Kathy Antoniotti

CUYAHOGA FALLS: The First Responders Appreciation Day seemed to bring out the kid in everyone who strolled along Falls River Square Sunday on a picture-perfect fall afternoon.

The event gave children and the adults who brought them the opportunity to explore the vehicles that transport the men and women who are first to respond to the scene of an emergency.

They could have their own personal photo identification cards made and watch demonstrations that showed civilians how emergency workers do their jobs.

A big green truck with a turret on top caught the attention of Trevor Zigler, 5, of Cuyahoga Falls and his grandfather, Paul Young. Joseph Gaffney, assistant commander of the Summit County S.W.A.T. team, explained to the youngster the team uses the Bearcat, an acronym for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, in terms a child could understand.

“You know when you call the police or fire guys? Well, when they need help, they call us,” Gaffney, a sergeant on the Springfield Police Department, said as the boy climbed inside the vehicle with his grandpa for a closer look.

Several groups banded together to organize the new event that had a twofold purpose, said Angie Joeris-Drexler, who was given credit for originating the idea.

“We know how to respond in a fire, but how do we respond to other emergencies?” she asked.

Drexler said she felt sorry for mothers who had to send their children to school after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year.

“I thought about how a poor mother had to sit there and think about sending her children to school after there were three bomb threats last semester at the high school,” said Drexler.

She approached Mayor Don Robart in June with the idea of educating the public and celebrating safety forces at the same event — and First Responders Appreciation Day was born.

Soon, Summa Health System stepped up to sponsor the program along with the city and help from safety forces, said Cuyahoga Falls Police Lt. Perry Tabak, who estimated more than 800 people attended.

“I think it’s a success already and it’s still early,” he said.

Tabac said he expected the city will want to continue to hold the event annually.

But it was definitely the children who seemed to enjoy the day most of all while collecting free whistles, hats, badges, cookies, popcorn and flying discs.

They spoke with P.C., a pint-size, interactive patrol car that answered their questions, played with animals brought by Paws and Prayers animal rescue and explored the fire department’s Fire Safety House.

Jordynn Rafferty, 8, scaled a rock-climbing wall and rappelled back down much like the firefighters did a short time later when they enacted a rescue off the side of a building.

“It gets harder as you go up,” explained Jordynn, a gymnast who is the daughter of Ashlee and Robert Rafferty of Cuyahoga Falls.

Her 19-month-old brother, Robbie Rafferty, was more interested in the police K-9 units his mother said as she herded him away from the riverfront wall he was determined to climb.

“It’s just a fun-day Sunday,” Ashlee Rafferty said with a smile.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.