On Saturday, the public got a chance to meet with firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency responders at the annual Heroes of Helena event at Albertsons on North Montana Avenue.
A number of agencies from around the Helena area took part in the celebration.
“It gets all the different departments together, and shows the community what kind of support there is out there,” said Jordan Alexander, chief of Baxendale Fire-Rescue.
They brought in their emergency vehicles, from fire engines and police cars to search and rescue boats and a rescue helicopter from Reach Air Medical Services.
“The kids enjoy coming and crawling through the trucks and checking them out,” Alexander said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Eric Dowell, who previously worked at Albertsons and is now an assistant store director at Safeway, started organizing the event three years ago. He said he saw tension between first responders and community members elsewhere in the country, and wanted to help people in Helena get to know their public servants.
“We tried to give a neutral environment for people to come shake the hands of our local heroes,” he said.
It was close to the anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks, so Dowell decided to hold the event on that date. This year, it was held on the preceding weekend, so more people would be able to attend.
The celebration is also a fundraiser. Proceeds from events like a barbecue and raffle will be split between the Veterans Coffee Drive program and the Lewis and Clark Rural Fire Council.
Last year, the Heroes of Helena event raised about $3,000. Through other events the organizers held in 2017, they raised a total of about $41,000 for the fire council.
Jerry Shepherd, chief of the West Valley Volunteer Fire Department, said he’s grateful for events like this.
“As volunteer firemen, it’s the appreciation of the community that’s your payment – knowing that you’re being appreciated for everything you’re doing,” he said.
“Anytime we can set something up like this to show our appreciation for everything that these folks do, that’s what we’re here for,” said Dowell.