Children donned red firefighter hats, threw baseballs at a dunk tank and got a close-up look at police gear in the Target parking lot at the Oxford Exchange. The evening was part of a nationwide event called National Night Out, which started in 1984 as a way to promote partnerships between law enforcement and the public, according to the National Association of Town Watch website.
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said it’s a way for his officers to connect with the community.
“It’s a positive thing for children and public safety to see that we’re not the bad guys,” Partridge said.
John Culpepper, assets protection team leader at Target, said this was the first year his store got involved in National Night Out and is hoping to make it a yearly event. Culpepper said he signed up for the event online and called Oxford police, firefighters and the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency to make sure they were on board. Culpepper said the goal was to let the public know that these agencies were “there to provide a service” and that they were approachable.
Oxford fire Assistant Chief Ben Stewart said his firefighters are always open for an opportunity to show people what they do. Stewart said Oxford's fire department uses nights like Tuesday to discuss fire prevention techniques and give insight into its daily tasks, such as fire hydrant testing and business inspections.
“We do a lot of other things other than respond to calls,” Stewart said.
Stewart said firefighters planned to teach children and families about evacuation routes in their homes, so they could “plan for the worst time.”
Tuesday night was a good chance, Stewart said, for children to see that underneath all the firefighter gear was a person they can trust.
“Some of the children are afraid of firemen when they see us dressed up. If they know that we’re just a person underneath the mask … they’ll not run from us and come to us if the need ever arises,” he said.
Grace Jancsek said she read about the event on Facebook and decided to bring her three children and two nieces to meet the local agencies.
“We have two boys and they love firetrucks and ambulances and our daughter likes them too,” Jancsek said. “It’s very entertaining for the kids.”
The mother said she frequently discusses fire safety and fire prevention with her kids.
Annabelle Jancsek, 7, said she enjoyed the dunk tank and seeing the inside of the firetruck.
“It was really cool. It had seats with a lot of buckles on it and some hoses,” she said with a smile while wearing a red “Fire Chief” hat.
Jordan Swafford said she felt National Night Out was a great event for the community to promote public safety awareness and fun for local kids.
Swafford’s 3-year-old son, Jayden, gets excited every time he sees a fire truck, the mother said.
“He doesn’t ever get to see (a firetruck) like this, so for them to come up here and let him crawl around in there it’s really great,” she said.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.