By PETER KASPARI
The heat and humidity of a summer Fort Dodge afternoon didn’t stop the community from coming together to get school supplies, play games and learn more about their neighbors.
The eighth annual National Night Out and Back to School Bash brought members from all around town to Corpus Christi Church Tuesday, where they had the opportunity to get to know their community.
Jed Licht, of Fort Dodge, and his family were returning to the event after they had a nice experience last year.
He said his children were looking forward to seeing the Fort Dodge Fire Department.
“Their uncle is a firefighter in Pleasant Hill,” Licht said.
Dan Vinnece, of Fort Dodge, said the event is especially beneficial to children.
“It’s good for the kids to see law enforcement and emergency services and see that they’re not scary,” he said.
His stepson, Hunter Newman, 4, got to explore the inside of an ambulance from Trinity Regional Medical Center. He nodded his head when asked if he enjoyed being inside the ambulance.
But it wasn’t just children who got to learn at National Night Out.
Keith Brown, of Fort Dodge, said he and his children both learned important information about staying safe and the importance of community.
“It lets you know who your neighbors are,” Brown, who is originally from New York. said. “We all go to the same schools and seeing familiar faces makes you know that this really is a community. That makes it safer for the kids.”
Families also got to learn about law enforcement and how they work, with representatives from the Fort Dodge Police Department, Webster County Sheriff’s Department, Iowa State Patrol and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation available.
Chief Deputy Rod Strait volunteered himself to show the effectiveness of the department’s canine officer, Cayd.
Strait said it was a new experience being chased by the dog.
“Seeing that dog come after you, the best thing for you to do is stop,” he said. “You can’t outrun him and you can’t outthink him. He did very well.”
The Fort Dodge Fire Department was also present with a simulated house filled with smoke.
Clayton Hanson, 10, of Fort Dodge, said he felt like he gained knowledge on how to deal with a smoke-filled house after going through the simulation.
“It was smoky and smelly,” he said. “It was good learning how to get out and be safe.”
In addition, organizers also provided free backpacks to families in need.
Mary Ohrtman, the Webster County outreach director for Upper Des Moines Opportunity, which helped organize the event, said 528 people preregistered for backpacks. By 6:50 p.m., there were only 70 backpacks lef.
“We’ve had a lot of people sign up,” Ohrtman said. “Last year we provided 713 backpacks before the school year began, and we’re expecting to meet or surpass that amount.”
She described this year’s National Night Out and Back to School Bash event as successful.
“We appreciate all the people who have come out,” she said. “The people who have picked up their backpacks have been very appreciative.”
Ohrtman said the backpacks were provided by the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way. She added most people at the event were taking their time with exploring all the booths and stations available.
“A lot of people are taking their time,” she said. “They’re going around before picking up their backpacks.”