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Wisconsin Dells police and firefighters recently added new equipment designed to help them “reach a child” during emergencies.

Thanks to SSM Health and Madison-based non-profit REACH-A-Child, the city’s police and firefighters can offer a different kind of emergency response when they encounter children during such situations.

The two departments received 13 backpacks referred to as “REACH Bags,” each containing children’s books and smaller drawstring backpacks, for giving and ideally even reading to children to bring comfort during a frightening and potentially traumatic events.

SSM Health and REACH-A-Child, the latter of whose mission is “providing a REACH Bag to every first responder in Wisconsin,” delivered the bags the afternoon of Oct. 18 to the two departments at their respective headquarters on Oak Street in the downtown Dells.

Funding for the bags and the children’s books to go in them came “through a very generous grant from SSM Health Employees,” according to a news release from REACH-A-Child.

“As we took a look at our northern region in support of REACH-A-Child, we realized Wisconsin Dells’ police and fire departments did not have REACH Bags,” said Melanie Platt-Gibson, Northern Region Marketing and Communications Director for SSM Health, who helped to deliver the books and bags. “We reached out and said would you guys would be interested, and they said ‘Of course.’”

The bags full of books now will be within easy reach for police and firefighters when a child needs comforting or a healthy distraction, said REACH-A-Child Executive Director Curt Fuszard.

“It’s for emergency responders’ use if a child needs to be reassured or their attention redirected,” Fuszard said. “This helps to comfort the child, and distract him or her from the immediate trauma. The child gets to keep the book and a draw-string bag to go with it.”

Dells Police Chief Jody Ward and Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department Captain Wade Bernander accepted the bags on behalf of their respective departments during a brief ceremony outside the downtown police and fire stations.

Founded in 2007, REACH-A-Child has outfitted first responders across the region with “REACH Bags” with the help of SSM Health, according to Platt-Gibson. The organization also has provided the bags to the entire fleet of Wisconsin State Patrol vehicles and many other local sheriff, police, fire and EMS departments cross the state, Fuszard said.

The partnership between the organization and SSM Health came about in large part due to the awareness and efforts of SSM Community Relations Representative Kristen Brey, Platt-Gibson said.

More information about REACH-A-Child can be found at

Follow Ed Legge on Twitter @DellsEd. Contact him at 608-432-6591.