ST. ALBANS, W.Va. — Dozens of West Virginia communities gathered with police and fire departments Tuesday evening to enjoy a national event that was created to help communities stamp out crime and to promote safety.
National Night Out is a family-friendly event that drew crowds this year in Charleston, St. Albans, and Dunbar. Captain James Agee, of the St. Albans Police Department, said he hopes the event helps community members realize they play a role in protecting their neighborhoods.
“It’s about the community coming together. Ultimately, you want to fight crime and you don’t want to tolerate crime. We want people to get to know each other again, we want people to be involved in town watches and we want people to be able to connect with their neighbors. That goes a long way towards solving criminal problems,” Agee said.
Each community brought something different to their event. One Charleston local offered free haircuts at the meeting, Dunbar neighborhood watch groups marched together through the town, and St. Albans brought in Batman to speak to the kids. However, each location shared a common goal- to raise education and awareness. Phillip Bass, of the St. Albans Police Department, said he hopes the event helps kids see that the police are not always as they may seem.
“The good thing with kids is they’re interacting with us. A lot of things that they see and they hear from other people are that the police are the bad guys. It gives us a chance to interact with them and let them know that we’re the good guys, we’re here to help them,” Bass said.
Police and fire departments from each celebrating town brought along several teaching tools and activities for children. Some locations let them experience driving under the influence using impairment goggles while others offered a simulation of what it’s like to try to escape a smoke-filled room.
Lt. Matt Lanham, of the Charleston Fire Department, said he hopes that educating the kids will help avoid tragic situations like the 2012 Arlington Avenue fire that took the lives of two adults and seven children.
“It’s tremendously important. It really hits home for us here in the Charleston area, where we had the fatalities of the small children a couple years ago. That’s something we don’t want to ever be faced with again, so the more that we can get these children to learn and recognize when the situation is bad and that they need to get out of the house, the safer the community will be,” Lanham said.
In each area, firefighters and police officers interacted with several members of the community in an attempt to establish a stronger relationship between officials and residents.
“We’re there for emergency services, that’s our job and we love to do that. We’re also there as a resource to solve other problems, to point people in the right direction. Whether it’s providing a smoke detector for someone that can’t afford one or just making sure that someone’s home is secure,” Agee said.