By Lindsay Cates
Kids’ faces lit up at the bright lights and screaming sirens coming from two rows of police cars and fire trucks on Glasgow’s Ball Field Saturday night.
They ran shouting and laughing from the vehicles to a nearby playground and back again. But the real highlight of their evening was Smokey the Bear.
“I like seeing the police cars and the fire trucks, but mostly I just like the bear,” said 10-year-old Darren Ogden, who attended the event with his family.
Eric Smith, a law enforcement officer with the Department of Forestry, said Smokey is the best-known symbol of fire prevention. After having their pictures snapped with Smokey, kids picked up comic and activity books about fire safety.
It was all for the Rockbridge Area National Night Out, held every year in either August or October.
“It’s all about bringing the community together to promote awareness and safety, and interacting with the public,” said Rockbridge County Sheriff Chris Blalock. “We want to make ourselves available and approachable while improving safety in the community.”
Agencies involved in keeping the community safe came together at the William S. Knick Ball Field and Fitzlee Street playground to promote crime prevention, neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.
National Night Out is run by the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit group dedicated to developing crime prevention programs. Local communities can register online with National Night Out and then hold their own events.
This year Glasgow hosted the event after a month of re-scheduling because of bad weather.
Officers and volunteers from Glasgow’s Fire and Emergency Services, the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia State Police, Virginia Military Institute Police, Buena Vista Police, Lexington Police and the Rockbridge County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office were there.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Christopher Billias also stopped by the event to chat with friends.
“We’re part of the law enforcement process here. It’s nice to see the community and the locals with Sheriff’s Office,” Billias said. “We’re here to support our partners and law enforcement officers, and to assist them and make the county see us not in unwanted ways.”
Last year the event was held in Buena Vista, and officials say next year the event will be held in Lexington. Aaron Britton, former Glasgow town sergeant and organizer of the Rockbridge National Night Out, said last year was the first time all jurisdictions came together to hold a combined event.
“In 2012 each jurisdiction, Lexington, Rockbridge County and Glasgow, held separate events.” Britton said. “Then I thought why do separate events when we could all get together?”
A half a dozen police cars, two fire trucks, an ambulance and a water rescue boat were on display for kids to learn about. Many officers helped kids try on uniforms and equipment.
Blalock said it makes the event easier and more successful to move it around the Rockbridge area each year, and for agencies to combine resources.
Glasgow Town Manager Bill Rolfe was happy it was Glasgow’s turn this year.
“It’s good to have our law enforcement and the fire departments out and have them socialize,” he said.
The first National Night Out was in August 1984. That first year, 2.5 million Americans took part across 400 communities in 23 states.
In 2013, the campaign involved citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials from more than 16,000 communities from all 50 states.
The Glasgow event is sponsored by organizations who donate throughout the year.
“Each organization has put up their own money and their own time to be here. That’s how important this is to us,” Britton said. “We need to let the community see that we are caring and friendly organizations, and have a chance for kids to see us as not the bad guys.”