DALTON, Ga. — Between bouncing sessions in the inflatable castles, Dalton kids petted Vince the Tunnel Hill K-9 dog, sat in the driver's seat of a fire engine and toured the mobile command center used by Whitfield County Emergency Services.
The Community Night Out fair on Monday night gave emergency and law enforcement officers a chance to reach out to kids and teach them about their jobs.
"A lot of kids are scared of police," said Dalton police officer Brian Park, a sentiment echoed by several other officials.
"We're not out here to get anybody, to hurt anybody. We're here [in the community] to help," he continued.
"Hopefully, they can see us in a nonemergency situation," said police spokesman Bruce Frazier. "We can actually talk. They can see people as people and not just law enforcement officers."
The event also focused on teaching kids safety in a fun environment. Dalton firefighters distributed coloring books emphasizing the importance of knowing what to do in an emergency, while county firefighters encouraged kids to stop by their booth with a remote controlled fire hydrant, complete with water pistol.
Kids in plastic fire helmets heard about the dangers of drugs and gangs while exploring police and sheriff cruisers. They even got a rare behind the scenes look at the massive van that emergency officials bring to disaster sites, marveling at its cameras and radios.
Community Emergency Response Team volunteer Dave Senters encouraged parents to take courses on disaster response.
"We'll be prepared for every storm that comes your way, whether it be natural or man-made," he promised families.
While younger children were excited just to ring the firetruck's bell, older kids shared what they learned at the event.
"If [Vince the K-9] smells something bad, he helps solve the problem," said 8-year-old Jennifer Castillo.
"If you drink, you're going to end up like [the pictures showing alcohol-related crashes]," added 10-year-old Selena Rangel.
Parent Jennifer Johnson was grateful for the chance to humanize officials.
"[The Community Night Out] gives the kids an opportunity to familiarize them with the people who can help them," she said.