fire trucks and police cars. Each age level does more than the one before.
In fact, it’s the girls themselves who decide what they want to learn. The program is 100 percent run by girls, said Tayler Spannknebel. Some of the activities might include cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and learning first aid, including bandaging, splinting, tourniquets and casting. Starting IVs is another skill. Search-and-rescue techniques and rappelling are also taught, as is hooking up a fire hose to a hydrant. Campers are shown how to handcuff prisoners, as well as defense and arrest tactics. They also learn what details to include when calling in a report to 911. Clearing a room for law enforcement or fire practices is also addressed, as is how to work air tanks. They even learn about blood spatter.
Breaking up into groups, campers are shown what happens on the scene of an accident and how law enforcement takes charge of it. They see how to stabilize victims and use the jaws of life. They go through driving simulators to see what it’s like to drive a squad car. They silently tour a 911 dispatch center.
Natalie Spannknebel has been in scouting for four years. She attends CampHERO every other year. She went when she was in second grade and will go again as a fourth grader this year, as CampHERO will take place July 14-27.
Her favorite part so far has been fire support and going into smoke-filled rooms trying to find people. Hill has been going to CampHERO every year.
“I just like the hands-on aspect,” said Hill, who has attended the camp for eight years. “With other Girl Scout camps, you don’t get to try as many things, especially when you’re younger. I always wanted to do something more adventurous, and every year I wanted to come back.”
For Hill, another positive effect of CampHERO is that she said she feels more comfortable now talking to protective services personnel. Tayler Spannknebel concurs. She appreciates how law enforcement officers interact with kids in the community, not just at school but in their daily lives.
“In my community, kids are not running to catch the ice cream truck,” said Tayler Spannknebel. “They’re chasing police cars just to say, ‘Hi.’ That makes my day that they respect authority and they respect their community.”