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Md. agency reviews camp’s emergency plan in wake of boy’s death

WASHINGTON – The camp where a 12-year-old boy was killed by a falling tree is under review by the state of Maryland.

Dr. Clifford Mitchell, with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s environmental health bureau, says his agency wants to know more about circumstances that led to the boy’s death and the injuries to other campers, whether the River Valley Ranch violated any of the health department’s rules and regulations and whether the camp followed written protocols for handling weather emergencies.

The agency is not investigating the boy’s death, Mitchell says.

“I can’t imagine anything worse for everybody who’s involved than this, ” he says. “We will use this opportunity on the part of the department to see if there are things we can do to improve our own processes, rules, and regulations to help ensure that these risks are minimized for children in camps in the future.”

His agency issues operating permits to the state’s 800 youth and summer camps. Inspections check to make sure that camps have written emergency plans that cover a lost child, evacuation plans and severe weather. Camps are also responsible for training staff to follow those plans.

Camps are given the chance to correct any violations found during an inspection, Mitchell says.

“Every year, kids enjoy terrific experiences at camps,” he says. “I haven’t met a group that is more concerned about the health and safety of the kids they are responsible for,” he says of camp staff.

The camp’s director John Bisset has said that counselors followed the camp’s weather plan and quickly moved the children to a nearby building when a thunderstorm was spotted rumbling toward the camp. He said staff monitor the weather.

A tree fell across a trail the children were using to reach the building, injuring several children and killing the unnamed boy Tuesday evening.

“They were stellar. They jumped up and enacted the protocols right away, did everything they could,” he said of the camp’s staff Wednesday.

He also said the camp would review its own procedures to improve camper safety.

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WTOP’s Kristi King and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on Facebook.

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