Thursday morning was not exactly business as usual at City Hall and the Police and Fire Services Center.
About 80 second-graders from East Ridge Elementary School marched down Ealy Road with a police escort to tour City Hall and talk with officials about how the city works. Of course, the highlight of the tour was getting to check out the fire engines.
“Do you remember coming to my house when there was a fire?” one child asked Lt. Jeff Duncan as Firefighter Travis Ezell was demonstrating the 100 pounds of turnout gear the men must wear when responding. Lt. Duncan said, “yes, honey” and returned to explaining the firefighter’s job of helping keep everyone safe.
This is the first year that the school has taken the tour. Fire Marshal Kenny Custer said the city hosted second-graders yesterday as well. Custer said the kids will get the full treatment, being shown the Court/Council chambers, the library, Codes Enforcement and the Fire and Police Departments. The kids topped it off with lunch out near Pioneer Frontier playground.
“This is good for public education,” Custer said. “You’ve got to see Brad (Hayen, the Chief Building Inspector), he’s great with kids. He really gets into it.”
Hayen, who began working for the city only a few months ago, sat the kids down and started talking about what he and his staff do, primarily making sure that buildings are “strong.”
“Do you want to be in a strong building?” Hayen asked giving a double-bicep shot. “Or do you want to be in a weak building?” he asked flapping his arms. The kids cried in unison, “STRONG.”
Hayen brought out some building plans for the Life Care Center project down near Exit 1 on Interstate 75. He explained this is where grandparents stay and asked the kids how much money did they think it would cost to build this structure?
“Two grand,” one boy said. Hayen said more, much more. “It costs $25 million dollars,” he said. “How many of you have $25 million dollars?” Almost every one of the 20 children raised their hands.
Hayen left the children with one important point. He asked what was inside smoke detectors? Batteries, of course. “You go home and make sure that your mom or dad, grandmother or aunt changes those batteries … OK?”
Kids in the Courtroom/Council chambers were very curious about what happened there. “Does the President come here?” one asked Court Clerk Patricia Cassidy. She said she didn’t think so, “but how many of you ride bus 68? Mr. Larry (Councilman Sewell) drives that bus and he sits right up there.”
Another child asked about the City Seal, which depicts a Pioneer in buckskins. “Is that George Washington?” he asked. Cassidy said no, not Washington, “but it could be Davy Crockett.”
In a sobering moment one child said that his father had been to court when he got in trouble. Custer told all the kids that they needed a goal.
“We all want to be good students, good neighbors and good friends and we will never have to come here,” he told the kids.
Betty LaMance, a retired educator and employee of the City Library, showed the kids a room dedicated to children’s books. She explained that they could bring their mom or dad and get a library card so they could check out books. “Do you have any alien books?” one child asked. “Oh, we have aliens everywhere,” Ms. LaMance replied.
Kids in the bay of a firehall is a special time. Firefighters pointed out all kinds of details about the tools and gauges, hoses and suits that firefighters deal with every day. “If the alarm goes off don’t get scared,” Firefighter Kory Custer said. “Just stand to the side and don’t freak out because we are going to have to answer the call.”
Officer Suzanne Booth showed the second-graders around the police department. They went through the hallways where administration offices are located. “Good Morning, Chief Allen,” the group greeted Deputy Chief Stan Allen. The kids went by a composite photo of the police officers. “Is coach Smith’s picture on there?” one child asked.
Booth told the kids about the detectives’ offices. “What do detectives do? It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle,” she said.
In the squad room, where the cops have daily lineups and get their marching orders for the day, one child spotted little black boxes no bigger than a pack of cigarettes that appeared to be in a charging device. “What are those?” he pointed.
Officer John Spain, who was bringing up the rear of the group, pointed to his chest; “They are little bitty, tiny cameras. Everything we do is on this camera.”
Officer Booth posed questions to the group. What is the most important thing you can do when you get in the car? “Wear your seat belt,” one child said proudly.
“And, if you are somewhere like the park or a ballgame and you can’t find your parents, who do you look for?” Booth asked. Various answers came quickly from the kids: your mom, said one. Another said your teacher.
“If you can’t find mom or dad, go to a person in a blue uniform, a police officer,” Booth said. “They are your friends.”