WALLINGFORD — The police and fire departments will host a forum with the leaders of religious institutions in the community to discuss public safety concerns and fire prevention.
Leaders within the religious community will attend a forum at First Congregational Church, 23 South Main St., next month to discuss a variety of topics.
Police Chief William Wright said the department held a similar meeting three years ago to introduce members of the department to the religious community.
“Based on recent events nationwide as it relates to places of worship, we thought it was important once again to invite the clergy,” Wright said.
Those events include a fire at a mosque in New Haven, which was ruled arson, shootings at Christian churches, anti-Semitic attacks nationwide and the subsequent decision by a local synagogue to hire an armed security guard.
Fire Chief Richard Heidgerd said the meeting will be an opportunity for each department to speak with religious leaders about a variety of public safety concerns.
He said when it comes to the fire department, it will be the first form of interaction with the religious community and an important time to introduce fire prevention standards.
“There’s a lot of angst, if you will, in the community with events that happened in New Haven,” Heidgerd said.
Heidgerd said both the police and fire previously worked independently to reach out to the community and decided to “join forces” for the meeting to address multiple concerns. He said if there are more questions or concerns following the meeting, the department will consider providing another forum for congregation members or the general public.
“If we can get to the people in charge, they can disseminate that information in the congregation,” Heidgerd said.
‘We are here for them’
Wright said the upcoming meeting will be open to clergy and leaders within religious institutions such as church board members. The purpose of the meeting is to inform the groups, hear their concerns and answer questions. Regardless of faith, Wright believes everyone has the same concern and wants to assure that departments are a resource that is available to all.
“We’re here and we have a lot to offer,” Wright said. “We want them to know we’re immediately aware of the events occurring locally and regionally and that we are here for them.”
The Rev. Kathy Cunliffe, senior minister at First Congregational Church, said she has attended training for responding to active shooter scenarios through church organizations. Cunliffe said it would be beneficial to the congregation to be trained further on safety plans within the church.
”It’s unfortunate,” Cunliffe said. “That we have to respond to the reality of what’s happening.”
Depending on the type of religious institution and the traditions, Cunliffe said the training can require a more intense level of commitment. She said training goes beyond what a person can figure out on their own. Cunliffe noted that for the places of worship that have people at the doors who greet visitors, it is difficult to ensure safety.
”It’s a difficult balance of being open and welcoming and being in lockdown because you’re afraid of someone (harmful) coming,” Cunliffe said.
Heidgerd wants to introduce basic concepts that will help reduce the risk of fires to protect places of worship such as maintenance of candles, mechanical systems and equipment. He pointed to the Notre Dame cathedral as an example and concern. Heidgerd said there will also be representation from Emergency Management and the Health Department to address issues related to those departments.
“We’ll have certain topics that we’ll want to discuss … a small presentation on what we do, who we are, and Q and A,” Heidgerd said. “It’s just to have a good conversation.”
Wright said departments want to assure residents and leaders in the religious community that they are available to them and that they care about their safety.
”We recognized that places of worship speak to large masses of people weekly,” Wright said. “They’re able to reach out and touch more people weekly than we ever could.”
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