by Jonathan Weaver
The sound of emergency sirens and fire engines might have frightened children and those with disabilities Thursday evening, but a group of nonprofit agencies wanted those local residents to be prepared just in case.
More than 180 local residents and their caregivers packed the Rayburn Township Fire Hall Thursday evening to “Meet and Greet with First Responders” for the third year in a row.
HAVIN Executive Director Jo Ellen Bowman said the event was free thanks to a federal Violence against Women Grant to enhance services for individuals with disabilities.
Armstrong County LINK Coordinator Kesha Pate said attendance was the highest yet at the annual event important if residents are in trouble.
“The primary goal of these events is to help individuals be comfortable with first responders so when they are in a crisis situation or emergency situation, they have a familiarly and it’s not as stressful for them,” Pate said. “We’ve had some individuals that have been in situations after attending one of these and they responded better than we would normally fear. It’s a really important education event for individuals with disabilities.”
Emergency units in-attendance included: Kittanning Hose Companies #1, 4 and 6, Rayburn Township, Kittanning Township, Kittanning #6 EMS and Kittanning Borough Police.
Rayburn Township Fire Chief Henry Bellas also said volunteers have responded to incidents with disabled residents and they have responded calmly.
Nicole Eckman – a Carlow College student studying biology with autopsy – has been a Rayburn Township firefighter for 3 ½ years and said she enjoyed the event and the camaraderie with her fellow volunteers.
“The fire department is like my family – I grew up with a lot of them,” Eckman said. “I was pretty much raised here.”
Pate thanked Chief Bellas for gathering volunteers from nearby and in the department, as well as hosting.
“Rayburn has been wonderful to us. They open their doors, they don’t charge us to come in and all their folks volunteer,” Pate said.
Residents aided by LifeSteps, Behavioral and Developmental Health, HAVIN, the Progressive Workshop, Community Action and more attended the event for dinner and the interactive sessions.