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Saved by the belt: A teen driver’s story

 
May 26, 2016
 
Kianna Stewart certainly never set out to be a poster girl for seat belts. After all, she’s about to go to the University of South Dakota on an athletic scholarship for cross country and track: The girl’s got things to do.
 
But you won’t find many more passionate advocates for the use of seat belts – especially not this young. That’s because, had it not been for her seat belt, Stewart wouldn’t have a running scholarship. She might not have been able to run. She might not even be alive.
 
“I don’t think it ever connected for me…the idea that when a seat belt is on you, it’s physically saving your life,” says Stewart. But all that changed on the night of August 3, 2015, when she fell asleep at the wheel driving home on Highway 316, crossed the opposite lane, and rolled over on the side of the road.
 
The crash
 
car with a smashed windshield
car with front end damage
Photos: After a rollover crash in which a seat belt saved her life,
Kianna Stewart walked around her car and thought,
“This doesn’t even look like a car anymore!”​
Knowing she gets sleepy when she drives alone at night, Stewart left a friend’s house at 10:15 (“It seems so early for a teenager to leave hanging out with their friends!” she exclaims). But that and her other precautions — rolling the window down, turning off the heat, putting perky music on the radio — were for naught, because the next thing she knew, “I opened my eyes and there was a sign hitting my car. There was nothing I could do. I was already in the ditch. I could taste dirt and hear metal crunching all around me.”
 
But because she had her seat belt on, she was able to walk away from the crash. Specifically, she crawled out of her passenger window and, by the light of her one remaining headlight, walked over to the guardrail to flag down help. “The driver’s seat was the only seat where the car around it wasn’t crushed. I walked around it and thought, ‘This doesn’t even look like a car anymore!’”
 
Even before the crash, Stewart buckled up “on instinct” — but now she knows firsthand exactly how important that little strip of webbing is. She can remember the feel of her seat belt during her crash. “During the accident, knowing that, as I gripped onto the seat, it was like I could still feel it across me, so I knew I had more help. If I didn’t have it, I have no idea what would have happened.”
 
The aftermath
 
But it wasn’t just that moment that Stewart’s seat belt affected – it’s everything after it, too. If she hadn’t put her seat belt on that night, she says, “I don’t think I would be able to go to college for running. Before I even got out of the car, that’s what I thought about. Running is so important to me. I mean, it’s my future. It’s a top priority for me. And if I didn’t have my seat belt on, I can’t even imagine…I could’ve landed wrong. I could’ve got rolled over by my car. I could’ve got ejected. Something could’ve cut my leg. It could’ve broke.”
 
In addition to a passionate appreciation for seat belts, the crash has ensured that Stewart doesn’t take anything for granted: Her cross country team placed sixth in state; “a few months after that I signed with a college, track is starting, graduation’s coming…I wouldn’t get these opportunities. I just take everything as a blessing. Every day. Because when good things happen, it feels good to know that I got to save myself.”
 
The lesson
 
As for whether other people should wear their seat belts, Stewart says, “You can’t control what other people are doing on the road. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good driver. It doesn’t matter if you never speed. You don’t know if that driver coming at you is tired. If they’re intoxicated. Where they’ve been.”
 
“Let it be the first thing you do when you get in the car. Grab that seat belt and click it.”
 
 

Say hello to three of the newest Minnesota State Troopers

 
May 23, 2016

PHOTO: ​ Fifty-seven cadets graduated last week from the Minnesota State Patrol’s 57th Training Academy
  
 
A banker from Florida. A Burmese student. An Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. Three very different people with very different backgrounds. But they have one very important thing in common: They all graduated from the Minnesota State Patrol’s 57th Training Academy last week.

Keenan Jones, Myint Maung and Sandra Fredericksen, along with 54 other men and women ranging from 21 to 47 years old, completed a grueling 16-week course at Camp Ripley. The academy consisted of motor vehicle crash investigation, traffic law, emergency vehicle operations, firearms, defensive tactics, communication and scenario-based training.

Trooper Keenan Jones
But before he completed the training that allowed him to don that distinctive maroon hat, Jones “was stuck in an office all day…and slowly started to lose interest in the work.” While Jones and his family were moving from Florida to Minnesota, he heard something on the radio that would change his life: “I was about 15 minutes away from my new home. I was listening to the radio when I heard Lt. Tiffani Nielson doing an interview about recruiting new troopers. It immediately sparked my interest.”

