Dickinson hosts first-ever symposium for ND first responders

North Dakota first responders gain vital training on use of force, wellness and leadership at Dickinson's inaugural symposium.

First responders from around North Dakota attend Dickinson's first-ever First Responder Symposium at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center on Tuesday, April 18.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — First responders from across North Dakota convened in Dickinson for the first-ever Dickinson First Responder Symposium, a three-day training event, starting on April 18 at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center, offering insights on current and trending topics that impact first responders including use of force, wellness and leadership. With keynote speakers Eric P. Daigle, Katie Kuhlman and Codey Gandy, the symposium provided a valuable opportunity for 170 first responders to receive vital training in areas that are often overlooked in routine training ensuring they are well-equipped to combat the demands of today's emergency services.

“Hopefully this experience and ideas bring together quality trainers and a quality environment so the first responders can walk away with a great experience and memorable experience and a lot of good information of course,” said Sergeant Kylan Klauzer, with the Dickinson Police Department.

The symposium was not just an idea that sprang up overnight, but rather a thoughtfully planned event that had been in the works for two whole years. The credit for this brainchild goes to the former Police Chief Dustin Dassinger, who had envisioned a platform where law enforcement officials from various jurisdictions could come together to discuss current issues and challenges, share their experiences, and learn from each other. The idea received an enthusiastic response from the current Police Chief Joe Cianni, who took it upon himself to turn Dassinger's vision into a reality.

Police Chief Joe Cianni welcomes attendees to Dickinson at the First Responder Symposium on Tuesday, April 18.
The Dickinson Press

Over the years, emergency services have grown from independent entities tasked with their own unique responsibilities and areas of service, into a collection of multiple agencies each operating in all aspects of public service, well trained and equipped to handle any situation that may arise. However, training programs typically focus on specific areas of expertise, such as CPR or HAZ-MAT, while other critical aspects of the profession.

In recent years, the Dickinson Police Department has completed 570 total department hours in various training programs, including CPR, Taser recertification and other essential areas. The Dickinson Fire Department has also been conducting routine training programs in areas such as HAZ-MAT and EMT throughout the year. These training programs are essential and help first responders stay updated with the latest techniques and technologies that they can apply to save lives.


Dickinson Fire Captain Jared Rhode understands the vital importance of it as well. In his opinion, to provide the best possible service to their community, emergency responders must be well-versed in every aspect of their profession, including legal matters, mental health and wellness.

“This symposium offers first-class individuals in these fields that will provide first responders with the tools necessary to combat the demands of today,” Rhode said.

Scott Decker, mayor of the City of Dickinson, delivered a powerful speech that sought to bring together the first responders from the various departments and agencies, while setting the tone for the symposium. In his address, Decker praised the bravery and dedication of the first responders, highlighting the sacrifices that they make every day to ensure the safety and security of their respective communities.

“I commend you for answering the call that commands you all to run towards danger and not away from it,” Decker said. “...And I commend you all to be a light in this never-ending darkness that wishes to destroy our great communities.”

Day one of the event introduced attorney Eric Daigle, who practices civil litigation in federal and state courts, as a keynote speaker discussing the topic of the use of force. His experience as a law enforcement consultant has provided guidance to multiple agencies, helping departments improve and optimize policies to reflect current practices. Daigle's presentation centered on the use of force and provided training on the legal standards that first responders are held to.

Attorney Eric Daigle kicks off day one of the symposium by discussing the use of force and a variety of legal standards with attendees on Tuesday, April 18.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

Day two welcomed Katie Kuhlman, a board-certified psychologist who focuses on police and public safety psychology. Kuhlman’s practice is dedicated to providing services solely to first responders, public safety professionals and other high-stress professionals like military servicemen and women.

With her expertise and experience in critical incidents like mass shootings and line-of-duty deaths, Kuhlman has regularly been a commentator for news outlets like Fox and CBS where she provides analysis on traumatic events and their impact on law enforcement and other first responders.

Dickinson first responders received training from Kuhlman on wellness topics that included coping and healing from trauma, as well as other techniques to ensure a long and enjoyable career.


Day three of the symposium brought Codey Gandy, a former U.S. Marine and leadership instructor, whose experience as a front-line marksman and Platoon Sergeant in the military provided attendees with the ins and outs of leadership in their particular fields. Gandy engaged the first responders in team-building challenges, as well as discussing the laws of combat.

As the symposium came to a close first responders left with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to their communities. The three-day event provided valuable insights and training on topics that are often overlooked in routine training such as use of force, wellness and leadership. The Dickinson First Responder Symposium was not just an opportunity for attendees to learn and share experiences but also a reminder that the collective efforts of multiple agencies working together can make a significant impact on public safety. The symposium organizers hope that the event will continue to provide a platform for first responders to come together, learn from each other and make a positive difference in their respective communities.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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