Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
CHP Officer Javier Ruvalcaba gives Selena Deleija a taste of what it is like to sit in the back of a squad car during National Night Out at the fairgrounds.
More than a thousand people flowed into and out of Madera District Fairgrounds last week at National Night Out Connect, the second of two gatherings for the annual community-building campaign.
The gathering included motorcycle riding displays, watery inflatables, a dunk tank, fire engines, armored vehicles, face painting, free prizes, sack racing and other contests, and much more. Most tables and tents were manned by local public agencies. Madera police officers and Explorers served free hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and drinks for hours.
“I think it’s pretty awesome for all the law enforcement to get together and come out here with the youth, so the youth won’t be scared of them. They had so many fun things for them to do,” said Angela Andella, who came for the sake of her grandson and nephew.
“They’ve seen too much of the bad side in their lives,” she said. “So I wanted them to see that they’re people.”
Her nephew Michael Williams, 9, found out where to make blue slime thanks to a Madera police officer, who answered his request for directions. “It’s really fun. I like everyone and everything,” said Michael, who was able to explore an armored vehicle “and hit my head twice.”
Fire Captain Vance Killion, of Cal Fire Madera County, thinks National Night Out and similar events offers a welcome chance to sit down with, chat and answer questions from the community.
“Most of the time they just see the fire station as they drive by or ... when we show up at their emergency,” he said. “So it’s kind of nice to be able to meet them when they’re not in their worst day in an emergency or just driving by.”
Such conversations allow him to dispel common television and movie myths about firefighters, such as that they live a life of leisure and squabbling with each other between dramatic fire rescues. Not so, Killion says.
“We’re constantly training. We’re trying to keep all of our skills as honed as we can,” he said. “Some of the other stuff: we work together, respond to calls, work around the station … making sure these things (we rely on) are in top-notch condition.”
Eliana Oropaza, of Madera County Public Health Department, thinks the new event is a great one.
“Everyone seems like they’re really enjoying themselves. It did rain a little bit — an interesting twist. Everyone’s friendly,” she said. “I like that they’re coming out and checking their (blood pressure and glucose) numbers, which is important to us with the health department.”
Such free health testing is precious in a state where diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death, according to the California Department of Public Health in 2014. Hispanics and African Americans are twice as likely than others to have and to die of type 2 diabetes.
“More than half of the population here (in Madera County) is a diabetic or pre-diabetic,” she said. “Getting people checked is important, especially because some people don’t have health insurance, and they never get checked at all. … You’d be surprised how people come in and they are like, ‘Are you diabetic? No? Okay, ‘cause your numbers say that you are. Please go get checked.’ Sometimes it’s like, ‘You have to go to the ER right now. Your blood sugar is so high.’ I’m hoping we’ve saved a life or two by doing that.”
National Night Out Connect, hosted by the Madera Police Department on Thursday night, was the first such city-wide party held in connection with the annual campaign, which locally has only consisted of block parties across Madera in the past.