Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 9, 2017
It may have been hot Monday, Aug. 7, but it was also a windy and wet one for the children of the West Liberty Before and After School Program.

First it was windy thanks to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics AirCare emergency helicopter, which touched down on the 35 yard-line of the high school football field.

Then it was wet thanks to the massive stream of water shot high into the sky by the West Liberty Fire Department’s newest fire truck, pouring down on the group of elated children like a rain storm.

“We decided to do a safety day for the kids,” said Jill Page, Director of 16 years for the Before and After School Program. “We have different entities that the kids see throughout the city.”

The program provides care from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to over 50 students between the ages of 4 to 12 during the summer. It’s been in existence for more than two decades.

The program also provides care before and after school during the school year. As a nonprofit organization, it runs in the West Liberty School District but is not affiliated with the school.

Monday was a special day for kids, over the course of an hour they met personnel from the U of I AirCare emergency department, the West Liberty Police and Fire Department and the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department.

They also go to explore and touch all of the cool vehicles and gadgets that go along with saving and protecting lives, including AirCare Emergency’s giant helicopter.

“That helicopter, it’s called an EC130, but that’s just a bunch of numbers,” explained its pilot Tim Whalen. “It goes pretty fast too, about 150 knots. That’s about 175 miles per hour.”

In all the U of I AirCare team has three helicopters, AirCare 1 out of Iowa City, AirCare 2 out of Waterloo and AirCare 3 out of Dubuque.

The Iowa City crew covers a 60-80 mile radius around the University of Iowa’s Hospitals and Clinics, though it occasionally goes as far as Des Moines or Davenport.

The AirCare 1 helicopter had quite the entrance as it approached from the east. It slowly circled around the top of the football field as the kids shouted and pointed into the sky.

It slowly descended onto the grass as wind gushed from under the blades up into the bleachers. When the three member crew exited the aircraft they were met by applause.

Then they were bombarded by questions…

“How did you learn to fly the helicopter? How do you land? Why do you wear helmets? How fast do you go up? Have you ever crashed? Do you ever run into pigeons?”

“We do run into some birds sometimes, but we wear visors just in case the bird makes its way into the cockpit so we don’t get hurt,” answered Paramedic Nick Nedza.

“We wear helmets just like you guys do when you ride bikes, and we wear seat belts too like you guys do…right?” He added. “That way you don’t have to meet us professionally.”

It took AirCare 1 a total of seven minutes from liftoff to touch down to go from Iowa City to West Liberty, a run they would have done much faster had it been an emergency.

But that wasn’t all.

In the parking lot sat a high-tech SUV from the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department. As the kids explored the vehicle they were given coloring books.

“Yes, I do have pepper spray,” answered Deputy Madson of the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office when he was asked. The kids were very interested in the pepper spray.

He also explained how the Muscatine County Sheriff’s department covers Conesville, Nichols, Atalissa, Moscow, Wilton, West Liberty, Durant and Muscatine.

West Liberty Fire Chief Kirt Sickels and members of the Fire and Emergency Department piled on all their fire fighting clothing and equipment.

The kids were astonished by how heavy everything was, as well as how hot the fire fighters must get wearing all that stuff in the middle of the fire.

Then came the big moment. WLFD’s bright red pumper fired a stream of crisp cool water into the sky, which poured down on the children. They ran back and forth screaming in excitement.

It was a good thing they were about to go swimming, all of the kids were already dressed for the upcoming dip in the Kimberly Park swimming.

“We do field trips throughout the week,” says Director Page, “We go to the pool every day, we go to different pools within driving distance.”

The West Liberty Before and After School Program also goes to unique places like the Children’s Museum, or it sets up special events like what happened on Monday.

Eventually the crew of U of I AirCare 1 piled back into their helicopter and took off, taking a moment to spin a full 360 degrees about 20 feet in the air.

The children watched in amazement as the giant helicopter turned into a tiny dot in the sky, waving goodbye the whole time. It was truly a day they’ll never forget.
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