“The transition started off very slowly and had me beyond terrified, but I found my way and haven’t looked back since,” Jones continues. “I’ve never pushed myself so hard and felt so accomplished. Although it was tough and stressing, at the end it is very rewarding and humbling to be where I am today.” Jones is looking forward to helping people and giving back as a trooper “in ways that I haven’t been able to in the past,” and to “being a part of making our roadways safer.”

Trooper Myint Maung
As a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota’s criminal justice program, Maung was “already living my life according to State Patrol’s core values (respect, integrity, courage, honor, excellence) without even realizing it.” But that’s not the most impressive part of Maung’s story. He was born “in the jungle between Burma (what is now known as Myanmar) and Thailand” because his parents were fleeing execution for having helped overthrow Burma’s socialist government. “I lived in the jungle for two years with my sister and my parents.” His family then made its way to a Thai refugee camp, where they lived for five years before coming to the U.S.

Maung didn’t know what to expect from the academy except that “I knew it was going to be hard.” He promised himself he would give it his best and wouldn’t quit, because “this career is going to change my life.” And although Maung’s hard work has led him to become the first Burmese state trooper in the U.S., he knows exactly where credit is due: “I would not be here without the struggle of my parents. Everything here and now in my life has been thanks to them.”

Trooper Sandra Fredericksen
In her years of working as a paramedic here in Minnesota, Fredericksen interacted with the State Patrol quite a bit – and she liked what she saw. So much so that she decided to join. After deployments as a ground medic in Iraq with the Minnesota Army National Guard and a flight medic in Afghanistan with the C 2/211 Saint Cloud Medevac Company, Fredericksen came home to be a squad leader and assist with medical training. But Fredericksen wanted to be on prevention side of tragedy: “I am most looking forward to being able to make a difference in keeping people safe by getting impaired drivers off the road. In the past I would arrive on the ambulance after a tragedy. As much as I can, I want to prevent it from getting that far.”

For Fredericksen, the academy “has provided excellent training, pushed me further than I thought I was capable of, and shown me how their discipline and respect has given them the excellent reputation they have earned.” And although it was grueling, her close-knit, supportive family helped her get through. And it’s been worth every minute: “The MSP is an honorable organization that I am proud to have been given the opportunity to be a part of.”

We here at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety are also proud of these three new troopers and their 54 classmates. We sincerely congratulate them on their accomplishment and thank them for their dedication to keeping Minnesota roads safe by joining the State Patrol.


Just two wheels, the open road…and a really good rider training course

 
May 19, 2016
 
Remember when you learned to ride a bike? The training wheels came off, and your mom or dad huffed and puffed along behind you with a death grip on your seat until they let go and you were suddenly doing it yourself? Yeah, this isn’t that. But the sense of accomplishment first-time motorcyclists get from completing the Basic Rider Course is just as profound.
 
For one thing, riding a motorcycle is a lot more complicated than riding a bike, and there are a lot more safety precautions to take. Which is why successfully completing the Basic Rider Course is an acceptable substitute for the state riding skills test (which you have to complete in order to get your Minn. state motorcycle license endorsement).
 
The bonus? Nearly 15 hours’ worth of small-group instruction from instructors certified by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Which means you can learn and practice a set of specific skills, each building on the one before, that will help you become a safe and confident rider. You’ll start in the classroom with topics like protective riding gear, preparation and risk management. Early riding exercises include clutch and throttle control, shifting and stopping, while later exercises give you practice in skills like maximum braking, counter steering, and swerving.
 
In our latest video in the “Mic’d Up” series, you can get an inside look into the Basic Rider Course. There are 29 training sites across the state where you can take a course, and it doesn’t stop at basic: there are also courses for intermediate, advanced, and expert riders, and they typically run through September. If you’re interested in finding a convenient site where you can learn to ride a motorcycle (or brush up on your skills), check out our Rider Training Courses page.
 
So whether you’re dusting off that two-wheeled beauty after some time away or getting ready to ride it for the first time, consider a rider training course. It’s a great way to be skilled and safe on the open road.
 


Photo caption:  Students master quick stops during the Basic Rider Course at Century College in White Bear Lake.
 
 

Move over, Superman: Here come Minnesota’s real superheroes

 
May 16, 2016
 
Cutting a child out of a crashed car and rushing her to the hospital; reviving a boy struck by lightning; stopping a high-speed car chase. They read like something out of a superhero comic book, but they’re actually all things that State Troopers, Minnesota first responders and citizens did last year.
 
Photo: Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer presents Laura Machacek
with a Meritorious Citizenship Award for saving the life of a choking toddler.
These heroes and more were honored last week at the Minnesota State Patrol’s annual awards ceremony to recognize citizens, troopers and other public servants who put the needs of others above their own in an effort save lives on Minnesota roads in 2015. And although there are too many to tell all of them here, what follows are a few inspiring stories.
 
