Fundraiser to equip first responders with children's books

Posted at 11:33 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 00:33:47-04
Captain Duane Nechodom has seen it all during his 23 years as a volunteer firefighter, but it's the fear in children's eyes during an emergency that still bothers him to this day.
"It's traumatic. One, their house is on fire, and two, they don't know any of us that are there. They're scared."
Captain Nechodom's daughter Katie, a soon-to-be school counselor, has been touched and troubled by her dad's stories. She's now taking action to help children in distress.
She says, "To be able to ease a child's mind during any sort of first responder call, I think is really important." 
Katie has started an online fundraising drive to bring the Reach-A-Child program to the Little Chute Fire Department. First responders will carry bags in their vehicles that contain picture books and chapter books for children ages 2 to 12, and when they encounter children at the scene of an emergency, they get to choose a book to read to comfort and distract them.
"They can only focus on one thing at a time, and when they're focused on that book, it takes them away from all the scary things happening around them," explains Reach-A-Child Marketing Director Eric Salzwedel.
A children's author started the program in 2007.
"Him and his wife went out to New York City. When they were out there, they visited Ground Zero and saw a painting or a mural of children, and started thinking about children and traumatic situations, and first responders being the first one there," explained Salzwedel.
The books not only calm young victims' worries, but they also help build stronger relationships between them and the officers, firefighters and paramedics that are working to protect them.
"We get to know these kids and not to be afraid of the firemen with the air pack on, the face piece on, that hey, we're here to help you, and I think that'll help us down the road," said Captain Nechodom.
The children get to take the free book home with them in a drawstring backpack.
"This very well could be a child's first book. You just don't know," says Salzwedel.
Being able to give the gift of literacy, while relieving the tension during trauma, is something Captain Nechodom Is looking forward to.
"To see the smile on the kid's face in a tragic thing, I think is very nice."
He's proud of his daughter for leading the effort.
"To give them something that will occupy their mind, will hopefully ease my mind, knowing that we can support the kids in our community," said Katie.
Now, she needs to raise $1,200 to buy three Reach-A-Child bags for the Little Chute Fire Department and five bags for other Fox Cities first responders. She's confident the community will come through, and soon, her dad's next call for help will be answered with some extra TLC.