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APTOS – Five-year-old Luca Petruzzi had such a good time at this year’s National Night Out that he wasn’t ready to leave when his parents were.
‘No, I don’t want to go home,” the Aptos boy shouted after he finished trying out equipment used by the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team as part of the annual festivities aimed at bringing community and law enforcement together. The Sheriff’s Office, Capitola Police Department and Watsonville Police Department hosted events throughout the county Tuesday evening as part of the national program, started in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch as a way to boost community and police relationships.
Police departments, the Sheriff’s Office, fire officials and other agencies show off their equipment, conduct demonstrations and provide a safe, fun night out for families that ties together education with entertainment.
Last year, 37 million people in the 50 U.S. states, Canadian cities, American territories and military bases participated in National Night Out events, according to the National Association of Town Watch.
At Twin Lakes Church, members of the search and rescue team let children practice zipping along the highline the team uses to retrieve people stranded on cliffs, recover bodies and aid in other types of rescues.
Petruzzi, who attends school at Twin Lakes Church, said he loves firefighters and police officers and said the event was “great.”
Elsewhere, members of the county’s bomb squad demonstrated the team’s robot and let children try on the nearly 25-pound helmets team members wear when dealing with a possible explosive situation.
“We’ve got one of the only bomb teams in the area,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Clarke.
Clarke said the Sheriff’s Office had decided to team up with the Twin Lakes Church for the festivities in Aptos this year to further the community connection the event is focused on.
“We really want to get the community engaged,” Clarke said.
In addition to demonstrations by various police agencies, there were also bounce houses, food and other fun activities. In Aptos, children took turn posing for photo opportunities with Smokey the Bear and met the search-and-rescue team’s K-9 member.
At Jade Street Park in Capitola, Logan Johnson of the National Weather Service taught residents about weather safety.
The focus, given the locale, was on ocean and beach safety, but Johnson said they were also teaching kids and their parents about topics such as lightning safety and tsunami safety.
“There are a lot of areas here that are in what’s called the tsunami inundation zone,” Johnson explained.
Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante pulled double-duty as grill master for the night, grilling up burgers and hot dogs alongside Capitola mayor Michael Termini.
“We’ve had a great turnout,” said Escalante, who wore an apron emblazoned with his last name.
Reese Martinez, 9, of Soquel attended the event with her parents for a second year.
“We stumbled upon it accidentally last year and then we came to find out it was part of a national event,” said Stacy Thomas.
Thomas said it’s important to her to try to teach her daughter about all of the aspects of National Night Out – such as public safety and energy issues – and not just the fun stuff.
“Of course there’s the fun stuff too,” she said.
Her daughter said the event was “awesome” before she ran off to go play.
The city of Watsonville participated in National Night Out with nearly two dozen block parties.
At Pajaro Loaves and Fishes, organizers served up tostadas and salsa, and added a focus on promoting healthy eating.
Adriana Sierra, a nutrition educator with the Second Harvest Food Bank, led a cooking demonstration in Spanish on how to make a healthy, vegetable-packed quinoa salad. Of course, for the kids, the best part may have been the samples.
The city of Santa Cruz participates in a similar event each October called Neighbors Night Out, sponsored by Santa Cruz Neighbors.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter @jmpasko96
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