Photos by Mark Brennan, Reina Harwood and Chantelle Meyer/Siuslaw News
National Night Out brings together first responders, community
Aug. 7, 2021 — On Aug. 3, Florence Police Department hosted its third National Night Out at Miller Park, following two successful events in 2018 and 2019.
National Night Out is a country-wide community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie. It is organized by the National Association of Town Watch.
“It turned out great. We were pretty happy with it,” said Florence Police Commander John Pitcher.
More than 1,500 people attended, with the event serving more than 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs, along with chips, beverages, popcorn, cotton candy and BJ’s Ice Cream.
The local event is planned each year by Florence Police Department Executive Administrative Assistant Jamie Gorder, who works with more than a dozen partner agencies to bring together the large-scale event.
“Our community, city council and city management — everyone was waiting for the chance to come together, to be together again after the year that we've all had,” Gorder said. “To have the first opportunity to bring that to the community was the big driving force for me. People wanted to do it. Once those mandates were lifted, our city council and city management, made it a big priority. ‘What can we do? What does the community want? How can we make this happen? What can we do to support the police department to make this happen?’ It would not have happened without that support.”
This year, the event came together in the six weeks since Oregon lifted many of the pandemic’s restrictions.
“We didn't have time to plan it the way that we have in the past,” Gorder said. “The city got behind it and people reached out to us. This was the first year that the Oregon Department of Forestry have reached out to us as first responders that wanted to be involved, so that was really neat.”
Lane County Sheriff’s Office also brought its two West Lane Resident Deputies to the event for the first time.
The National Night Out also included activities and games for families, such as mini golf, Kiwanis Club of Florence’s kids games, tug of war and inflatable activities. Kids could also get a balloon animal or have their faces painted.
According to Pitcher, “We missed having some of the bigger bouncy houses, because those are always such a big hit for the kids who are a little bit older. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring that back next year. But I think what we had, with the people we had, it turned out really good.”
Keeping the pandemic in mind, the event spread activities around the park.
“As we were planning, we tried to look at different community members, what their needs were and what their comfort level was,” Gorder said.
The night also allowed for interaction between community members and representatives from: City of Florence, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, Florence Community PTA, Florence Police Auxiliary, Kiwanis Club of Florence, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon Coast Military Museum, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon State Police, Siuslaw High School Cheerleaders, Western Lane Fire & EMS Authority and US Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
In addition, volunteers from all over the community staffed the event.
“Every city council person was out there with a job,” Pitcher said. “They were very supportive in there. And of course, the city manager was out there working hard, too.”
Florence Mayor Joe Henry and City Councilor Woody Woodbury helped operate grill, spending many hours flipping burgers and hot dogs. Councilors Bill Meyer, Sally Wantz and Maggie Wisniewski were around Miller Park helping with activities.
Gorder added, “And lots of city staff, too. We had our city manager, assistant city manager and all of the department heads out there helping.”
She also thanked individuals and businesses who helped with the event.
“We had support from Charles Korando, Cameron Jagoe with Pacific Frameworks, BJ’s Ice Cream, Bigfoot Beverages and Ray Wells,” she said.
That included donations, photography work and concessions.
“We didn't have the time to go out and really ask for donations this year, but Dr. Korando and his group were a big donator to make this happen,” Pitcher said.
One of the biggest hits at the event, and the newest addition, was the dunk tank, which featured notable names from the Florence Police Department, Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River, Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and Western Lane Ambulance District.
Pitcher was one of those who repeatedly took a dip during his turn.
He said the event, while fun, was cold, and wondered if they could heat the water next year.
Other participants in the dunk tank were Detective Brandon Bailey, EMT Conway Pebley, Fire Marshal Tony Miller, Sgt. Brandon Ott, Sgt. Denton Tipler, Sgt. Len Larson, USCG Chief Jay Nilles, WLFEA Chief Michael Schick and WLFEA Operations Chief Matt House.
“The event was just it was a good opportunity this year for people to get to know the different first responders and really see how close all of us are, and how well our partner organizations work together,” Gorder said.