MANSFIELD — Imagine a world without the rule of law and the safety net of emergency care.
Based on the post-human book "The World Without Us," this was the world that Shelby Mayor Steve Schag dared to imagine at Sunday's ceremony to launch Spread The Light week in Richland County. In short, the idea seemed impossible.
"I could not imagine what this county would look like without the ever-ready presence of our first responders," Schag said. "These are men and women who act and answer before all others.
"Something deep down inside of them compels them to respond, and those responses have the power to bring control in the midst of crisis, calm in the midst of chaos, and sympathizing care in the midst of confusion and pain. First responders impact our lives by their very presence in our communities."
Now in its fifth year, Spread The Light week is a localized approach to Project Blue Light, which began in 1988 in Philadelphia after a relative of a fallen police officer placed a memorial blue light in a window.
The celebration takes place in partnership with the Richland County Sheriff's Office, the city of Mansfield's department of public safety and We ACT, a community organization formed to better the public's relationship with law enforcement.
"The purpose of Richland County Spread The Light is to promote pride in our local police and fire departments, partnership with all of Richland County, and peace in our neighborhoods," said Angel Singleton of We ACT.
Free blue and red light bulbs were given out during Sunday's ceremony at Graham Automall for supporters to display on their front porch - blue for police and red for firefighters.
"When you think of a blue light, a red light, it's just a small gesture to show law enforcement and the fire personnel that we are appreciated, and I know it means a lot to me as being the police chief of Mansfield that my personnel know they're appreciated," said Mansfield Police Chief Keith Porch.
"In 2019 had 134 officers lose their life in this country; three of those officers were in the state of Ohio," Porch continued. "When you put it under the grand scheme of things, it's really not too much to ask to put on a light to make sure we show our personnel what they mean to us."
For the first time, red lights were added this year to this local initiative to include firefighters who also sacrifice and have given their lives for the greater good. According to Shelby Fire Chief Mike Thompson, service calls were up 18 percent in 2019.
"Most of the firefighters in Richland County are volunteers," Thompson said. "They're doing this for the love of their community. They're the real heroes of this whole thing, they're giving back to their community because they care about them."
Sunday's celebration also included remarks from Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon, Richland County Juvenile Judge Steve McKinley, and First Assistant Law Director Mike Kemerer. The elected officials across Richland County issued a proclamation in support of law enforcement and safety services.
The evening was not short of inspiration as well, with a musical performance of Andra Day's song "Rise Up" by Pastors Kristin Scott and Josiah Beougher, and stories of redemption from author Carlos Christian and David Kirst of 419 Productions.
Overwhelmingly, the theme of Spread The Light week came back to one word: gratitude.
"Paying honor to this group is a bit of a challenging proposition, because we know you are a genuinely humble and unassuming group of people," said Shelby fire and police chaplain Dan Gates.
"But make no mistake, your communities what you to know that just as you are a very humble group, you are also a most deserving group."