More than a hundred people filled the grass and parking lot next to the Hampstead Volunteer Fire Company on Tuesday, standing at attention for the national anthem. After the applause for the stars and stripes, they mingled among booths, filling plates with food from local businesses and keeping up with children that ran to check out the eclectic mix of public safety vehicles, from bulldozers to Maryland State Police motorcycles to National Guard transports and local fire trucks.
This was the annual National Night Out event, which although it has its origins in communities taking a stand against violent crime in the 1980s, has evolved into a more festival atmosphere in Hampstead.
“It’s a great opportunity for a good old-fashioned neighborhood event,” said Hampstead Chief of Police David Snyder. “I think that what we’re missing today is just the opportunity to chit-chat with people over whatever. Too much of the world is done digitally, in a world of social media. Today I like the opportunity just to walk around and talk to people about whatever.”
People like Ryan Sigmund, of Hampstead, who said he brought his family to try some new food and meet friends and have a “nice night in the community.”
“It was a lot smaller a couple of years ago and it’s really grown,” he said. “Previously it was just like the fire department police department and like a few of the hot dogs and drinks. Now It’s like all these restaurants and business. It’s awesome.”
Amber and Dave Horowitz, of Hampstead, brought their children — 7-year-old Kiersten and 3-year-old Asher — out for their third Hampstead National Night Out for much the same reason. Asher was taking the opportunity to fully explore a Hampstead fire company engine.
“Just basically for free activities for the kids,” she said. "They definitely look forward to it."
Fire Company Chief Nick Thompson was all about it.
“This is just the perfect opportunity to engage your community,” he said. “It’s good for networking with the community, for people getting to know you. They get to ask questions they might not otherwise when we’re visiting them at an unfortunate time.”
They might also discover an interest in volunteering themselves.
“We have our tables set up behind our equipment where we have information and applications if anyone wants to take one and fill it out,” Thompson said.
A National Night Out event provides police and other first responders a chance to experience what Snyder, who came from a larger police organization, calls small town magic.
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“I love the ability that I walk through the area and I see people that I’ve met. If I don’t know their name I know their faces. When we go to whatever the police problem is, it’s a totally different context when I know that person,” he said. “I guess it’s going to sound a little corny, but in the world of public safety and public service, you know, we’re simply trying to help people deal with the whole human experience.”