What’s more exciting than watching a firefighter demonstrate their gear? Getting to try it out yourself.

That’s just what the fifth-graders, and a few teachers, from Anderson’s elementary schools had the chance to do.

They also got to try on Kevlar bullet-resistant vests used by the SWAT team, learn about the Anderson Police Department K-9 unit and see an up-close demonstration on how a real crime lab conducts an investigation. All this went on during a field day held Thursday at the Wigwam as a celebration for the fifth-graders put on by the Student Resource Officers (SRO) and the Center for Character Development.

Working in stations, Anderson Police officers, firefighters, members of the SWAT team, crime lab and K-9 unit set up stations in the parking lot of the Wigwam to allow the children an inside look into their responsibilities.

Pulling a teacher out of the crowd, Capt. Eric Hutchison, from the Anderson Fire Department, explained how special gear protects firefighters while putting out a fire.

“We’re going to make him an honorary fireman today,” he told the kids, loading the teacher down with an oxygen tank. “We don’t want to breathe smoke so we take our own air with us. We also have thermo-imaging cameras that can see through the smoke.”

After explaining the protective clothing, several firefighters began a demonstration on how the Jaws of Life is used in an accident. The students cheered as the firefighters ripped apart the frame of a car.

“This event allows (the students) the opportunity to see police officers from a positive perspective,” said Sgt. Paul Boulware of the Anderson Police Department, adding the students also just deserve a fun day.

Willie Ray, SRO officer at South Side and East Side Middle Schools, said he hopes the event helps the children to recognize police officers and firefighters as mentors.

By the end of the day, the officers accomplished just that.

“I used to think (officers) were very mean and took people away for no good reason,” said Ashley Benefiel, 11. “I learned they are trying to protect us.”

Although Benefiel said she learned valuable lessons about the different departments, she admitted the most interesting part of the day was learning about Rex and Armand, the two police dogs from the K-9 unit.

With everything from watching officers repel from the top of an extended fire truck ladder to being able to hold a battering ram, the officers easily held the students’ attention.

“The students don’t get an opportunity to see this type of thing every day,” said Jan Koeniger, principal at Valley Grove who helped organize the day. “It shows them how hard the officers work to protect the community.”

This was the second year for the event and Anderson Police Chief Frank Burrows said he hopes for it to continue for many more years. “We’re trying to show them why they’re learning math and spelling and teaching them why education is so important. The SROs have an important responsibility, not just to teach the students it’s important to attend school, but the parents as well.”

According to Koeniger, the SRO program, where APD officers act as liaisons between the schools and police department as well as help in areas such as truancy, abuse and neglect, replaced the D.A.R.E. program, which was an anti-drug campaign.

“The student resource officers are the greatest program we’ve had in our schools,” said Jan Koeniger. “All the guys have done an amazing job talking with the students. It’s helps build a partnership with the kids.”

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