Camp Teaches Farm Kids To Beware

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OZARK, Ark. (AP) — Life on the farm can be fun, especially for a kid, but an ounce of carelessness can leave a child scarred, maimed or dead.

It's the reason behind the Farm Safety Day Camp, which farmer Karen Skeets holds once a year at the Ozark Fairgrounds.

``We need it. You read about too many deaths (of kids) on farms,'' Skeets said while conducting her most recent camp.

Skeets said she came up with the idea while reading a magazine at her poultry and cattle farm at Branch one night. She was pregnant at the time and the message hit home.

``One hundred thousand kids are injured every year in agricultural accidents. And those are just the numbers that required hospitalization or medical care,'' she said.

Skeets read about the Progressive Farm Safety Day Camp and called the company to find out how she could start one in Arkansas. Progressive has been sponsoring camps across the nation since 1995.

The Ozark camp moves 10 groups of kids through 10 different classes in a day. The lessons include First Aid, all-terrain-vehicle safety, PTO, or ``power-take-off,'' safety; hidden hazards, firearm safety and snakes.

After Skeets completed a training session in Dallas, she was allowed to open the one-day camp using the Progressive name. Progressive provides T-shirts, goody-bags and insurance; Skeets provides the rest through donations.

Her first camp, in 1998, had 118 children and last year's had 190. Her session April 29 drew 208. Nationally, there were 229 camps in 1999 with 40,000 kids attending.

Skeets drew children to the Ozark Fairgrounds this spring from seven counties in western Arkansas and one county in eastern Oklahoma.

``Keep away from the PTOs (power-take-off). They'll kill you,'' said 12-year-old Nathan Schluterman of Subiaco, Ark. ``If I have a 0.2-second reaction time, I'll just get a goose bump. If not, you're dead or injured.''

A power-take-off is used to tap the power source of a tractor to help run other machinery. Resulting accidents can be severe.

Tommy Frank, a farmer and one of the PTO instructors, was speaking from experience when he told the kids to be safe. Frank lost his right arm in a PTO accident 12 years ago.

``Kids are asking the right questions and listening a lot better than I thought they would,'' Frank said.

Besides listening to stories about horrible accidents, the kids were taught a new appreciation for snakes — hands on.

``Most people who get bitten by snakes are trying to kill them. If you get bitten, stay calm, get to a phone and get to a doctor,'' said Millie Phillips, who called herself ``The Snake Lady.''

While walking around the room with a nonpoisonous corn snake, Phillips told the kids not to kill the snakes they may find on their farms because they keep down the mice, rat and frog populations. All but one camper touched the snake.

Instructors at the camp are volunteers, including farmers, police officers and members of groups such as the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

``This program is important because they (kids) get to realize farming is work. Driving a tractor is as fun as riding a bicycle, but they realize it is work and there's some danger in it,'' said Andy Guffey of the Farm Bureau.

Skeets knew her camp was doing some good when she got a card from a 16-year-old who attended her camp last year.

``He wrote, 'I thought I knew everything and found out I didn't.' If you can get a 16-year-old to admit that, that's great,'' Skeets said.

Success for the camp is tough to measure, but Skeets has a method.

``The only way I know if this camp is successful is if I don't read about the kids (having accidents) in the paper,'' she said.