Meritorious Citizenship Award
While driving in Roseville, Laura Machacek saw the car ahead of her pull over and the driver get out and start yelling frantically for help. The driver’s two-year-old was choking and couldn’t breathe. Machacek removed the child from the car, placed the child over her leg, and cleared a sucker from the airway with back blows. The child started breathing again immediately. Had Machacek not had the decency to stop and help a fellow driver, or the knowledge of how to clear an airway obstruction on a toddler, this story may have had a different – and much more tragic – ending.
 
Life Saving Award
While off duty, Elissa Schmidt, a trooper with the State Patrol in St. Cloud, was hunting when she came to the aid of a fellow hunter who had been accidentally shot. Trooper Schmidt applied pressure to the wound with her hunting vest, encouraged the victim to continue breathing, and talked with him to keep him alert. After help arrived, Trooper Schmidt continued applying direct pressure with gauze pads while medical staff performed an assessment. Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said Trooper Schmidt’s quick action saved the victim from extreme blood loss.
 
Meritorious Citizenship Award
Sgt. Ron Richards was directing traffic for a funeral procession along Highway 60 in Jackson County when a semi-truck driver slammed into a stopped truck and caught fire. Sgt. Richards radioed for assistance and went to the semi driver, who was screaming for help. Paul Langseth heard the crash and ran to provide assistance. He and Sgt. Richards forced open the door of the semi, and the two worked together to free the driver from the burning truck and move him to a safe location. Sgt. Richards said he would not have been able to do it without Paul’s help. Here’s Sgt. Richards’ dash cam video of the incident.
 
So if you ever get down about the fact that Superman isn’t real, just remember there’s something better: first responders and fellow citizens who are willing to risk their own personal safety to keep the people of Minnesota safe.
 
 

How to honor the fallen? Let us count the ways.

 
May 12, 2016
 
If you ever had a law enforcement officer in your family, you probably looked up to – maybe even idolized – him or her as a child. The neat, crisp uniform, the shiny badge, the bravery of standing up to the bad guys and keeping the rest of us safe: What’s not to love?
 
National Peace Officers Memorial Day
Photo: Whether it’s obeying the Ted Foss Move Over Law or attending the
wreath-laying ceremony at the capitol, take some time to honor the fallen
on National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, this Sunday, May 15.​
Brian Homeier was no different in his feelings for his Uncle Ted Foss, who was a corporal in the Minnesota State Patrol: “I remember his visits in uniform as a child and how impressive his appearance was,” he says.  But Brian’s awe for his uncle is pushing him one step further: On May 17, Brian will graduate from the Minnesota State Patrol’s 57th Training Academy. The graduation is just two days after National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, and gives Brian the chance to honor the memory of his Uncle Ted, who was killed in the line of duty on August 31, 2000.
 
Brian says he was also influenced to join the State Patrol because of “the respect I have for the State Patrol’s expectations, training and core values they stand for.” And his drive to succeed? Also his family. When he announced his intention to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, says Brian, “My family, especially my wife and two girls have responded with overwhelming support and encouragement.”
 
Brian adds that being a trooper will help him serve as a role model to his children and others, teaching them that “if you believe in yourself and be self-disciplined you can achieve what you set out to do. I am honored to be able to follow in Ted’s footsteps and look forward to continuing to educate the motoring public on driving conduct and safety.”
 
If Cpl. Foss’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because his death prompted the Ted Foss Move Over Law, which requires drivers passing an emergency vehicle to safely move to the lane farthest away. So giving emergency vehicles a wide berth – in addition to being required by law -- is a great way to memorialize Cpl. Foss and other fallen peace officers.
 
If you’d rather do something more active for National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, though, consider attending the wreath-laying ceremony at 7:25 p.m. on Sunday, which ends the 24-hour vigil kept by officers from all over the state at the Law Enforcement Memorial on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
 
 

Pay no attention to the grant behind the curtain

 
May 9, 2016
 
Picture this: You’re awakened from a deep sleep by the piercing shriek of your smoke alarms. You get everybody out safely, then call 911 from your neighbor’s house. The firefighters arrive on the scene in a matter of minutes and put the fire out quickly, with very little damage.
In this scenario, you are thinking about exactly what you should be thinking about: That there was no loss of life and very little loss of property. You aren’t thinking about the fact that the fire department was able to get there so quickly because of how your service district was laid out, or that they were able to put the flames out so effectively because their equipment is new and well maintained. Nor should you.
 
