ZEBULON — It was clear that Zebulon fire Chief Chris Perry and police Chief Tim Hayworth were having a good time Tuesday night.
They weren’t answering a call. There was no one to arrest and no fires to put out.
Instead the two men were watching over a hive of activity at the Zebulon Community Center during the annual Zebulon Night Out celebration.
Moved indoors again this year because of poor weather, the new location didn’t stop people from finding their way inside, where Hayworth and Perry were greeting visitors and their staffs were busy talking about all manner of things, from fire safety to how police investigate crimes.
Cars lined Arendell Avenue in front of the Community Center and the front parking lot was filled with a smoke house used to train students on proper fire safety techniques, police cars open for inspection and other games and attractions.
Aniyah Sills, 7, of Zebulon, laughed at the sight of McGruff the Crime Dog doing the Wobble with a large group of people.
“That dog was dancing,” Sills said.
Her friend, Jakiayaha Horne, 8, said the event was a good opportunity to learn that police and firefighters are her friends, not her enemies.
“They help you when your house is on fire and the policemen help keep the bad people away,” Horne said.
Those are exactly the kinds of messages Hayworth and Perry want people to take away from events like Zebulon Night Out.
“It’s always good for us when we can meet people when there’s not an emergency going on,” Perry said. “We can also use this as an educational time, too. We want people to know what kinds of things they can do to help prevent fires, and we want them to know about the services we provide.”
Hayworth says the event has changed over the years, starting off as part of a larger National Night Out event organized by police departments all over the country.
“But that was held each year in August and it’s so darn hot that time of the year, people just weren’t coming out. We’ll have over a thousand people come through here tonight. They’ll stay about 30 or 45 minutes. In an hour, you’ll be able to look around here and see an entirely different group of people,” Hayworth said.
A couple of years ago, the Zebulon police department expanded the progam and brought the fire department on as partner.
Perry said the timing of this year’s event was perfect because this is also Fire Prevention Week.
“We’ve had events in the past, but this allows us to reach a lot more people,” Perry said.
If the crowd that filled the community center and spilled out into the parking lot is any indication, Perry and Hayworth got what they wanted.