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Riverdale police, fire, to combine education efforts

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Riverdale's police and fire departments are looking at combining citizens programs into a single "Public Safety Citizens Academy."

Fire Chief Billy Hayes said the move comes as both departments are revitalizing their programs and continuing to build solid relationships with the community.

"We thought it might be a better idea if we could combine the two," Hayes said. "It'd be a longer program, and they would get the full, public safety experience."

Hayes said the fire department's citizens academy started in 2001, after he was appointed chief, and has generally served the same people who attend the police departments citizens academy. Both programs, he said, appeal to the same audience. Participation level has dropped off, recently, and the fire department has been "struggling to get people to apply for the program," Hayes said. The combination class seemed like a good answer, he said.

The chief and the police chief, Samuel Patterson, along with the two department's directors of community affairs, began discussing the combination as a way to revitalize the programs, but also as a way to promote a community network, according to Hayes.

"When you have an emergency event, here in the city and a lot of other places too, you're going to have the city fire department and the city police department arrive. We work together. I feel like we have a great police department and I'm sure Chief Patterson supports us in the fire department, so this [combined academy] is a springboard for us to demonstrate the unified government we have and the cooperation we have," the fire chief said.

The two departments are currently in the process of working out what the combined academy class would look like. Hayes said the scope of the class might have to be narrowed a little bit.

Both the police department and the fire department use the classes to form partnerships with particular citizens, and strengthen the public safety agency's connection with the community. The education programs are often related to Neighborhood Watch Associations or Neighborhood Fire Marshall organizations.

Hayes said the city's public safety agencies have done a good job of engaging the community and the combined academy could continue that practice.

"If we can educate the public, then we save lives," he said. "We don't just send them through the class, tell them what we do and who we are and then, 'Have a nice life.' We keep them engaged."