​Photo: When your house looks like this, you shouldn’t be thinking about
how efficiently your tax dollars are being used to put out the fire.
That’s what Shared Services Grants are for.
But some people do think about those things: those are the people behind the Shared Services Grant Program. And it’s a good thing they do, because Shared Services Grants allow fire services to pay for a third party (consultant) feasibility study that evaluates issues such as:
  • The geographic area and population density of fire and rescue service districts.
  • Funding sources for operation, training and equipment.
  • Efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response
In other words, the consultant looks at your local fire department and makes sure they’re using your tax dollars wisely, responding to emergencies as quickly as possible, and using the best equipment possible. And if they’re not, they’ll figure out how to work with other jurisdictions to make the most of what they have.
 
For example, let’s say City A is a bedroom community with a volunteer fire department. Because most of its citizens are gone during the day, at work in City B, there’s no one to respond to a fire on a given weekday. Through a Shared Services Grant, City A and City B's fire departments determine the best course of action is to allow them each to call on the other for firefighting services if necessary. It may seem counterintuitive, given that City A and City B are 20 miles apart, but because many of both cities’ volunteer firefighters work in City B, they’re able to respond to emergency calls on weekdays, even those that are many miles away. By working together this way, City A and City B can make the best use of their resources and keep their property and citizens safer.
 
And because Shared Services Grants allow fire service professionals to think about these things, you can concentrate on your home and family’s safety – and, hopefully, rest a bit easier.
 
 

Ready to wave the white flag? The Red Cross can help

 
May 5, 2016
 
When you think “Red Cross,” you probably picture shelters with row upon row of cots, housing families displaced by natural disaster. And although that’s part of what the Red Cross does, that’s not all of it. For one thing, your home is more likely to be damaged by fire than by a tornado, flood or thunderstorm. So when the firefighters have rolled up their hoses and gone back to the station, who do you call for help?
 
aftermath from a fire at a house in Paynesville, Minnesota
Photo: After the firefighters have rolled up their hoses and gone back
to the station, there are a lot of details to think about.
That’s where the Red Cross comes in.​
It’s not a trick question; the answer is still “the Red Cross.” You can get assistance from the Red Cross if your home is still habitable, or even if you and your family are completely displaced by a fire. And it’s best to know this now, before something happens. And in case you’re wondering what the Red Cross can do for you in such a situation, here are some examples of the services they offer:
  • Financial help with lodging, food, clothing, cleanup supplies, and other items to meet your immediate needs.
  • Help connecting with your insurance provider — plus, they can fill in any gaps until that assistance comes through.
  • Health professionals and funds to replace essentials such as lost medications, glasses or medical devices.
  • Mental health professionals.
 
Ultimately, we hope you’ll never need the Red Cross’s help. One way to ensure that is to practice fire prevention and safety in your home. Check out this fact sheet from the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Department (SFMD) for tips and ideas.
 
But if a fire happens in your home despite your best efforts, consult the SFMD’s list of actions to take after a fire. You’ll see the Red Cross at the top of the list, whose number here in Minnesota is 612-871-7676.
 
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but firefighters and the Red Cross are here for everything else.
 
 

So you’ll stay fine, they walk the (pipe)line

 
May 2, 2016
 
How will you end your day today? Drive home from work?  Maybe you’ll get a nice hot shower, then make yourself something to eat using your oven or stove. In many cases, all three of those activities require gas in some form or other. And aside from those few minutes once every month when you pay your gas bill, you probably don’t think much about where it comes from.
 
inspection of a pipeline
​Photo: OPS keeps the 65,000 miles of pipeline in Minnesota up,
running, and safe with regular inspections.
Nor should you! That’s our job. Though it may interest you to know that there are roughly 65,000 miles of pipeline under our feet here in Minnesota and it is the responsibility of the pipeline industry and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS) to ensure these pipelines operate safely.
 
Last year, for example, MNOPS staff conducted 349 inspections. That means looking through records, files, maps, and reports, and also talking with pipeline operators and their key staff members. They’re checking to see if the operator is in compliance with all regulations and has proper documentation showing it: Are all proper procedures being followed? Are the facilities well maintained? Are all personnel properly trained?
 
Once an inspector gets that groundwork done, they go out and see the system itself for a field observation of practices and conditions. Does this mean they inspect all 65,000 miles of pipeline every year? Nope. They spot check them, and that’s why it’s so important them to know that the on-site operators are following safe, effective procedures that comply with state and federal guidelines.
 
And because MNOPS inspectors are making sure those guidelines are being met, you can take that shower or cook that meal using those gas appliances. And it will be all the more enjoyable you and your family are safe.