The excitement could not be contained at the First Responder Appreciation and Demonstration day hosted on the property of the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC).
“I’m going to see the police doggies,” said four-year-old Jackson Lenos, an aspiring firefighter who was in attendance with family.
Created in 2016 through the McMillan Family Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the Indiana District 1 Firefighter Training Council, MAAC was developed to serve all public safety professionals in developing training opportunities for firefighters, police officers, and EMS. Set on over 5 acres, MAAC provides a variety of training for first responders at no cost to them or their agencies.
With first responder training often being one of the last items on a budget, MAAC was started as a simple vision for Chief Stewart McMillan.
“I had no concept that it would grow this big, this fast. When you have good people, good things happen, and we have great people,” said Chief McMillan.
The inspiration behind the center was his father, the late Chief Clyde “Mac” McMillan. Chief McMillan still gets tears in his eyes when he thinks of his father who passed away September 11, 1982. Sadly, the date would bring additional tragedy for Chief McMillan when he lost comrades on September 11, 2001. He personally knew five firemen that died in the towers.
“One of the Chiefs of the New York fire department, Peter Jance, I had just had dinner with the week before,” said Chief McMillan.
He had a purpose in mind for the first responder appreciation event.
“The public needs to understand the heart that beats inside these people. They show up to help people they don’t even know and risk their life for them,” said Chief McMillan.
“I tell cadets this is the ultimate team sport. We have plays, we have equipment, we have special teams, we have everything that sports have, except we don’t get trophies; we save someone’s life. There are days I have made a rescue out of a car and we all go back and high five each other. You are so proud of what a team you are. And then you go back after losing a two-year-old and you stand around the station and cry,” said Chief McMillan reflecting.
Shortly after the appreciation event began, The Lima Lima flight team kicked off the festivities by performing aerobatic feats in their T34 Mentor planes. Since 1930 aerobatic maneuvers have been performed by airmen who have kept our nation safe. As a reminder of their sacrifice, the Missing Formation was flown while Taps played, bringing tears to the eyes of some, and chills down the spine of others.
While this was not the first year for the event, this was the first combined event with the aviation and first responder’s aspect. In addition to Lima Lima, Lutheran Air had a helicopter present, as well as the Lake County Sheriff's department who demonstrated a rescue with their helicopter.
General Insurance Services (GIS) was a proud sponsor of the event. Kara Moon, Marketing Coordinator for GIS, greeted and directed visitors with excitement.
“It has been a joy to partner with their incredible team in planning this event,” said Moon. “I have gained such a respect for our region’s first responders. Many people don’t know the MAAC training campus is in our own backyard. It’s exciting to be able to share it with the community.”
Celina Weatherwax, President of the McMillan Foundation, wanted the community to remember an important takeaway.
“This is a nonprofit organization. The successes and opportunities are directly attributed to the support of the community,” said Weatherwax. “Because of the generous support, we have been able to offer this facility at no cost to all first responders and their departments.”
Having seen many come through the doors of the training center, for Weatherwax, there is one group that stands out.
“Our high school program is closest to my heart,” Weatherwax said fondly. “The high school kids running the challenge course out at the pond today are graduates of the MAAC. We just graduated our second class.”
At the challenge course, children could pretend to be firefighters knocking down walls, rescuing a trapped person, and even operating a firehose.
Keeping the event in guidance with COVID precautions was a challenge only Weatherwax could handle as Chief McMillan pointed out.
“Celina is the most amazing event organizer I’ve ever met. We couldn’t have done this without her. I am really gratified that so many volunteers came out to help,” he said. “When you start a cause and you kind of feel like it’s your own thing and other people join in to support you, that’s a tearful moment for me.”
Candace Arvin, Employee Benefits Advisor at GIS and MAAC volunteer, has a strong appreciation for the first responders she has met. She was happy to show her support.
“I have four kids so if and when I need to make the call, I would hope they are there for my family,” said Arvin.
Indiana State Trooper Kevin King and his children were touring the Lake County Mobile Command Center. It was clear that MAAC and the event meant a lot to King.
“This helps keep daddy safe at the scene,” Kevin King told his children.
“This means community, unity, seeing the ins and outs of the good and the hard work that comes from the men and the women that put their lives on the line and the training they receive. This is being able to bring families and put them on the inside of what we do every day with fire, police, and EMS all coming together here. Because on a scene that’s what we do. We all come together as one, just like a community, just like a nation to get the job done,” said King.
In addition to the aviation show, there were K9 handlers, fire departments, EMS, and law enforcement performing demonstrations, many of which have learned or practiced at the MAAC center. Even while the event was going, there was a fire training class in the background.
As their instructor Joe Martin said, “The only way they will be prepared is through the repetitive training.”
To find out more information and support MAAC, visit their website https://www.maacfoundation.com/.