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National Night Out: Fostering strong bonds and neighborhood solidarity


By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A young boy tries out the archery exhibit offered by three local Scout troops. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

DELMAR — Hundreds turned out at Elm Avenue Park last Tuesday for the annual National Night Out festivities.

National Night Out is an event celebrated by law enforcement and other first responders to build strong bonds with the community.

“This is National Night Out — police agencies all around the country use the same day — the first Tuesday of every August — and we get fire, EMS and local businesses together and have an event that is just for our community members,” said Bethlehem Police Chief Gina Cocchiara. “We want the community to see that we all work together for a common goal — a safe, happy and healthy community.”

Area fire departments, EMS and law enforcement including the FBI, New York State Police, Albany County Sheriff’s Office and Bethlehem Police Department, among others, had displays of their equipment and giveaways, with a rock-climbing wall, games and activities for kids to take part in.

Kids climb aboard the New York State Police helicopter. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Pilot Mike Drindak with the state police had a long line of people waiting to get a look at the department’s helicopter, and kids had the chance to go inside the aircraft.

“We are here supporting the community and letting kids take tours of the helicopter,” Drindak said. “Every kid likes looking at the helicopter and fire trucks, and it’s good to interact with the community.”

Jeff Hunter, from the FBI, had an armored truck at the event and children could climb inside and even try on a protective FBI vest and helmet.

“We are just out here supporting the community,” Hunter said.

Endora Smith, 8, tries on FBI protective gear. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Endora Smith, 8, of Coxsackie, waited on line to check out the armored truck and FBI equipment.

“I think this is a wonderful experience for the kids and for everyone to get together and have a good time,” said her mother, Sarah Smith.

National Night Out can trace its roots to the 1970s when Matt Peskin, the executive director of the National Association of Town Watch, envisioned a way to bring communities together to combat rising crime rates by encouraging residents to get to know their neighbors and law enforcement agencies.

The first National Night Out took place on Aug. 7, 1984, with around 2.5 million participants taking part in 400 communities around the country. The event has expanded significantly over the years.

Members of the Bethlehem Police Department greet the public at National Night Out. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Elm Avenue Park was filled with residents and first responders, and the park’s pool was opened to all to get a break from the summer heat.

Chief Steve Kroll from Delmar-Bethlehem EMS was on hand to meet with the community and show what the department does.

“Tonight is a great opportunity for us to go out in the community and have community members see what we do,” Kroll said. “We want them to understand who their first responders are — police, EMS, fire. When we go to their homes, we want them to feel comfortable with us, we want them to see our equipment and be educated about who we are.”

Kroll showed off some of the agency’s newest technology and equipment, including a Lucas 2, complete with a plastic dummy to demonstrate what the unit does.

“This is a machine that compresses the heart and circulates blood throughout the body,” Kroll explained. “This is basically CPR by machine. It compresses the exact right amount at the exact right interval, so it improves blood flow. So, if someone’s heart stopped and we are trying to get the heart started again, this machine is an important tool in the chain of survival that both the Albany County Sheriff’s and Delmar-Bethlehem EMS has.”

Delmar-Bethlehem EMS showed off its newest technology, including the Lucas 2, which provides automated CPR, complete with a plastic dummy for the demonstration. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Kroll also showed what a Stryker Auto Load does — moving the patient and stretcher directly into the ambulance.

“I have been doing this for many, many years. We had to pick up people, put them onto a heavy stretcher — the stretcher weighed a hundred pounds — and then lift them into the ambulance. This machine does that for us,” Kroll said. “That’s important because the number one cause of injury for emergency medical service responders is back injuries because we are lifting heavy things. With this, it lifts the stretcher up and puts it in the ambulance for us.”

Local community groups were also on hand for National Night Out, sharing information and offering activities for kids to participate in. Three Scout troops offered activities like archery, using arrows with a large protective rubber cover where the arrow would normally be.

“The idea of archery is to let the young people experience some adventures that they might not have otherwise,” said Scoutmaster Rose Ann Garry from Troop 1058. “That is what scouting is all about — to give kids an introduction to activities and to explore the world. Scouting offers them those skills for life. It gives them a chance to expand their skill set and to have fun doing it.”

Kids try out the rock-climbing wall from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office during National Night Out at Elm Avenue Park. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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