An emergency worker’s face is typically only seen during the scarier times of life, when the red or blue lights strobe against their face as they douse fires, rescue car wreck victims or respond to a violent crime. One night of the year, those people in uniform make a point to let the people they help know that they, too, are community members.
For the first time since the program’s inception in 1984, firefighters and police in Arkadelphia on Tuesday joined others around the country for National Night Out, which brings emergency personnel and community members together for fellowship. For three hours, the future site of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Pine Street was filled to the brim with live music and a crowd of several dozen people, many of them members of local law enforcement agencies.
Children were allowed the opportunity to get a hands-on tour inside firetrucks, rescue boats and the Arkadelphia Police Department’s newly purchased squad cars.
Although National Night Out originated for law enforcement to mingle with the communities they served, firefighters and paramedics eventually joined forces. That’s how Arkadelphia Fire Chief Jason Hunt realized the importance of the event, as he had taken part of it during his time working with the Hope Fire Department. Working alongside the Hope Police Department and Hempstead County Sheriff’s Department, Hunt saw a need to introduce National Night Out to Arkadelphia.
“The community usually only sees us when we’ve got our lights and sirens on, going to a scene,” Hunt said. “They don’t actually get to meet us.”
Hunt, along with Arkadelphia’s police chief and Clark County’s sheriff, pitched the event to city officials, who were immediately on board with the idea.
“We’re testing the waters this year,” Hunt said. “Hopefully we can build on this year.”
The Afrodesia Collective, a Little Rock group of several members, performed a mix of reggae and rock ’n roll, while event-goers were able to mingle and chow on eats from Arkadelphia’s Twisted Kitchen, the traveling food truck. Police Chief Jason “Shorty” Jackson said the music and food added a special touch to the occasion.
“This lets our people meet all the first responders in a much more relaxed environment,” Jackson said, echoing Hunt about the times the public encounters emergency personnel. “We do programs for schools, churches and everybody we can, but 90 percent of the time the public’s only encounter is when something is bad wrong or something bad has happened.”
Clark County Sheriff Jason Watson said Tuesday’s local National Night Out event was “very important, especially in the times we’re seeing right now across the country.
“I think this bridges the gap between law enforcement and community members to interact as friends and not always to see officers in the line of duty.”