The police and fire departments are always the first to respond to any crisis and emergency with unwavering strength and conviction to help their community, however the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic have been a different kind of challenge, that they had not previously experienced.
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“It’s totally different, we are going out to do normal police work but we are also doing a lot of education about Governor Gina Raimondo’s orders,” said Westerly Community Officer Howard (Howie) Mills. “When COVID-19 started we were going out with the National Guard, door to door to tell people about the 14-day quarantine for their safety and the community’s safety.”
As the last few months have evolved into a very fluid time with new guidelines and social distance safety precautions the local police and fire Departments have risen to the challenge and found creative ways to engage and educate the community. Once a week Officer Mills travels around the community with an advocate to help address domestic violence and mental health issues, which during this time, unfortunately, have risen due to the pandemic.
“Everyone’s life got turned upside down,” said Officer Mills. “What were and are outlets to destress are closed off, so we have seen an uptick in mental health issues.”
And instead of the usual Coffee with a Cop, a group that had met monthly before COVID-19, Westerly Police perked it up with Coffee Brought by a Cop. Officer Mills got the idea for this type of community engagement during COVID-19 when he received a phone call from the daughter of an elderly WWII veteran who was social distancing and quite isolated from people.
“Her dad was lonely and he asked about us out of concern for the officers,” said Officer Mills. “I also missed seeing the usual Coffee with a Cop crew at McDonald’s having coffee.”
After the phone call, Mills was motivated to engage with the senior population in a safe way and discussed his idea with Chief Shawn Lacey, who gave him the green light to put the concept of Coffee Brought by a Cop into motion. The Westerly McDonalds on Granite Street provided free coffee and Officer Mills and Officer Anthony Alicchio delivered the cup of Joe to WWII Army veteran John Shorty Terranova and some of the other seniors who had been regular visitors as part of the Coffee with Cops group.
Even though the Pawcatuck and Westerly Fire Department stations have been closed except for fire calls, the firefighters in the last few months have found a way to innovate and engage with the community.
“The Westerly Fire Department had to modify our activities such as canceling meetings and trainings,” said Chief MacKay. “We made sure all vehicles had hand cleaner and masks and were decontaminated after calls. We continued to do residential and commercial inspections in an effort to keep business moving as much as possible.”
And during the Easter holiday, Pawcatuck neighborhoods were treated to a visit from the Easter bunny on Saturday, April 11 when firefighter Dan Kelley from the Pawcatuck Fire Department donned the bunny costume and from on top of the fire engine waved to residents as they went all around the Pawcatuck fire district. The Westerly Fire Department also participated in as many birthday parties and celebrations as possible, driving by residents’ houses with their fire trucks in party mode for both the young and senior people.
“We tried to give the community some hope for the future and allow the children to have something special for their birthday,” said Chief Mackay.
“Westerly citizens have been amazing doing the right thing and taking care of others,” said Officer Mills. “Just keep doing what you’re doing and we will move forward.”