Among the concessions, rides, vendors and games at the Southwest Washington Fair on Tuesday were items of a slightly more serious nature — as fire responders from throughout the county gathered a collection of department vehicles and put them on display for the public.
First Responders Day has been going on for a few years now, and gives people the chance to get an up-close look at some of the more hardcore pieces of machinery at first responders’ disposal.
Armored vehicles bearing the logo of the Centralia Police Department and Lewis County Sheriff’s Office sat with their hatches open, letting people get up inside and see what it must look like from a SWAT team member’s point of view to be riding to a highly sensitive call for service.
The vehicles were manufactured for military use and were obtained through military surplus programs at very little cost. LCSO have had an armored V-150 since the early or mid-2000s, said LCSO Deputy Chief Dusty Breen. Since then, the department obtained a newer MRAP, much like the one owned by Centralia police.
The vehicles are intimidating in nature with their armor-plating, large tires and military vibe, so getting them out in the open at the fair is a good way to answer any concerns, said Breen.
“That’s another reason having these things here at the fair, it’s a good conversation piece. So if people are concerned they can come up and talk to us and we can explain the usage,” he said.
Breen said the armored vehicles are used in SWAT situations where officers are at risk of gunfire. He pointed out a scratched up spot on the front where he — serving as the vehicle’s driver during a call — rammed it through a locked gate to get near armed homicide suspects sometime in the mid-2000s.
It also comes in handy during flooding situations and search and rescue operations, with the large tires able to handle terrain and water depths most can’t. The vehicle is technically amphibious, but it’s never been used for that purpose, said Breen.
“The reaction that we get from people here at this fair over the five years is, they’re excited that we have that stuff, because they had no idea. So when we explain how we got it, what we use it for they’re like, ‘man, I’m so glad you guys have access to something like that,’” said LCSO Undersheriff Wes Rethwill.
Law enforcement officers from across the county were hanging out under tents near the vehicle talking with fair-goers, answering their questions and chatting. A handful of Washington State Patrol troopers were there, too. One of them, Trooper Dakota Russell, said troopers volunteer for the event.
“I usually come to all these. It’s usually good getting out and hanging with the deputies and all the city guys. It’s always fun hanging out with the community,” he said.
Lt. Patrick Jacobson with Lewis County Fire District 15 based in Winlock said the event is a good time to drop some knowledge on fire safety and prevention — all while letting kids climb around a fire truck.
Inside the restored firehouse that sits on the fairgrounds, a number of activities were underway. Jim Martin with Fire District 6 said there had been a steady stream of kids standing in line to play a CPR game hooked to a TV.
By the afternoon, the line had died down and just a couple kids were playing the game. They performed chest compressions on a dummy to a rhythm shown on-screen. It’s a fun way to teach the basics of CPR, said Martin, who said the game can be switched to a higher difficulty rating and be used for training purposes.
Lewis County Emergency Management had a booth inside the firehouse, too, and where they encouraged fair-goers to sign up to Lewis County alerts, where information on emergency situations go right to the subscriber.