Celebrating public safety

Palmyra’s Downtown and Public Safety Day brought residents out for a day of fun and engagement with their local emergency services.

Palmyra Fire Captain John Skowronski helps Adam Calhoun, 4, put out a simulated fire using a real fire hose.

Saturday, May 4, saw the return of Palmyra’s annual Downtown and Public Safety Day on Broad Street. The event, sponsored by the borough and the police and fire departments, is a highlight of everything the borough has to offer, with local vendor tables, games and activities for kids, live music and local food.

Aside from offering an excuse for residents to come together, socialize and patronize local businesses, the event doubles as an opportunity for local emergency service organizations to gain exposure and spread awareness about public safety.

Recording secretary for the Palmyra Fire Department, Robin Briener, who helped organize the day’s events, said this year, the department hoped to shift focus back to public safety.

“We’re trying to draw back away from the inflatables that we normally do every year. We’re trying to draw back to what the event is all about, which is Palmyra Public Safety Day, and promoting safety,” said Briener.

The department had fire hats to give away to children and information packets about household fire safety for their parents.

Despite the lack of inflatable bounce houses, there were plenty of activities and crafts available for local children in and around the Independence Fire Company station. Kids lined up to try a real fire hose and put out a simulated house fire, take a ride on a fire truck or make their way through the fire safety trailer.

According to Briener, preparations for Public Safety Day began just about as soon as last year’s event was over. She says the scope of the day has grown significantly over the years.

“Back in the day it used to be a little different,” said Briener. “They used to do it more old fashioned. They’d just have a car show and businesses would have their tables, and I think it’s gotten huge over the years and it keeps on getting bigger.”

Among the public safety organizations represented were Burlington County’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program. Local CERT teams, sponsored by the Office of Emergency Management, receive special emergency response training to supplement the efforts of professional emergency personnel during a crisis situation.

According to CERT member Dixie Patterson, county CERT programs serve two functions.

“One is to prepare the citizen to take care of themselves and their family in the time of an emergency,” said Patterson.

Secondly, Patterson said, someone who has been trained can choose to join a team and volunteer to help others.

“When the big disasters come, and first responders are overwhelmed, they want people who can actually help the first responders rather than get in the way,” said Patterson.

Since Palmyra is a designated shelter site for Burlington County, Patterson said a local CERT team would be essential in an evacuation scenario. Among the information available at the CERT table was an emergency go bag checklist, featuring essential items residents should have already packed and ready to go in case of an emergency situation, like drinking water, a flashlight, a whistle, local maps, a can opener and a battery powered radio.

“That’s the kind of things we teach in our classes,” said Patterson.

For more information on Burlington County’s CERT program, contact Tri-Boro CERT Coordinator Chuck Young at (856) 229-1057 or visit the county website at co.burlington.nj.us.

The Palmyra Police Department’s table featured a miniature museum of sorts with several pieces of old equipment from the department’s history on display.

Officer Omar Kendall showed off several pieces of technology, bulky and antiquated by today’s standards, including one of the first types of computers installed in a squad car, an old radio, a radar system, and an early breathalyzer machine, so large it had to stay at the station when it was still in use.

In addition to general information and safety advice, the department was offering free gun locks for any residents who keep firearms in the home.

“Just because you have (a gun) locked in the closet doesn’t mean your kid doesn’t know where the key is, so if that happens you have this (gun lock) measure,” said Kendall.

The department took advantage of the day as an opportunity for officers to engage with the public and spread awareness. According to Kendall, there are some new faces at the department and Public Safety Day offered a window for exposure and outreach.

“Outside of the regular public safety aspect, we want residents to be able to come to us, meet us, get to know the guys,” said Kendall.