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Children's Museum in Willmar Features New CentraCare Ambulance Exhibit

Published in Emergency Services, Medical Professionals

Kids learn about emergency services through interaction and play.

Everything starts with an idea.

Around this time last year, Lynsey Pierce, The Village Childrens Museum Director, had a conversation with then interim United Way Director and Board President, Steve Gerberding, around opportunities for a new exhibit. The Village became an official program of the United Way of West Central Minnesota in February 2022. Steve, a former Clinic Administrator for Carris Health in Willmar, came up with the idea for an ambulance display. He then connected Lynsey with Brad Hanson, Sr. Director, Emergency Medical Services with CentraCare.

"When Steve and Lynsey reached out to me with the idea for an ambulance exhibit, I immediately thought it was a great idea," said Brad. "We knew that logistically we wouldn't be able to place an actual ambulance into the Museum space, so we got to work on a wooden ambulance concept."

From a concept to reality.

Coincidentally, many of the founding families that were part of the original group of community members that came together in 2017 to create The Village have CentraCare connections. This included family medicine physician, Jayme Van Beek, D.O., who built the permanent fire truck exhibit that has been with The Village since it opened in 2018. It turned out that Jayme's wife Sarah, who was also a founding member of The Village and currently sits on the United Way Board, has distant relatives who own Rosenbauer Fire Trucks. Jayme spent a good part of the winter of 2017 designing and building the fire truck.

Fast forward to 2023, and Brad got in touch with Dr. Van Beek who, fortunately, still had all his original plans for the building of the fire truck.

At this point, retired CentraCare EMS Director, Gordy Vosberg got involved. Gordy reworked Jayme's fire truck drawings into concept drawings for the new ambulance exhibit. As the concept evolved, it came out even better than they had planned, and the team recognized they would need to build it in pieces and put it back together inside the Museum.

It takes a Village.

Once materials were purchased, a group consisting of Jerome Bengtson (lead builder), Joseph Pierce, Mike Urban, Joey Paulson, Darin Pierce, and Nate Ruka, began building the wooden ambulance.

"These guys are all so helpful and graciously assisted in making sure the ambulance exhibit was possible," said Lynsey. "They are invested in making certain our community flourishes."

And while the fire truck was built by a doctor, the ambulance build team, with the exception of Jerome, all serve on the Sunburg Fire Department.

During this time, a separate team of EMS staff, including Richard Taylor, Lyle Loge, John Behl, Jim Kroona, Jennifer Chapman, Kara Scharmer, and Brianna Hanson, were busy collecting parts for the interactive ambulance experience as well as helping with installation.

"Jennifer had an older ambulance cot available that she helped repurpose and clean up for use," said Brad. "Everyone was tasked with different pieces and parts and were looking around decommissioned ambulances to see what we could find."

Gordy contacted Everest Emergency Vehicles, Inc. out of St. Paul, an authorized dealer for Road Rescue products in the state of Minnesota. "Everest has a shop where they build ambulances," added Brad. "They have rows and rows of old parts that they hold on to in case they're needed."

Jim, John, and Brad made a road trip to go "shopping" for parts at Everest in St. Paul. They were able to find wall oxygen ports, grab handles, a display panel, display module, and lights, which were all generously donated.

Old EMS trucks also allowed them to collect additional lights, a dash cluster, steering wheel, defibrillator, and a large seat.

Chuck Raduenz, a professional emergency vehicle upfitter who works for Central Tire and Auto of Willmar, installed the lights and panel on the exhibit, and Melanie Baker with Baker Graphics developed and placed the stickers on the display. Both businesses have a strong tradition of partnering with Willmar EMS services.

"We are so thankful for all the individuals and businesses that have supported this project," said Brad. "It really does take a village."

Play leads to learning.

"Our space is really about growth through play," said Lynsey. "90% of the brain is developed by age five."

In addition to offering a place to learn and play, The Village is also a place for the entire community to gather, no matter their background, religion, or culture. Lynsey shared that The Village averages 60 to 100 kids daily, serving 15,000 unique individuals annually.

"It's common to hear five to six different languages being spoken at one time," says Lynsey. "It's beautiful to see families engage with each other and build friendships around a language barrier that you think would be prohibitive. It's beautiful for our kids to grow up in this wonderful community."

Teaching children about emergency services.

Photos of the children with the exhibit were taken during the open house events on April 28, 2023.

"It will be really fun to see the kids interact with the ambulance," smiled Brad. "The lights will be fully functional with different modes. They can lay on the cot in the back and play and learn with expired supplies such as oxygen masks, ports, and gauges. Although we promised Lynsey that we wouldn't feature anything that made noise, so no sirens."

The team continues to find new items that can be added to the experience, such as old uniforms for kids to wear. They recognize that the supplies will require ongoing maintenance as items need replacing in the future.

"It's important for kids to see and understand an ambulance up close so they're not afraid," said Brad. "We want kids to learn about the equipment in an ambulance and what it's for, when it's appropriate to call 9-1-1, and what to do when you see and hear an ambulance with lights flashing behind you on the road. Children learn so much faster when they're able to have hands-on experiences. We want them to tour the ambulance, ask questions, and play to learn."

The new ambulance exhibit aims to ease the fear some children may have around ambulances, lights, sirens, and even paramedics.

Caring for the community we serve.

The EMS team members have presented to children and shared tours on ambulances in a variety of venues and events for many years.

"CentraCare really cares about our communities, and we are very involved," Brad explained. "While we've changed our name to CentraCare – we are still the same local ambulance services with the same passion and people who have always cared for this community."

Lynsey agreed, "We are fortunate to have the hospital and health care facilities in this area that provide such wonderful care and give back. And we are grateful that CentraCare has invested in our community. We're so thankful."