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Hands on at the crime scene

RHS teacher Leigh Anderson and public safety student Tanner Zabel examine a staged crime scene in a mechanical room at RHS. Zabel was his class' leader for the exercise.

The students in Leigh Anderson's class get to dress up a lot more than their classmates at Rosemount High School. Since classes began last September they've acted as firemen, paramedics and police officers. They've pretended to give birth and they've used makeup to give themselves nasty-looking cuts and bruises.

It's a lot of fun, and it's all in the name of preparing what could be the community's next generation of police officers and firefighters.

Anderson teaches Independent School District 196's emergency services class at RHS. For two hours a day students from all of the district's high schools learn everything from administering CPR to delivering a baby. By the time they've taken their last class they have six high school credits and six college-level credits in emergency medical services, law enforcement and firefighting. They've also got the same emergency medical certification that all police officers and firefighters have to have.

"I train them to work next to me in the ditch," said Anderson, who has been a firefighter for 17 years and is currently training coordinator for the Rosemount Fire Department.

The year's first trimester is dedicated to EMS work. Second trimester is police work. Third trimester is firefighting. Students will get to set fires and study how they move and spread.

"We learn about putting ladders up and shooting water, hooking up water," Anderson said. "They get a pretty good understanding of what's involved."

Getting through the class involves a lot of hands-on work. Since last fall students have been strapped to stretchers and snapped into handcuffs. On Wednesday they spent their class time investigating a crime scene staged in one of the school's mechanical rooms. It was up to students to identify and photograph evidence, analyze blood spatters and write search warrants. They learned how to do things the right way and the potential for losing valuable evidence if they didn't.

The crime scene was a popular place. As the students worked, teachers and other students poked their head in the door to see the mannequin sprawled on the concrete floor to represent the victim.

"The custodians don't mind me doing this because when we're done the room is actually cleaner," Anderson said.

Many of the students working the crime scene Wednesday are interested in working in public safety. They use the class as a way to get a jump on post-school training.

Some make it through the year and realize they're not as excited as they thought about becoming a police officer.

"Some kids come in thinking they want to do it and see there's a lot of emotion in this job, or you have to touch people or you have to be on all the time," Anderson said.

Sadie Bigelbach wasn't necessarily considering a public safety career when she registered for the class. She took it because her sister enjoyed it last year. But she said experiencing the profession first hand has made her think more seriously about the job.

"It's a thrill just doing it in the class. I figure it will be better in real life," Bigelbach said.

Anderson, who has been an EMS for 26 years and has worked as a police officer at the airport, likes the idea that he's training future police officers. He takes lots of pictures during class so his students can see themselves doing the job.

Anderson gets his students involved in the public safety community in other ways, too. Last Saturday he and about 20 of his students participated in the law enforcement polar plunge at Crystal Lake in Burnsville. They jumped in the lake and raised $945 for the Special Olympics.

"I've got police officers everywhere. I'm still seeing police officers at car crash scenes that were my students," Anderson said. "I'm having quite an impact on the industry this way."