‘A Day in their Boots’: Dover PAL helps kids learn 1st responder roles

DOVER — The impact felt by the participants at “A Day in Their Boots” resonated much deeper than just spending a couple of hours at the Delaware State Fire School Louis J. Amabili Fire Service Training Center walking around and looking at fire apparatus on Wednesday.

The program, a youth activity that is organized by the Dover Police Department Police Athletic League, had several prongs attached to it — all of them positive and most of them hands-on.

Participants 5 through 18 years of age learned about various aspects of safety from several different forms of first responders, got hands-on experience in putting out fires, learned a thing or two of the various challenges that firefighters, policeman and paramedics face on a daily basis, and got the chance to see if a job as a first responder might be something they might be interested in when it comes to their future.

Patrolman First Class Anthony Smith, who took over as coordinator of the Dover PAL last year, said it is one of his organization’s most exciting days of the year. He said he couldn’t do it without the collaborative efforts of the Dover Police Department, Delaware State Fire School, Dover Fire Department, and event sponsor North Dover Chick-Fil-A.

Patrolman Smith said 260 people signed up for the second annual “A Day in Their Boots” within eight hours this year. He added that many parents and brothers and sisters also tag along during the program which probably made the actual number of attendees at Wednesday’s event around 900.

“One of the biggest things is it was extremely successful,” Patrolman Smith said. “We got a lot of calls from parents asking when we were going to do it again after last year. We decided back with my chain of command that we needed to make this happen on an annual basis and make it a tradition.

“The thing that they get out of this program is they get to experience a day in our boots, meaning first responders, to see if they ever might want to be a paramedic, to see if they want to be a firefighter or a police officer. They get the opportunity of seeing that from coming to ‘A Day in Their Boots.’”

Building positive relationships
Master Cpl. Jennifer Lynch, of the Dover police, said it is also important to reach out and try to build a positive relationship with the participants, particularly at an early age.

“They see a different side of what they might see on social media or the bad side of the news and things like that,” Master Cpl. Lynch said. “They get to see it first-hand and form their own opinions. You see the guys with the guns and the helmets and everything and they may look scary, but it’s necessary. I think seeing the demo’s in action really kind of opens their eyes.

“It is good to see them at a young age because sometimes they get older and their mind is already set (about attitudes towards police), so this is a good way to kind of steer them in the other direction.”

Learning how to use a fire hose.

Mr. Smith said they made a couple of additions to this year’s program after realizing the Dover Police Department didn’t have any demonstrations last year.

“The only boot that they got to envision themselves in (last year) was paramedics and firefighters, but this year they actually got to see a SWAT demonstration and an actual K-9 demonstration,” he said.

Aside from the police demonstrations, Wednesday’s event had all the children broken down into six groups – three for ages 9-years-old and younger and the other three for 10 through 18 years of age. Every group was led by a Dover police officer.

Following a brief welcome from event officials, each group was able to disperse to one of six stations that specialized in different types of training and activities. Each group stayed at one station for 25 minutes before moving on to the next one.

For the older participants, the stations were broken down into vehicle rescue, structural firefighting, EMT, obstacle course, drones and fire behavior.

The younger attendees’ schedule was slightly different, and a little shorter, as they learned about fire behavior, hazard house, escape planning and visited static displays of emergency equipment.

Hands-on recruiting
Megan Lloyd brought her 5-year-old son LJ to the event because he has always been intrigued by what first responders do.

“I think it’s great,” Ms. Lloyd said. “I think it’s something that kids need to be exposed to, so they know what it’s like to walk in the line of a fireman or a policeman or EMS. My son is excited about this event. Hopefully, when he gets older, he will want to be a fireman or a policeman, but EMS is definitely not his forte.”

Troy Christiansen, 15, who said he may one day become a third-generation firefighter, enjoyed the knowledge about first responders that he received just visiting station to station with the Dover PAL members.

“It’s a good experience for people to learn what the first responders do on a daily basis and it just gives them a respect towards first responders to see how difficult their job is on some days,” he said. “I already had a lot of respect because my dad was a firefighter and my grandfather was a fireman, so I kind of grew up in the family of it. It’s just showing the public what they go through and how they put their lives on the line.”

The event’s hosts provided plenty of bottled water and had misting tents prepared so the PAL participants stayed cool and hydrated on the day in which the temperature reached the upper 80s. North Dover Chick-Fil-A provided several hundred lunches.

But even the high temperatures couldn’t deter the participants from trying to put out a structural fire, a vehicle fire or compete on an obstacle course.

Kim O’Malley, training administrator at the Delaware Fire School, was helping with the demonstrations on putting out a structural fire.

“I can honestly say you see joy in their faces, especially when they get to put out a fire in the structural building,” she said. “We also try to give them some fun with the obstacle course which gives them a little bit of competition where they get to drag a hose and drag a rescue dummy and do some fun things like that. The kids, you can see great joy on their faces, and hopefully go home and learn something.”

Ms. O’Malley said last year’s event paid off quickly for one participant.
“Actually with the escape planning we actually had a child last year, I read from a mutual friend on social media, who went home and their fire alarm went off and they had a small kitchen fire and the kid made them get out of the house just like they were taught at fire school,” she said. “That’s exactly what they said, they learned it at the fire school the day before.”

That, Patrolman Smith said, is what the program is all about.

“The biggest thing for (Wednesday) for the Police Athletic League and for the Delaware Fire School and Dover Fire was to have all the kids come out and see ‘A Day in Their Boots,’” said Patrolman Smith. “What that pretty much references is seeing how it is to be a first responder, especially as a firefighter, to see what they go through in regards to fire safety, understanding the curriculum of the education of the fire and everything in that aspect.

“We can have the youth start young and understand what it is they may aspire to be whenever they get older and the Police Athletic League allows that to happen. We allow them to dream with their eyes open and that’s the biggest thing.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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