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Published October 08, 2013, 09:50 AM

Manvel student wins chopper ride over hometown

MANVEL, N.D. — Bekka Gilbertson took off on a school field trip Monday that soared high above the rest of her schoolmates.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

MANVEL, N.D. — Bekka Gilbertson took off on a school field trip Monday that soared high above the rest of her schoolmates.

The eighth grader was the featured passenger in a Sanford AirMed helicopter for a 10-minute bird’s-eye view of her hometown. That was her prize as the winner of a Manvel Public School Fire Prevention Week contest.

She was accompanied by her father, Chad, and her homeroom teacher, Joel Foss, as well as the AirMed crew.

Outwardly, she appeared as calm as an A-student acing another test, just before stepping aboard the helicopter.

“I’m kind of nervous,” she said, “excited, too.”

Bekka’s schoolmates and school staff lined the first-base-side fence around Manvel’s baseball field as the chopper’s engine roared and its blades began rotating.

“Five, four, three, two, one, blast-off,” they screamed, time and time again, in anticipation of lift-off. Then, they cheered when it finally took flight.

Focus on safety

The event was a cooperative project between Manvel Fire Department and Sanford Health, according to Fire Chief Steve Schumer.

AirMed, formerly LifeFlight, has been conducting public safety programs for several years, according to Tim Meyer, Sanford Health’s director of emergency air transport.

One of the events is Operation Prom, a springtime prom-night mock traffic accident at a Fargo-area high school, in which students dress in prom dresses and tuxes, he said.

“I think it’s really important for them to see what can actually happen,” said Chad Erickson, pilot on the Manvel flight. Other crew members included a flight nurse and a paramedic.

Erickson, a native of Kindred, N.D., lived in Virginia for years while he was a military pilot. He now lives in south Fargo.

The crew also conducts programs in area communities that have medical facilities, training doctors and other medical staff in the towns in the safest and most efficient ways to transfer patients from an accident scene or a hospital to the ambulance, he said.

AirMed also conducts programs as part of health career programs in schools and it works with local volunteer fire departments and rescue squads.

Last month, it held a joint training exercise for fire departments in Manvel; Gilby, N.D.; and Oslo, Minn., according to Schumer.

“It’s an exercise for volunteer first responders, and it shows there’s a career opportunity, too,” said Bill Schafer, a Fargo AirMed pilot who assisted in Monday’s program. “The best part is seeing the excitement of the kids when we’re landing.”

Monday’s event was AirMed’s first designed primarily for elementary-age students.

Fire program

Schumer and Mike Devine, a Manvel resident who just happens to be a pilot for AirMed, started discussing the possibility of such an event in Manvel several months ago.

Schumer discussed the possibilities with Manvel school administrators.

They came up with a fire safety program that involved a contest. Each class had a fire safety assignment, from a coloring contest for the youngest to an essay competition for the eighth graders.

One winner was chosen on merit from each class. Then, their names were placed in a drawing, with Bekka Gilbertson taking the prize, which included seats on the flight with one parent and the student’s homeroom teacher.

Chad Gilbertson said he offered the seat to his wife, Sheri, if she wanted to accompany their daughter. She declined.

“It was fun,” Bekka said after they landed. But she was non-committal about a potential career.

“It’s her first time in the air,” her father added. “She took a picture of our house.”

Meyer said AirMed is available for programs, upon request, in communities throughout the region. Sanford’s American Eurocopter EC-145s are stationed in Fargo, Bemidji and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Other flights

Devine hopes to expand the school program, especially for younger students. He intends to contact schools in the northern valley, with a goal of lining up 20 or 30 similar events next spring.

“It was a great opportunity. I can cross this off my bucket list,” said Foss, Bekka’s homeroom teacher and other traveling companion. “Like the pilot said, maybe this will inspire a career choice by a few of them.”

Schumer would like nothing better than to one day get some new fire department recruits or choose a health career, perhaps even becoming part of a medical flight crew.

“We’ve got a good example right here with Mike,” he said. “He’s shown it can be done.”