Mountaintop Third Graders Experience Local Government Day In Wright Twp.
By NICOLE FAY BARR
Correspondent

After operating a municipal backhoe and mounting a steamroller, firetruck, and ambulance, a group of exuberant third-graders were then thrown into a jail cell. They shrieked as they were put in the cell, and some actually asked to be handcuffed –and got their wish.

It was all in good fun as professionals in Wright Township gave the students a hands-on tutorial of what they do, part of Local Government Day. The annual event, held on April 20, drew 225 students to Wright Township, all third-graders from Fairview, Rice, and St. Jude’s elementary schools.

In small groups, the students visited and learned about various aspects of the township, including the fire department, ambulance association, department of public works, and the police station.

Before being given the freedom to crawl behind the wheel of a Wright Township Volunteer Fire Department truck, the children learned from Dan Gutkowski and colleagues about fire safety. Gutkowski greeted several of the kids by name and one he knew very well; his son, Nathan, was part of the group.

In the case of a fire, Gutkowski explained, children should not worry about possessions or pets, but simply exit the home. “We want you guys to get out and stay out,” he reiterated several times. He activated a home fire alarm and told the group that, if they hear that sound in the middle of the night, their job is to get outside and remain there.

Gutkowski asked the students if they had a fire-evacuation plan at home and less than half indicated they did. He recommended that they all go home and discuss a fire plan with their families, pinpointing ways to exit the house and where to meet once outside.

Joe Dauksis, another fireman, then put on layers of equipment to show the students how he’d look and sound in full uniform. After pulling on his suit, steel boots, and helmet, he strapped on oxygen tanks and a face mask. Turning on the tanks, a continuous, noisy wheezing sound was heard.

“When we come to get you guys, we’re going to sound like Darth Vader,” Gutkowski told the group.

Dauksis approached the kids and asked them to touch his suit. “If you see us like this, don’t be afraid. We’re going to help you,” he said, his voice muffled. Gutkowski pointed out that children should never hide when there’s a fire. If they are stuck in their bedrooms, he recommended they try to open a window and wave for help.

After showing different equipment that firemen use, and letting the children handle the tools, Gutkowski went on to discuss fire safety, such as advising the group not to play with matches or candles. He also talked about 911 and explained what information they need to give in the case of an emergency. “It’s important to know your address,” he said.

Gutkowski and Dauksis concluded by telling the children that, at age 14, they can volunteer with the fire department. “We welcome anyone. We’ll train you,” they both said.

More personal safety was explained by four members of the Mountain Top Area Ambulance Association. Wayde Kahley, with Donna Tomkoski and Bill Fraser, showed the group different types of stretchers that paramedics use in emergency situations. The children were quiet and thoughtful as they gazed upon the equipment.

Kahley invited Layah Hilaire, the littlest girl in the group, to lay upon a stretcher and the third-graders giggled and he and Tomkoski carried Hilaire from one area to another.

One girl asked what the EMS workers do if the hospital is closed and she was told that the hospital never closes. “They’re just like us, they work 24/7,” Kahley stated. When asked what happens if ambulance workers are asleep and an emergency arises, Kahley replied by tapping the beeper on his belt, indicating that he and fellow volunteers will always be there to respond.

From there, Chris Scavone allowed the students to climb into his ambulance. He showed various pieces of life-saving equipment inside the vehicle and noted, “It’s basically a little ER room.”

A curious student asked how many emergency calls come in each day and Scavone replied that it averages about six calls per day, give or take, and 150 calls a month.

The children got to climb on even heavier equipment when they toured the public works. Matthew Howton, head of the department, teased and joked with the students before showing the township’s plows, salt shed, and steamroller.

One lucky boy, Luke Vanchure, got to climb aboard a backhoe with DPW worker Mark Smith as classmates looked on in disbelief, some screaming with excitement. With Smith’s help, a smiling Vanchure moved several piles of dirt from a mound to the back of a truck.

The children stifled their exhilaration and got serious as they made their last stop –to the Wright Township Police Station. Officer Brian Macko greeted the group and many students seemed star-struck as they recognized his name from political signs around town.

In the entryway to the new station, some kids inquired about a black-and-white American flag with a blue strip in the center. “That’s a special flag for policemen,” Macko responded. The blue represents police officers who have been hurt or killed in the line of duty, he said, adding, “We hang that out of respect.”

Macko, along with Sergeant Scott Rozitski then showed the group the inside of the police station, from its filing system with fingerprints and mugshots to a locked evidence room.

Rozitski displayed tactical helmets and a battering ram, and allowed the kids to try on DUI goggles, which simulated the vision of an intoxicated person. “Oh, now I know what it feels like to be drunk,” one boy exclaimed as he and his friends giggled and wobbled.

Before the finale of touring the police vehicles, Macko opened the township’s jail cell and allowed more than 20 children to squeeze inside. As their teacher, Laura Brogna, laughed, Macko secured the door and quieted the children before joking with them, “We’re going out to lunch. See you later.”