Above and beyond the call to serve

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 05:03 AM

As a reporter assigned to provide coverage of crime and emergency situations, there is no disputing that the job of a firefighter or a police officer is much more than what meets the eye.

Many people still may not realize that in Rutherford County, firefighters do more than extinguish flames and respond to motor vehicle accidents, and police officers are tasked with duties beyond writing speeding tickets and investigating breaking and enterings.

In fact, both careers involve serving the children of the county and working to strengthen the relationships between emergency officials and young kids.

One way firefighters and police officers help build and maintain positive relationships with children is by collecting stuffed animals to distribute to kids involved in traumatic calls such as motor vehicle accidents, structure fires and domestic violence scenes. The children are able to focus on something cuddly and positive versus the negative experience they may have just witnessed.

The stuffed animals also serve as a tool for reaching out to children and starting their encounters with firefighters and police officers on a positive note, in hopes that those positive relationships will endure throughout their lives.

Another way firefighters and police officers foster relationships with children is by hosting annual events like breakfast at the firehouse and the Kids & Cops festival in Forest City.

Firefighters present a fire safety program each year to various elementary schools and students have the chance to participate in a fire escape plan design contest. The students with the winning plans are invited to hang out with firefighters, learn about fire safety and enjoy breakfast at the firehouse.

During the program, firefighters’ main goal is fire safety education. They teach children about the importance of identifying a safe family meeting place outside of the home in the event of a fire, having working smoke detectors in their homes, not playing with matches or items that could potentially start a fire and how to stop, drop and roll. Firefighters have students take this knowledge home, essentially using the kids to further educate their parents.

At the Kids & Cops festival, kids and families mingle with law enforcement and public safety personnel among emergency vehicles, informational booths and fun-filled activities. The event gives officers the opportunity to talk with parents and have kids see law enforcement in a different light, versus in a situation like writing tickets. In a nutshell, the event allows children to see that public safety personnel are approachable and normal people, too.

The myriad of booths and activities at the event that help serve children include fingerprinting and ID kit sign-ups and safety information on never leaving children alone in a car in the heat. Kids get to learn about the different departments that protect their neighborhoods and see that officers are the good guys.

Firefighters and police officers continue to raise awareness in the community regarding childhood injuries by hosting free community car seat checks. National Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians help parents and drivers understand children’s vehicle safety needs by ensuring car seats are up-to-date and installed properly.

There are more than 20 technicians in Rutherford County, many of whom are firefighters and police officers. As cars line up to have their child seats checked at the event, technicians complete checklists of each child’s age, height and weight as well as the make and model of their car seat. The car seat’s history is also recorded, including whether the seat was purchased new or used and if it has been involved in a traffic accident. Technicians also uninstall each vehicle’s car seats for proper evaluation and help parents reinstall the seats.

Firefighters and police officers are known to go above and beyond the call of duty. In Rutherford County, we are fortunate to have public safety personnel who not only provide assistance in emergencies and keep our neighborhoods safe, but who also take those extra steps to serve the children of the community.