PERRYVILLE — Hamburgers on the grill, music pumping from speakers and lots of laughter made for a fun evening at the Community Fire Company of Perryville where the town came together to celebrate National Night Out.
Representing the fire company at a table laden with freebies, Chelsea McKinney, a firefighter and EMT, had one simple mission.
"We're here to show the kids about fire safety and to come out and support the community," McKinney said.
National Night Out began in 1984 and has slowly evolved into a movement in which each community makes the event its own. The idea is that by being outside and meeting neighbors and community leaders connections are made and communities are safer.
Cecil County had four different National Night Out events on Tuesday, one each in Elkton, North East, Charlestown and Perryville.
In the county seat, the Elkton Police Department hosted its annual National Night Out celebration along with the Singerly Fire Company and a multitude of community partners. Hundreds enjoyed a large moon bounce, K-9 demonstration, karate performance and lots of show and tell with police and fire equipment.
"It's always a good night to bring the community out and show them that we're people too," said Elkton Police Chief Matt Donnelly, who helped man the hotdog stand as he does most years. "We're really encouraged by the large crowd that came out to see us tonight."
Danielle Hemling, director of the Perryville Outreach Program, was at the grill in her town, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and handing them off to OP members to place in rolls and wrap in foil sheets for free distribution.
Nearby Nancy Murphy happily painted an ice cream cone on Ella Fleming's arm.
"We moved here not too long ago," Murphy explained as she dabbed paint. "I saw this event and volunteered. It made me happy."
Sgt. Bob Nitz with the Perryville Police Department said NNO is the perfect way for law enforcement to interact with young people and become friends.
"I've been doing this for nine years and it's great to have these attractions, things for kids to do," he said.
Nicholas Dudlek, with the Eastern Shore Crisis Response Services, was on hand to explain how he also works with police by intervening with a person at risk before that behavior becomes a public or personal safety risk.
"We want to decriminalize mental health," Dudlek said. "We want to be preventative, not reactive."
Sitting with her parents on a picnic table, Aubrey Witt, 2, could not be still.
"She loves music," Ashley said of her youngest. "Anything with music, she's into it."
Aubrey watched as The Cha-Cha Slide flowed from the speakers and the dance floor in the pavilion filled with every age who followed the popular party dance moves.
"This event has grown by leaps and bounds," said Perryville Mayor Bob Ashby as he watched the dancers. "I was here three years ago and in a pouring rain we still had 30 people."
Senior Officer Brian Jordan with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police was eager to meet with the kids after giving a demonstration with his K-9 partner Malik. As he handed out trading cards bearing a photo of his partner, Jordan answered questions including one posed by Alex Donohue, 7, from Elkton.
"How long does it take to train?" Donohue asked.
"It's a lot of work but it depends on the type of training," Jordan replied, adding that the training depends on whether the dog is used for catching fleeing suspects, detecting drugs or bombs or finding people.