Avera Medical Minute: Friendly competition turns into tradition to save lives

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - The Heroes Behind the Badges Blood Drive runs through Friday, January 4th. It's a friendly competition between Sioux Falls Fire Rescue and the Sioux Falls Police Department on who can collect the most blood donations from donors.

Tom Reel is a firefighter with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue. In his line of work, first responders are often called heroes.

"I want to kind of lead by example," Reel said.

This blood drive is an opportunity for everyone to feel like a hero.

"The weeks between Christmas and New Year's, we were really struggling," Rita Nelson said, who is a recruiter for the Community Blood Bank. "So this has made a huge difference and made a huge impact on the community here."

The competition started 23 years ago. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue is up overall with the score at 14 to 8.

"We have a lot of donors that wait for this event. They want to see what the t-shirts are like, to see who they will cast their vote for, whether it's the police or the fire. They're all their heroes," Nelson said.

By donating one pint of blood, a donor can save three lives.

"Each unit of blood is taken back to the hospital and divided into different parts," Nelson said.

So donors are saving lives and helping a hero of their choice.

"This year, we have to have a good push for fire to win," Division Chief Steve Fessler said, who is with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue. The police department won last year's competition.

"We have better treats in the end. So we encourage people to donate to our side," Captain Loren McManus said with the Sioux Falls Police Department.

It's a friendly competition, but both sides agree on one thing.

"It's extremely important because this time of year, this blood drive is really what stockpiles the blood that the community needs for anything from cancer patients to traumas, surgeries," Fessler said.

"The big focus is that we keep the blood bank supplied with the blood that they need," McManus said.

Reel is helping do just that.

"Not just everyday people do it. Firefighters do it too. Just to be supportive of the drive and to be supportive of my community," Reel said.

So it's time to pick whether donors want to join the dark side with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue or the light side with the police department.

Donors can go to the events planned through January 4th or go to the donor rooms at Avera. You can find a list of events to donate at here.

The winner of the competition gets a traveling trophy and $700 for a charity of their choice. The loser still gets $300. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue's charity is the Children's Home Society and the police department's is Special Olympics South Dakota.