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Aug. 4 was an opportunity to say "thank you" at Sykesville's National Night Out where police officers, firefighters and the community all joined together. Throughout Carroll County and all over the country, people got together for National Night Out as way for the community to thank first responders for their services and for first responders to thank the community for their support.

Sykesville's event was held at the Sykesville-Freedom District fire company fair grounds and was free to the community. Businesses, services and nonprofits based in and outside of Carroll County set up booths at the event to inform the public about what they have to offer as well as provide giveaways. Each company was also asked to donate an item — usually a gift card or product — to the raffle drawings that were pulled throughout the evening.

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The event also featured free food — hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries and Italian ice — and free activities like a moon bounce and face painting.

Ellen Dix, chairwoman for National Night Out, started Sykesville's National Night Out seven years ago. The first year there were about 230 people who attended and last year there were about 1,000 people, Dix said.

Although Dix did not have an estimate for this year, she said that all of the hot dogs and hamburgers were gone by the end of the night.

"The community's been very good in supporting us each year," Dix said.

However, Larry Suther, chief deputy colonel for the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, said he was not surprised by the community's turnout.

"It's very important to [the public] to keep the community safe and support their law enforcement in that endeavor," Suther said.

National Night Out is a way to say thank you to the community, said chief of the Sykesville-Freedom District fire company, Eddie Ruch, because without the community, the fire department could not do its job.

The community is very helpful by donating money to the fire department, Ruch said.

"The donations go a long way … [they] effectively allow us to protect the community and serve them every day," Ruch said.

The fire department and community are linked because they need each other to function, Dix said.

"We couldn't do it without the community's help. [The community and the fire department] kind of work hand in hand," Dix said.

Michael Spaulding, chief of police for Sykesville, said that National Night Out is meant to celebrate law enforcement's success and to show that the police work with the public to keep the community united and safe.

The police department's success in Sykesville, Spaulding said, is evident by the fact that people can walk outside — day or night — and not be fearful because they know there will be a swift response and full effort to bring crime to justice.

Just having the police department's presence in the community helps Glenn Booth, of Eldersburg, ease his fear of crime, he said.

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Booth said he feels safer by having law enforcement in the community.

Farica Dushkin, of Sykesville, said she teaches her 6-year-old son Braeden to say "thank you" whenever they see a police officer or firefighter because these first responders have jobs in which they risk their lives.

Dushkin's husband is a firefighter, so she and her son both know the sacrifices that one must make in such a dangerous line of work.

Braeden and several other children were fascinated by the biggest attraction at National Night Out: a Maryland State Police helicopter that circled the fairgrounds a couple of times before landing off to the side of the tents and booths. The helicopter drew a crowd of squealing children clutching balloons and their parents trailing just behind them.

Children and adults formed two lines along either side of the helicopter so that they could look inside and ask the pilots questions.

Braeden could not seem to ask the helicopter pilot enough questions.

Dushkin said that her son loves to know how things work. However, Braeden was learning about something more than helicopters at National Night Out.

Braeden got to know the firefighters, police officers, what they do and what their equipment looks like at National Night Out, and now he knows that those people are there to help him, Dushkin said.

"I think having all of this makes [children] less fearful … and it sparks their interest," Dushkin said.

National Night Out is a time for people to learn about all of the different kinds of first aid responders, said Demonte Harvey, master deputy with the Westminster Police Department who attended Sykesville's event.

The event also gives people a chance to see police officers as more than the people who pull them over for running a red light, Spaulding said.

"It's another facet of law enforcement that people don't think about," Spaulding said of the helicopter, which takes people in critical medical conditions to the hospital.

Just by talking with people lined up to see the helicopter, Spaulding said that he met two people who had past experiences being transferred via helicopter because of medical emergencies.

The fire fighters at National Night Out also had something to teach the public — the importance of smoke alarms.

With a $1,000 grant from BGE, the Sykesville fire company was able to give people smoke alarms to install in their homes.

"If we can keep one family safe by giving away smoke alarms, that's what we want to do," said Christine Flanagan, a lieutenant for Sykesville's fire company.

A lot of work went into putting together National Night Out, but it was worth it, Spaulding said.

"It was just a huge turnout. In my mind it really speaks volumes for how close knit we are as a community and how we work together," Spaulding said.

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