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Campground honors first responders

April 10, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WILLIAMSPORT - Whether related by birth or by choice, the firefighters who set down stakes at Jellystone Park & Resort weren't about to let a little chill and rain come between them.

"Everywhere we go, we go as a family," Richard Cain, president of the Hedgesville (W.Va.) Volunteer Fire Department, said Sunday as members packed up picnic supplies and camping gear.

Firefighters, emergency medical workers, nurses and police officers were among about 175 families who enjoyed a special recognition weekend at Jellystone Park, according to campgrounds owner Ron Vitkun. Accommodations were available at reduced prices or no cost, and all of the campgrounds' cabins were booked, he said.

Turnout at some of the tent sites was hurt by the weather, he said.

Rain fell on both Friday and Saturday, and temperatures dipped into the 30s on Saturday, according to i4weather.net, a Web site maintained by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

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In the past, the campgrounds' recognition weekend honored public employees and police, co-owner Vicki Vitkun said. The annual event is in its third year, she said.

"It just seemed appropriate that this group was recognized," Ron Vitkun said as firefighters and their families stopped by the campgrounds' gift shop for last-minute souvenirs Sunday.

While Ron Vitkun said the rainy, cold weekend seemed to put a damper on the event, local firefighters and their families said the weather did not stop them from enjoying a little time away.

In the store, Smithsburg volunteer firefighter Bob Midkiff helped coax his 5-year-old daughter to recall her favorite weekend memories. For him, the best part of the weekend had little to do with activities.

"Mainly followed her around, but there was some quality sit-down-and-relax time, too," said Midkiff, who works as a full-time paramedic in Carroll County, Md.

For Cain and other members of the Hedgesville department, the weather could not stand in the way of spending time together.

Kelly French, a volunteer firefighter for 20 years, said he joined to uphold tradition.

"It's a family tradition - my father, my brother," said French, who came with his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 4.

"I used to take my oldest daughter along with me to fire calls," he said. "I just threw her in the pickup truck and took her with me."

Now, the girls talk about being firefighters. The whole group regularly travels together, members said.

Cain called the members and their families "just one big happy family," and he thanked Ron Vitkun for the weekend together.

"You guys do it for us, and we appreciate it," Vitkun said. "Thank you."

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