For three years now, a large contingent of first responders representing multiple county and municipal agencies have gathered at the Southwest Washington Fair to connect with community members and teach kids a little something about safety.
The 2018 fair was no exception, with an impressive array of emergency vehicles — all polished and looking their best — lined up for display on the fairgrounds. First responders were on hand to give kids and onlookers an up-close look at the cars, trucks and armored vehicles.
“It allows us the opportunity to interact with the community,” said Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza. “The community can come visit with us, and we can share with them … that we’re just like them.”
Snaza and a contingent of deputies were hanging around a tent on the fairgrounds’ north lawn Tuesday in the afternoon heat. A table was outfitted with candy and sheriff’s office stickers — efforts to create a welcoming atmosphere for kids to approach and get to know their local law enforcement.
“Because there may be that time where they need to come to us and ask us for help and they want to be able to approach us and be able to have this kind of breaking the ice … that’s what it’s all about. To be that positive influence on young people’s lives,” said Snaza.
Snaza said he started First Responders Day when he first became Lewis County Sheriff. Then, it was held in the Bethel Church parking lot. They filled the lot with whatever local first responders they could get.
It was a hit. In 2016, it was brought to the fair — a venue that draws larger crowds.
Not to mention, said Chief Dusty Breen, the fair sets the mood First Responders Day was trying to set: One that’s welcoming and fun. It’s good for everyone, he said, to have positive interactions in a positive place.
“Sometimes when we interact with people, it’s at their worst moments, where we’re called to their houses or it’s things of that nature. So this is already set in an environment that’s kind of a positive place,” said Breen
With their jobs often dealing in morbid subject matter, some first responders found ways of teaching safety in a palatable way for a younger audience.
Lewis County Fire District 5 Chief Laura Hanson showed off a covered maze for kids, meant to demonstrate the difficulty of navigating a smoke-filled house. It’s serious stuff — but also pretty fun. Inside the old, refurbished firehouse at the fairgrounds, a CPR dummy was laying on the ground. Kids and adults could play a game where they administer chest compressions on the dummy in rhythm to music displayed on a monitor.
“And mostly just having conversations with kids on their level is huge in building that relationship and continuing that relationship through high school,” said Hanson. “Because when they get to high school, I want them to put (their cellphones) down. I don’t want them driving with it. I don’t want to go to their house and tell their parents that something bad has happened.”
The firehouse activities will be set up all throughout the fair. While kids are waiting in line for the maze, Hanson said she likes to ask them questions about fire safety. Do they have an emergency escape route in their home? Do they have a meeting place in case of a fire? Or, when did they last test their smoke detectors?
Adjacent to the firehouse, Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod had a booth set up, too.
McLeod said the fair gives an opportunity to hand out some literature on the Drowning Prevention Coalition and the program Cribs for Kids, created to provide safe sleeping conditions for kids.
If anyone asks more about what his office does, McLeod said he’ll go into how the office handles and takes care of dead bodies, and works on crime scenes.
“So we get a lot of, ‘Like CSI?’” he said.