BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Junior Police Academy, sponsored by the Bloomfield Police Department, is currently under way. This is a two-week camp where 72 boys and girls, all sixth- to eighth-graders, are given the opportunity to learn about police work and mutual-aid practices from Bloomfield, Essex County and State Police personnel.
The camp, an activity of the Community Policing Unit, which is part of the Special Operations Division, is in its fourth year and free. The division commander is Lt. Naomi Zepeda.
The camp gives the young “recruits” plenty to experience in a relatively short time, from 9 to 2, Monday to Friday, commencing at Bloomfield High School.
According to Zepeda, the students learn many things about police work. This includes a presentation on motor-vehicle stops with an obstacle course for a lesson in distracted driving; watching a State Police helicopter land and take off; traveling to the State Police Marine Unit in Jersey City; and visiting the Morris County Juvenile Facility to learn about daily living procedures. While at this facility, Zepeda added, the children would have no contact with the residents.
A self-defense and boxing exhibition was scheduled with the children trying on a pair of gloves. A lesson on cyberbullying was on the agenda as was a demonstration by the Essex County Canine and Bomb Squad. The Bloomfield SWAT team was to provide an active-shooter drill while a drug-and-gang awareness lesson was to be given by a Bloomfield detective on loan to the Bureau of Narcotics of Essex County. And if that isn’t enough, the kids get to exercise, too.
Self-discipline and staying focused is an important part of the camp regime with BPD officers barking orders and recruits responding in unison with a loud, “yes, sir.”
Last week, on Friday, July 27, the Bloomfield Fire Department made a presentation on mutual aid assistance. It was after lunch in the high school cafeteria and took place right outside, behind the high school where State Street was closed off for the block. Lunch came courtesy of Brookdale ShopRite.
The instructors for the presentation were firefighters Daren McCoy, Oscar Morales and Capt. Frank Durantino. The recruits sat on the sidewalk and heard about the various types of hazardous situations that firefighters confront and the tools they use to bring a dangerous situation under control. The presentation was interactive with both BFD personnel and the children asking and answering questions.
The weather was a great benefit for a firefighting lesson. The temperature had to be close to 90 with real Jersey humidity. So when Morales put on the layers of clothing he would wear when fighting a fire, one could almost groan when imagining the heat just from the clothes alone.
“On a day like today,” Durantino told the children, “if we had to work a fire, it wouldn’t take long to become dehydrated.”
He said a firefighter had to protect their eyes, face and breathing.
“One breath of smoke can kill you,” he said.
An air tank was displayed. It was explained that it held air, not oxygen, compressed to 5,500 pounds. Durantino said relaxing by a pool, a firefighter could breathe from the tank for 30 minutes. But in a fire, where a firefighter is running, sweating and under stress, that air is used up a lot quicker.
With Morales suited up, Durantino pointed out a valuable lesson that would not ordinarily cross anyone’s mind.
“Little kids are afraid of us because of what we look like when we’re dressed for a fire,” he said. “Tell your little brothers and sisters not to be afraid. Don’t run away from us, run to us and we’ll get you back safely to your mother and father.”
He picked up the “irons” used by firefighters: an ax and a halligan bar, which is a monstrous, claw can opener. He said with those two tools, a firefighter could get into mostly everything, but there is variety of tools in the fire truck. McCoy displayed a fire extinguisher that employed water. He said it would be of no use for an electrical fire. Then he shot a stream of water straight up. When it showered down on the children, they reacted with noisy glee. A police instructor ordered them to quiet down and they did. A few minutes later, McCoy shot another stream of water into the air. This time when it showered the children, they pretty much contained themselves.
The BFD also gave a demonstration on freeing someone trapped in a car that is damaged from an accident. The children moved about 30 feet closer to Belleville Avenue where a demonstration car was parked. Its tires had been flattened.
“We have to make the car more accessible so EMS can get to the person,” Durantino said. “The first thing we do is isolate the battery.”
He cut the cables to the battery. The three men, using mostly power tools, pried opened the doors on both sides to give all the children a good view. The roof was cut at the windshield and lifted back. When the lesson was over, they were given a round of applause by the children who were then ordered back into the school for dismissal.
Zepeda said this year the BPD had asked a number of former junior recruits who were now high schoolers to return and be assistant instructors. These assistant instructors are Julia Ruiz, Alexander Camacho, Nicholas Vieceli, Christopher Kelly and Charles Tynan.
The BPD also offers a two-week police academy for students enrolled in BHS. This camp is in its third year and begins Monday, Aug. 6.
Public Safety Director Sam DiMaio, who initiated the academies, said in an email that they are an excellent way for the BPD to connect with Bloomfield youth and build relationships with them that will last into their adulthood.
“Developing a mutual trust between the community and police trust depends on our being transparent and showing how we do business each and every day,” he said. “These children are the future of Bloomfield and we want them to clearly know that we are here to support them fully.”
A graduation ceremony for the junior recruits is scheduled for noon tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 3, in the high school auditorium.