Children explore, learn at emergency center open house

It’s no secret that emergency rescue operations are exciting. Throw in 450 elementary-school students, K-9 units, obstacle courses and a bunch of emergency vehicles, and that’s an incredible field trip.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Delaware State Police K-9 officers put on a demonstration at the annual 911 Open House at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown on Thursday, May 10.Coastal Point • Laura Walter
Delaware State Police K-9 officers put on a demonstration at the annual 911 Open House at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown on Thursday, May 10.

Hundreds of 5th-graders attended the annual 911 Open House at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown.

The May 10 event featured an endless range of emergency responders, from Delaware Forest Service to McGruff the Crime Dog.

Now in its 11th year, the open house has always featured Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Company, said member John Tomeski. Children enjoy the fire hazard house, basically a dollhouse that lights up and smokes to show common household fire hazards. A miniature electrical outlet buzzes with light and begins to smoke. An open window is the nearest fire escape.

“It’s a very educational event,” said Tomeski. “The kids get a lot out of it. They get to see a lot of things besides just the fire truck.”

“I’m at the fire house all the time, so I like fire trucks and ambulances,” said Southern Delware School of the Arts student Ashley Hudson, whose own parents are firefighters.

Even adults learned a little something. Chaperone Jack Griffiths said the open house was “very informational,” though he had expected to know most the facts already.

Even more popular than fire trucks were the K-9 units. Children gasped and applauded loudly during the canine demonstration, in which Delaware State Police dogs briskly honed in on suspicious packages and people.

Many children said the dogs were their favorite, including toddler Bradley Tomeski, who was attending his first 911 Open House.

“The dogs took out two guys that are bad guys,” Tomeski said.

Kids were delighted to sit in a police car or be handcuffed by Dagsboro Police; explore mobile command units that act like mini-control centers on wheels; climb fire trucks; witness the effects of not wearing a seatbelt on crash dummies; and much more.

Delaware Emergency Management (DEMA) and the Delaware Citizen Corps teamed up to teach families about emergency preparedness. Children played games to learn which items they should have at home in case of a storm, like batteries, food and water.

“They can help their parents because sometimes parents don’t think about it,” said Rosanne Pack of the Citizen Corps.

A bicycle safety obstacle course got kids pedaling. In a short period, each child got an individualized bike safety lesson on helmets, hand signals and road hazards.

Even professional cyclists wear helmets, explained Cheryl Littlefield, nurse and coordinator of Beebe Medical Center’s Trauma and Emergency Management.

Children under the age of 16 are required to wear helmets by Delaware state law.

“The important thing [is] to get the message out there to the parent and have parents enforce or encourage [helmets],” Littlefield said, adding that she hopes the students never need emergency treatment for a head injury.

Children marveled at the armored vehicle and heavy shields of the DSP Special Operations Response Team.

“It’s nice to get out in the community,” said Sgt. Jerry Windish. “It’s a life-saving organization. It’s not all the shoot ‘em up that you see on TV.”

Windish educated children about equipment, from helmets to firearms (disabled). He said this is a good age to discuss the law enforcement pathway.

“As you get older, there’s going to be more temptations, so you can educate them on what things that are going to take them out of consideration for law enforcement,” he said.

“I like seeing all the equipment they use,” said Onaedo Okoye of Southern Delaware School of the Arts. “It’s just cool to see what they’re going do with all the equipment, like the state troopers, protecting things.”

Sussex County Emergency Operations Center has already received some thank-you letters from the visiting students, said Bryan Schieferstein event co-organizer and senior telecommunication specialist (911 dispatcher).

“It’s good to know that they had a good time,” said Schieferstein. “That’s the important thing. If they’re not having fun, they won’t take any of it in.”

Meanwhile, kids were learning how to help or who to call during emergencies.

Schieferstein thanked the many event volunteers and the donors, including Clean Delaware, Inc., Edy’s Ice Cream, Food Lion, Georgetown McDonald’s, Pepsi of Delmarva, Pizza Palace of Georgetown and Waste Management. The event hosted by Delaware State Police Sussex Communication Section and the Fire and Ambulance Callboard of Sussex County.