Sparta Emergency Services Host “Night Out” for Residents
'I wanted to do an event that made us more approachable to the community
Residants could poke around in an ambulance.
IBy MANDY CORISTON SPARTA Sparta residents were welcomed to a barbecue supper and ice cream social on Friday evening, Sept. 7th for an event designed to bring the community closer to their emergency services departments and resources. nThe Sparta Police Department, Sparta Fire Department and Sparta Ambulance Squad were on hand for the festivities, as well as the Sparta Women’s Club, NAMI, and Spart a C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team). Members of the town government and Sparta’s dispatch team were also among those in attendance. This is the second year for the event, which is modeled after the National Association of Town Watch’s “National Night Out”. The event took place at the old Carl’s Auto Body building in Lake Mohawk; the space was generously lent by Steve Scro, proprietor of the Mohawk House, who owns the property. The Mohawk House also donated the ice cream for the occasion. The Sparta VFW offered a donation for the food, and the hot dogs and ice cream were served up by volunteers from the Knights of Columbus and the Kiwanis Club. Lt. John Lamon, the public information officer for the Sparta Police Department, said the event was part of the department’s goal of being more in touch with the community. “We want kids to get to know us, and it’s good for them to see we’re ‘not scary’,” Lamon said, as he offered cold drinks and introduced children to his buddy from the Jr. Police Academy, a skeleton dressed in a police uniform, “It seems to be working well. We want kids to see us and recognize us around town.” Mike Lucio, a 12-year member of the Sparta Ambulance Squad, brought some of the squad’s 25-recruit Corp of Cadets to help him show off their ambulances. Kids were invited to come on board, check out the equipment, and ask questions. The squad was also handing out stickers and coloring books to teach children about emergency services. “This is great community outreach,” Lucio said, “And it’s good for our cadets to interact with the public.” The Sparta Fire Department brought two of their trucks, and both kids and adults both eagerly exploring them. Deputy Chief Joe Yanko gave a “tour” of Truck 2, a hybrid ladder/engine which he said is designed to handle any task. The 40’ long, 35-ton truck features a 100’ foot extension ladder and a 500-gallon water tank, as well as its own generator for powering emergency lighting and stabilizers for working on any terrain. Tool cabinets hold everything from rope rescue and extrication equipment, an assortment of hand and power tools, and extra ground ladders and air tanks. Yanko said, “We’ve got 1,000 feet of hose on this truck and a pipe runs the length of the ladder to get water where we need it most. This truck is larger and is capable of providing more services than any truck we’ve had before.” With its ladder fully extended and adorned with an American flag, it made for an impressive sight rising up from behind the building. Superheroes were roaming the event, too, as Sparta Police recruits donned costumes and took photos with kids. Michael Poon, dressed as Black Panther, said, “This is great community policing. It’s wonderful that everyone got involved.” Philip Longo, masquerading as Iron Man, agreed. “We’re having fun,” he said, “This is a great night.” Community was the keyword of the night, and members of the Sparta Women’s Club were there to spread the word about the Vial of Life program. Past president and chair of the project, Marjorie Strohsahl, explained how the program works. “Each kit contains a medical information form and a decal for your door. You fill everything out, and put the form on or in your refrigerator,” she said, “Then the decal goes on your front door, and emergency responders know to look for your information.” Strohsahl said the program originated in California, and she was inspired to bring it to Sparta after a neighbor fell ill. A widow who lives alone, Mrs. Strohsahl wondered how people would be notified if something happened to her. After speaking with the Police Department, she and the Women’s Club undertook a two-year project to bring the initiative to Sparta, and hope to bring it to surrounding communities this fall. “I keep one in my car, too,” club member Eddy Kirkowski said, “If you’re in an accident, sometimes your wallet just isn’t enough.” Kits are available during business hours at the Town Clerk’s office, and will also be distributed during events through December. For more information about the program or other activities of the Sparta Women’s Club, the ladies encourage people to visit their website, www.spartawomensclub.org. Mrs. Strohsahl is also a representative of NAMI Sussex, and had information about their mental health initiatives and upcoming film screenings. For more details, she’d like people to visit www.nami-sussex-nj.org. Members of Sparta C.E.R.T, including town coordinator and district trainer Alex Kloian, attended were happy to talk about their mission within the community. “We have two primary functions,” Kloian said, “We fill gaps during major emergencies, like with Hurricane Sandy, by being trained to provide immediate assistance to our neighbors and community members, and we also provide staffing for things like warming or cooling centers during extreme weather, and distributing necessities like water and ice. The team’s purpose is to provide support to first responders in all situations.” Training to join the team is free, and member Elaine Kurie said, “It’s such a worthwhile program. The knowledge for both personal and community use is invaluable.” For more information on C.E.R.T.’s programs or to learn how to join the team, residents are encouraged to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sparta Mayor Josh Hertzberg brought his 3rd-grade Sparta Youth Football team to the event after Friday night practice. “This is great for the kids to get to know their police officers and the fire department and EMS,” Hertzberg said, “I give a lot of credit to Chief (Neil Spidaletto) and his command staff for putting this together and being proactive in the community. Kids will remember this, and it will take away their fear if they’re ever in an emergency situation.” The football team was happily chattering away over hot dogs and ice cream, but Hertzberg’s younger son Callum sat quietly dipping into a cup of chocolate chip mint. Asked what he thought of the night, he offered his toddler seal of approval, “It’s good!” Sparta Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith was at the event, as well. “It’s so great that kids get to be exposed to our police, fire, and EMS,” she said, “and for residents to see our great resources. It’s nice to see everyone come together and share this with the community.” Jim Brocato, a Past Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus from Blessed Kateri, was serving ice cream with his friend and fellow Grand Knight Greg Risco. “This is a great joint venture between the Knights of Columbus and the police department,” Brocato said, “It really promotes good will in the community.” Risco said the Knights were happy to be back for the event’s second year, and hope it continues for a long time. Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto was happy to hold the event, and thanked the Scros for their generosity. “Steve and Rachael are such huge supporters of our emergency services, and it was so great of them to lend this space and donate the ice cream,” the chief said, “We have good relationships with our fire department and ambulance squad, and wanted to do an event that featured all the services. I really wanted to do something that would make us all more approachable in the community.”