After months of organizing and planning, the Vernon County Law, Fire and EMS associations are ready to welcome residents to the inaugural Vernon County National Night Out, Tuesday, Aug. 6, from 4-8 p.m. on the Vernon County Fairgrounds in Viroqua.
National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes strong police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live and work.
Sheriff John Spears said Sgt. Luke Sellers approached him with the idea of the county joining the National Night Out program.
Todd Simonson, Viroqua’s interim police chief, said he had been aware National Night Out, but thought the community was too small to hold the event. “I was surprised and humbled when the donations came rolling in so early on.”
Sellers said planning meetings for Vernon County National Night Out started around February. He said there were five people at the first meeting and the “organizers dove in head first.”
Spears said the public in this area is “overwhelmingly appreciative of law enforcement” and emergency services. “National Night Out will strengthen this. We are in the community – this (National Night Out) is community policing at its basic. We are providing some neat stuff; it will be a full four hours.”
Sellers said a lot of National Night Out events feature just one agency. Vernon County’s includes every agency in the county. He said organizers want the event to grow each year. “I think every year will get better.”
“This was the first year and with the first year there was unchartered territory – will we be able to afford it,” Deputy William Zirk said. He said donations of not only money, but also such things as food, have made the event possible. “This year everything was donated. We are extremely fortunate.”
Numerous demonstrations will take place during the event. There will be K9 demonstrations at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., an extrication demonstration at 5 p.m.; a combined tactical unit/K9 demonstration at 6 p.m., and a mock crash with Gundersen Air at 6:30 p.m.
There will also be free food prepared and served by Vernon County 4-H, free children’s games and a display of 35 to 40 emergency vehicles from each agency in the county.
People interested in serving as an EMT, first responder or firefighter in their community will be able to fill out a survey. Western Technical College will have a booth with information about the training programs they offer.
Zirk said there will be 36 health and wellness booths featuring such things as blood pressure checks, skin cancer screenings and tractor safety. People of all ages can pick up a participation card and have it punched at 10 of the booths, which qualifies them for a Challenge Coin. Sellers said the completed participation cards will go into a drawing for a weekend pass to Three Bears Lodge.
Zirk said Challenge Coins originally started with the military. For example, there would be a sergeant major coin for a sergeant major. “It was something each rank got as a sign of respect. In more recent years the military has given the Challenge Coins for a specific operation.”
Zirk said fire departments, EMS and police departments give Challenge Coins to someone who goes above and beyond in recognition of good deeds.
The Challenge Coin includes the year of National Night Out on the front and the Vernon County Fire, Law Enforcement and EMS association logos on the back.
Sellers said Vernon County National Night Out is a fitting event because of Spears’ motto, “Community First.”
Zirk said the event will have a relaxed atmosphere. “People see us on their worst day; they don’t ever see us at a good moment in their lives. To see us there, that we’re not there for bad reasons, we’re there to connect.”
Spears said EMS, fire departments and law and enforcement are reactionary. “This is a proactive event and that’s huge.”
Zirk said planning the event has strengthened the bonds with fire departments, EMS and law enforcement.
Parking will be in the south parking lot behind the dairy barns. Attendees are asked to use the entrance off Fairview Drive.
More information can be found on Facebook and Instagram Vernon Co National Night Out.
Anyone interested in volunteering may call Zirk at 608-343-0291 or Sellers at 608-638-5278.