NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> What do you get when you mix kids with big trucks, police cars, fire engines and garbage trucks? Plenty of excitement, smiling and lots of honking horns and sirens.
More than 300 youngsters, with their parents, siblings and caregivers in tow, spent a thrilling April afternoon climbing inside and on top of more than a dozen vehicles parked at the Newtown Township Municipal Complex.
The hugely popular “Touch a Truck” program, presented by the Newtown Township Parks and Recreation Department, gave youngsters between the ages of 3 and 12 an opportunity to get up close and personal with the big, hardworking trucks and emergency response vehicles that the township’s Public Works and emergency crews use to build and maintain the township’s parks and roadways and keep everyone safe.
“I’m thrilled with the turnout,” said program coordinator Matt Zipin. “The kids are having a great time. We’ve added a race car this year, a SEPTA bus and a large armored SWAT truck. Now that’s not something you get to see every day.”
Gazing around at all the excitement, Zipin smiled. “It’s great to see the community come together. The kids are having a ball. People are enjoying free Rita’s water ice. It’s just a fantastic event,” he said.
Youngsters spent a fun two hours checking out the view from the seat of several Newtown Township Police Department vehicles and from a loftier position inside the cab of a Newtown Emergency Services fire truck as their parents captured the moments with their smart phones.
The kids - and their parents - also got a rare peek inside an imposing SERT (Southeastern Bucks Response Team) armored vehicle, by far the most popular addition to this year’s event.
The diesel-powered vehicle, whose top speed is listed at 69 mph on its spec list, can carry up to eight, including six in back and two in front. Its doors easily weigh 700 pounds each and are operated by a hydraulics system.
The vehicle is used by police to respond to any type of hostage or barricade situation.
Standing nearby was Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn who was attending his first Touch A Truck event since being appointed chief of police. He was busy deputizing new recruits with police badge stickers.
“This is outstanding,” said the Chief. “It gives us the opportunity to interact with the kids - one-on-one - and introduce them to the police department, the fire department and the emergency medical services. It’s a wonderful event.”
From the looks of things, the Chief had plenty of new recruits lined up. He’ll just have to wait a few years until they’re old enough to drive.
“They’ll need to put on some more weight and grow a little taller to reach the pedals, but they look like they’re ready to roll,” he said with a smile.
The kids also got a look inside two Advance Life Support ambulance units from the Newtown Ambulance Squad where they inspected all the different life-saving gadgets – everything from heart monitors and defibrillators to Band-Aids, stretchers and oxygen supply units.
In addition, the kids had a chance to inspect and try out at least a dozen pieces of public works equipment, including a 10-ton dump truck; several zero turn mowers used to maintain the township’s ball fields; and two John Deere tractors used for mowing open space and township fields.
Stationed nearby, Malieke Williams Jr. from the Newtown Post Office was giving kids - and some adults, too - the chance to sit behind the wheel of a postal delivery truck.
“This is mind-blowing - literally,” he said of the event, which sounded more like center city with all the honking going on. “It’s great. The kids are getting to be a mailman for the day, sit in the truck and blow the horn. They’re asking a lot of questions, but mostly they just want to blow the horn. The radio doesn’t work and they can’t turn on the engine. So the only thing left is the horn.”
New to this year’s event and drawing a lot of attention from the kids and their parents was a SEPTA bus. Children and parents lined up for a chance to climb aboard and sit in the driver’s seat.
Inside the bus, kids watched informational videos about riding the bus and collected bracelets and coloring books stressing bus safety, while outside parents were covering their ears from all the honking.
“We use this bus basically as an educational opportunity to teach people how to use and ride our system,” said David Hunter, the Director of SEPTA’s accident investigation and prevention team and bus operator. “You can see today that technology has their attention. And they love to blow the horn. Anything that has a lot of bells and whistles they definitely make a bee-line to. They love sitting in the bus. They love steering the wheel. It’s just a good time.”
Also drawing plenty of wide-eyed attention from the kids was a Leck Waste Services truck. Tina Leck was on hand to answer questions and to lend a helping hand as kids climbed up into the driver’s seat of the massive garbage truck.
“We’re out here having a great time today talking trash,” said Leck. “We’ve had a long line all day. The kids are happy. The parents are happy. And it’s great to see so many excited about a garbage truck. The kids just love them so much. They’re getting to sit in the driver’s seat and honk the horn. There are also a few buttons they can press.”
Among those waiting for a chance to sit behind the steering wheel was Michelle Deis from Falls Township, and her two grandchildren, RJ and Louie Deis.
She learned about the event from her sister, Linda Deis, a retired Council Rock teacher from Newtown, who joined them for the afternoon outing.
“This is just so much fun and having my great nephews here to see all the trucks is just tremendous,” said Linda. “It’s also a great opportunity to thank the Newtown Township Police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel and all the different people who are serving the community. That’s the best part.”
The highlight for the kids, said Linda, was sitting on a Newtown Township Police Department motorcycle and seeing the giant armored SWAT team vehicle used by the Southeast Bucks Response Team.
Not far from the garbage truck, another line of parents and children snaked its way across the grass to Temple Health’s MedFlight Helicopter, which landed at the township complex earlier in the day. Throughout the event, MedFlight personnel shared interesting facts about the helicopter, giving youngsters a chance to see inside and to sit behind the controls.
Established in 2006 to expand Temple Health’s critical care transport capabilities, Temple MedFlight operates from its base at Doylestown Hospital and also provides emergency/911 response to Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties.
The aircraft is outfitted with the latest technologies in safety, including weather radar, night vision goggles, a terrain awareness warning system, satellite phone/tracking services and a progressive cockpit resource management program.
The free Touch A Truck event is held every spring, offering an opportunity for the community to explore a variety of trucks and vehicles seen operating around town.
For information about other parks and recreation activities, visit www.newtownfun.com.