Free hotdogs, popcorn and fire truck rides might have been the take-away talk for the youngest attendees at Zebulon Night Out, held Tuesday evening at the Zebulon Community Center.
But those offerings were just part of an incentive package put together by the town’s fire and police departments in an attempt to strike a deeper chord with visitors of all ages at the annual event.
“What this event is used for is to heighten awareness not only on the police side of things, but also the fire side of things and to kind of bring the community together to develop a working partnership so that we all, collectively, can make our community better,” said Zebulon police Lt. Scott Finch.
The community center gym took on an expo-like form, with booths showcasing several town departments and other groups on one end and inflatables for children on the other. Police and Fire made their focal presence known, exhibiting some of their vehicles and educational units outside.
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The event witnessed a lively turnout despite a wave of strong rains leading up to its start.
“It proves our police department and fire department and other town departments can intermingle with the community,” Finch said. “It’s a mutual respect. I’ve heard nothing but good things.”
As a Wake County corrections officer, Briauna Sanders of Smithfield had a clear understanding of the police department’s mission at Zebulon Night Out.
“The value is showing the safety officers are actually in the public,” said Sanders, who attended with family members from Zebulon. “Showing that (safety officials) are out there shows that they are actually there for you to call on and makes it easier for (people) to turn to them.
“A lot of public safety figures have a bad (reputation), especially police officers. Something like this gives them the chance to show a better side of public safety rather than the negative things TV shows.
Sanders said understanding that message is particularly important for children, a demographic the family-friendly event catered to.
“It’s the best time to start – when they’re young, before they grow up and start to make some of the dumb mistakes,” Sanders said. “With a public event like this ... it shows (safety officials) are actually good people rather than what a job description may make them seem to be.”
The opportunity for a public appearance was a timely one for Zebulon firefighters. They were in the middle of a two-week span of promoting fire safety as part of National Fire Prevention Week, officially observed Oct. 5-11.
“We do a lot of prevention activities during these couple weeks, but you don’t get that community outreach talking to a group of preschoolers like you do at Night Out,” said Zebulon fire Chief Chris Perry.
In addition to dozens of plastic fire helmets and other handouts, fire personnel passed out free smoke detectors with 10-year batteries. It played in with this year’s national theme stressing the importance of having a functioning smoke alarm.
“Our primary focus is fire prevention – like having a working smoke detector – and education,” Perry said. “(Zebulon Night Out) was an opportunity where people could come out, have a good time, pick up some educational material and learn more about the department.”