Meet First Responders at Safe City Nights

The Minnesota State Patrol’s “Seat Belt Convincer” offers kids a firsthand taste of the impact of a sudden crash.

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Most people see first responders only at a distance, speeding down the street with flashing lights and screaming sirens. The Moorhead Police Athletics and Activities League plans to change that again this summer with three neighborhood events where kids of all ages can get up close and personal with the men and women who keep the city safe, along with a peek at the emergency vehicles they drive.
Safe City Nights are in their third year. Starting on Wednesday, June 26, at Robert Asp Elementary School, volunteers from the Moorhead Police Department host an entertaining and educational evening, including nosing around emergency vehicles, meeting the professionals who operate them, taking part in safety demonstrations, enjoying games and activities … and, of course, dining on free pizza and Dilly Bars. It’s a memorable two hours of fun for families curious about who comes when they call 911.
Two more Safe City Nights are planned for later this summer. The second takes place at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School, 2020 11th St. S., on Wednesday, July 17. Two weeks later, on July 31, the first responders and their equipment will be at Queens Park, 3201 20th St. S. All events are from 6 to 8 p.m.
The summer series got its start in 2022, when PAL director Scott Kostohryz put together Police in the Park on the grounds of Romkey and Queens parks. “We were inspired by what we saw going on in St. Paul and Rochester,” he explains. “Our first event was really small, but it was very well attended. When we saw the crowd, we knew we needed more help.”
Building on that success, he invited the MPD to assist with a second set of gatherings in 2023. It was far larger than the first. In addition to Moorhead officers, volunteers and vehicles, other agencies joined in – the Moorhead Fire Department, Sanford Ambulance, the Red River Valley SWAT Team, and the Minnesota State Patrol.
They’ll be back for this year’s Safe City Nights, says Moorhead community policing coordinator Leann Wallin – barring unexpected events, of course, that might call one of them away. But exploring the massive, state-of-the-art emergency equipment is just the start of the evening’s activities.
Moorhead firefighters are bringing their “knock-down house,” a wooden facade with hinged “flames” at the windows. Children can aim the powerful fire hose at those targets, knocking down the fictitious fire.
Children who ride their own bicycles to the school (or park) can take part in a bike rodeo organized by members of Moorhead’s Police Volunteers group. “We welcome everything from 10-speeds to training wheels,” Wallin reports. Bike safety is the order of the day as riders navigate a course laid out in the parking lot. Riders will practice stops, right and left turns and other maneuvers that help to keep them safe aboard two wheels.
They can also head over to the bike repair station, a feature that proved very popular last summer. There, an MPD officer offers minor fixes to their two-wheelers, with parts donated by Scheels Sports. Next, participants may say hello to Moorhead’s newest K-9, Dex, a t2-year-old German shepherd-Belgian Malinois cross, and handler Brett Musich.
Do seat belts really save lives? You bet – and the MPD and Minnesota State Patrol intend to show you. The agencies plan to demonstrate exactly how well they do the job. The local department is bringing in a unit that simulates what happens to unbelted passengers during a roll-over accident. The outcome is demonstrated by dummies – tossing around the unfortunate beltless manikin, while the other (smarter) dummy is held secure by his seat belt.
Nearby, children can actually feel the effects of a crash themselves. They’ll climb aboard the State Patrol’s Seat Belt Convincer., propelled forward fast and then jolted to a stop in a safe simulation of a collision.
More fun is planned for the young. Games to Go’s bounce house will allow them to get the jump on their friends. Moorhead Parks and Recreation will supervise games, as will the local Boys and Girls Club. Police volunteers will fingerprint children and help them make ID bracelets. They can compete in a coloring contest and enter a raffle to win a new bicycle.
“Last year’s events were pretty big, with 120 to 150 kids and adults each night,” Leann says. “We expect this year to be even bigger. It’s a fun way for our first responders to connect with the community.”

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