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Chicopee celebrates National Night Out with free food, K-9 demonstrations, Air Force robots and more

CHICOPEE — Trevor Rogers walked from the police boat to the fire trucks and checked out the bounce house and the climbing wall with his young daughter and neighbor, but it was the horses at National Night Out that really got their attention.

“It’s the highlight of their day,” he said as 5-year-old Sophia and 7-year-old Jenna Bieg pet the horses the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department uses to patrol Forest Park in Springfield.

“It’s been great. We’ve been to every tent. I got a bag of goodies,” he said. “Our last stop is the balloon tent. That has the longest line.”

For 39 years the nation has been celebrating National Night Out, an event designed to bring the community and first responders together to help fight crime. Chicopee typically holds its event at Sarah Jane Sherman Park on Monday — one day early — and this year has been no different.

Multiple other communities including Springfield, Agawam and Ware are holding events on Tuesday. Westfield and the Russell-Montgomery Police Department will host events later in the month.

With good weather and more events than ever, this year was probably the biggest National Night Out that Chicopee has ever had. Police Capt. Holly Cote estimated about 2,000 people attended. Melanie Wilk, the director of Chicopee Fresh, the school department’s meals program, confirmed that number.

“We planned for 1,500 hot dogs and we will run out,” Wilk said.

In the past, the Chicopee City Council has cooked the hot dogs, but this year Chicopee Fresh, with its new food truck used to serve summer meals in the parks, offered to take over. Council members pitched in at the food truck and anywhere else where an extra pair of hands was needed.

Every city department, as well as Westover Air Reserve Base, the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing, Interstate Towing and multiple other businesses donated supplies, set up displays or sponsored the event. It couldn’t have been done without all the partners, said Cote, one of the main organizers.

Police and Fire departments were spread throughout the park with different displays so all the officers had a chance to interact with the community, Cote said.

“It is so wonderful to see so many people having a good time,” Maj. John L. Vieau said. “It has been a great partnership and we are building positive relationships. It is a success.”

He served as judge at the chicken wing-eating contest that pits the football team from Chicopee High against Comprehensive High.

“It was pretty fun. It is competitive but it was on the friendly level,” said Dante Rivera-Mackin, who is starting his senior year at Chicopee High. His five-member team was victorious against their rivals.

Children had a chance to climb on the police boat and fire trucks. They could turn on the lights and learn about the different equipment the departments use. It also gave people a chance to ask questions and an opportunity for firefighters and police officers to push safety initiatives such as safe bike riding and proper installation of smoke alarms, said Fire Lt. Katie Collins Kalbaugh, one of the event organizers.

“Part of this is meeting the community before we respond to an emergency,” she said.

This was Police Chief Patrick Major’s first National Night Out after being named as head of the department about 90 days ago. He has attended the event multiple times before being promoted.

“It is a great night. It is important to get community members out and meet with the police and fire departments,” he said.

He heard few complaints from people but said children were especially excited to see the big trucks and equipment. Major said he found himself in friendly conversations with residents and mainly answering questions about the police boat and the K-9 teams, which do popular demonstrations.

Also popular was Westover’s Explosive Ordinance Division. Members of the unit had rocket launchers and other weapons on display, but one of the biggest hits was their robots that are used to disarm explosives, which people were allowed to operate, said Lt. Col. Rodney Furr, chief of public relations.

“It’s great because we are showing people there are so many things you can do in the Air Force,” Furr said.

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