Fun first, safety too at 'Kops N Kids Camp' in Otis

OTIS — If you saw blue lights swirling and heard fire truck horns honking in erratic patterns near Otis Town Hall Monday morning, rest easy. There's no cause for alarm. They're just the sights and sounds that are part of the annual Kops N Kids Camp.

Each spring, members of local law enforcement, fire, rescue and ambulance squads come together to put on an April vacation week camp for area 5- to 12-year-olds. Campers who have grown out of the program can still stay a part of it by submitting an application to lead organizer, Otis Police Chief Roberta Sarnacki.

"Some kids come to see their friends, but I also think it makes them trust people who are firefighters, police and EMTs, who can sometimes seem scary when they're in uniform or in an emergency," said Hannah Heath, 15, a former camper, and now junior counselor, from Becket and Lee.

This year's participating agencies come from Otis, Becket and Tolland, with five police officers serving as camp counselors.

On Monday morning, around 11:30, Otis Fire Department and Rescue Squad members Keith O'Neil, Blaze Tavernia, Max Koivisto, and Bryan Arnold visited with a town fire truck and ambulance, and Sarnacki also opened up her police SUV. Neither rain nor sleet could curb the children's enthusiasm from hopping into the vehicles to have a look and give the sirens and PA systems a go.

Asked to name her favorite safety vehicle, 9-year-old Julia Poudrier of Becket couldn't settle. "I like the ambulance and its equipment because it helps you and other people when you're sick or in trouble, but police can help keep you safe," she said.

She and her lunch table peers were also fans of the skills that several area police and their K-9 Unit partners demonstrated for them at camp on Sunday, from how they sniff out various things, from a missing person to narcotics, to how they can take down a threatening suspect.

But Kops N Kids Camp isn't all about law and order.

On Monday afternoon, they also began a "Kindness Rock" painting project. There are gym games and ice cream, friendship and field trips too. On Tuesday, the group is scheduled to head to Connecticut for Pirate Days in Mystic Seaport and ride the Bushnell Park Carousel in Hartford.

"It's a very family-friendly atmosphere here," said junior counselor and former camper Cassidy Dunn, 14, of West Springfield. "I think [the experience] also helps some kids get an idea of what they want to be when they grow up."

For 6-year-old Jack Smith, his sight's already been set. He showed up to camp on Monday in full kid-sized police uniform, complete with badges, handcuffs, detective's notebook, and neon yellow safety rain jacket.

Asked why he aspires to be a police officer, he smiled and, referring to the cruisers he's seen said, "I like the lights."


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