By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sadie Perry picked up a fire hose and began spraying water on a miniature house that had fake flames coming out of the windows.
Although she is only 9 years old, Sadie looked like a veteran firefighter dousing a real blaze. Truth be told, she actually has experience handling a fire hose.
“It felt nice, because it brought back memories of doing it the last time,” she said about spraying another fire hose in 2021.
Letting kids pretend to be firefighters was one of the popular family-friendly activities that Sea Isle City had Tuesday evening during the annual National Night Out celebration in Excursion Park.
Sadie’s mother, Elizabeth Perry, noted that her family attends National Night Out every year. Her 7-year-old son, Matthew, also joined in the fun. The Perrys are from Hockessin, Del., and have a summer home in Sea Isle.
“We don’t miss National Night Out for anything,” Elizabeth Perry said. “It’s safe, fun and economical.”
Almost on cue, Sadie chimed in, “It’s a good family thing, too.”
National Night Out helps Sea Isle’s police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders build relationships in the community by interacting with children and families in a relaxed, fun setting.
“It’s definitely a friendly event. That’s what National Night Out is all about,” said Capt. Anthony Garreffi, officer in charge of the Sea Isle Police Department.
Garreffi explained that Sea Isle’s police department and other emergency responders have been able to establish special bonds with the community through the city’s public outreach programs such as National Night Out.
For this year’s National Night Out, hundreds of children, parents and grandparents filled Excursion Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. during a sultry August evening that included temperatures in the low 80s.
There were amusement rides, games, face-painting, balloon sculpting, free food and other attractions for families. The local business community gets heavily involved in the event by donating everything.
Police officers, firefighters, emergency management technicians and members of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol mingled with families, posed for pictures and showed off their emergency equipment. Children were able to get a peek inside a fire engine and other emergency vehicles.
Volunteer firefighter Keith Pryce helped Sadie Perry and other kids spray the fire hose at a miniature “fire house” with simulated flames. A line of children waited for the chance to hold the hose under Pryce’s direction.
Sea Isle’s police officers and other first responders also tossed around footballs with the kids, watched them jump around in a bounce house and handed out free slices of pizza.
Officers Alex Gallagher and Connor Strohm served as coaches while kids threw around footballs during a game called “Quarterback Toss.”
“That’s it. Way to go!” Strohm said while fist-bumping with 6-year-old Carter Yankovich and his 5-year-old brother, Colin, after the boys hit the target with the football at the Quarterback Toss display.
Strohm said that simple things, such as tossing around a football with little kids, were an important part of the police department’s efforts to strengthen its ties with the local community.
“I think it’s really good to build a relationship with the community and with the kids so that they will build trust with us, basically,” he said. “It’s a fun time for the kids. It’s also a fun time for us.”
Carter and Colin’s grandparents, Dan and Ronnie Yankovich, smiled while watching the boys play football with the police officers.
Dan and Ronnie Yankovich live in Richboro, Pa., and spend their summers in Sea Isle. Dan said his grandsons always have a great time at National Night Out.
“It’s fun for them. It’s great for their age group,” he said. “They love the fire trucks and the other emergency equipment. They pretty much love everything.”