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Altoona residents, public safety officials have fun at event with serious mission

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Eric Lindquist | Leader-Telegram

ALTOONA - Scattered showers and threatening skies weren't enough Tuesday evening to keep Altoona residents inside on National Night Out.


Music, smiles and laughter filled Altoona City Park as several hundred people showed up for the city's inaugural participation in the nationwide community-building event that promotes crime and drug prevention by inviting local residents to meet police officers.

"This is awesome," Altoona city Administrator Mike Golat said, gazing at the throngs of people playing games, eating snacks, checking out emergency vehicles scattered around the park and interacting with police officers, firefighters and representatives of area organizations. "The turnout is unbelievable, especially given the weather."

The event provided a great opportunity for people to talk to their neighbors and see what's happening with public safety officials, Golat said.

Representative of the evening's light mood, the public address announcer let people know it was Altoona fire Chief Mark Renderman's time to take a turn manning the dunk tank by saying, "What's the fastest way to put out a fire? Put it in water."

A big cheer arose from the crowd a few seconds later when a boy fired a fastball into the target, plunging a grinning Renderman into the water below his perch.

Max, the lone K-9 affiliated with the Altoona Police Department, was a big hit with adults and children alike. 

"People love that he's social and they can pet him and interact with him," said Max's handler, Officer Anthony Helstern.  

Altoona resident Heather Carlson looked on as her 2-year-old daughter, Nora, stood transfixed a few feet from Max as the dog wandered around the grounds with Helstern.

The event offered the family a great chance to meet with representatives of community groups to see what options are available for children in Altoona, Carlson said.

A moment later, 4-year-old Charlotte Johnson, sporting an Altoona Fire Department firefighter hat, took her turn to pet Max.

"She loves police," said Charlotte's mother, Elizabeth Johnson. "We live on Spooner Avenue, and every time she hears their sirens as they go by she runs to the window to watch."

Elizabeth Johnson, also accompanied by her husband, Ben, and 1-year-old son, Henry, said the family had never been to a National Night Out before but was pleased Altoona officials decided to bring the event to the city.

Helstern captured the spirit of the event when he was asked for his impression of the city's first National Night Out, sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch and locally by the Altoona Police Department.

"We get to have fun with the community, and the community gets to have fun with us," he said. "It's a nonadversarial encounter, and that's always a good thing."

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