Fremont Firefighter Peter Kafonek responded to a different call on Wednesday.

He wasn’t fighting a fire or helping someone hurt in a car accident.

Instead, he was helping young Holden Kratky, who was trying on a firefighter’s helmet.

Holden is one of 47 kids attending the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp this week.

Campers, ages 8-17, have come from Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas to take part in a host of activities — like swimming, motorcycle rides, movie nights and a talent show — all at Camp Calvin Crest, south of Fremont.

Wednesday was VIP Day, when people like firefighters and police officers visit the camp to spend special time with the kids.

Paid firefighters in unions from different Nebraska cities were at the camp.

“Our union, the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters), partners with the MDA,” Kafonek said.

Three firefighters from Fremont interacted with the young campers on Wednesday morning.

“We let them climb on our truck and touch the tools and ask questions,” Kafonek said.

Fremont firefighter Christian McKenzie and 8-year-old Charlie Vertin both wore big smiles as the child sat in the driver’s seat of a firetruck.

Charlie, who is from Hastings, even gave a thumbs up while having his picture taken.

What did Charlie like about the firetruck?

“Everything,” he said.

Charlie thought the engine was “cool” and said being in the firetruck was fun.

Firefighters planned to eat lunch with the children and have a water fight in the afternoon.

“This goes along with the Fill the Boot campaign,” Kafonek said.

Each September, members of Fremont Nebraska Firefighters Local 1015 take to the streets, holding out large boots that passersby can fill with donations for the MDA.

The MDA uses funds for research, services and education. Every year, the MDA also hosts more than 3,800 children with muscular dystrophy and related diseases at its almost 75 summer camps.

This is the third year the MDA has had a camp at Calvin Crest. Before that, it was in Cozad. This is also the third year Fremont firefighters have participated in the camp.

Kafonek appreciates the camp.

“It not only helps the kids, it helps the parents of the kids,” Kafonek said. “It gives them a little bit of a break. These kids are out here. They get to hang out here with other kids their age, who are kind of going through the same thing. It lets them be a kid for a week. It’s a really good, fun camp.”

Around lunchtime, Omaha Police Department pilots landed a helicopter at the campgrounds.

A group of children in motorized wheelchairs made their way across a grassy area to meet pilots Brian Yaghoutfam and Matt Baughman.

“It’s the best week of the year for our registered families with MDA, because our kids get to enjoy a barrier-free, fully accessible, weeklong of camp — free of charge,” said Sara Melton, an MDA care and clinical services specialist from North Carolina, and a camp co-director.

Besides crafts and swimming, kids participate in campfires and eat s’mores.

“We have a dance on the last night of camp,” said Tyler McCoy-Harms, camp co-director, from Kansas City, Kan. “It may be one of the most popular things the kids look forward to. It’s the last evening of camp and it’s a great opportunity for the campers and the counselors to get together and have a nice night of fun.”

Kids who attend have been diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease. They go to camp for free, because of sponsors and volunteers.

“We have really dedicated volunteer counselors and cabin leaders, who return every year,” Melton said.

One counselor has participated in camps for 27 years.

There are 44 counselors and three medical staff at this week’s camp. MDA officials also appreciate Craig Huffman, executive director at Camp Calvin Crest, and his staff — described as a “fantastic partner.”

As the morning which drifted into afternoon, kids made their way to lunch and other activities.

Kafonek pondered the things he likes about the camp, adding:

“The best part about this is getting to see a smile on a kid’s face when he gets to climb in a firetruck or shoot water out of a hose.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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