Samuel Anderson was grinning Monday as he stepped out of the intersection of Monocacy Boulevard and Hughes Ford Road, where he'd been directing traffic under the watchful eyes of Frederick Police Officer Greg Santangelo.
Anderson, who is 16, has helped direct traffic for smaller events as a member of Gov. Thomas Johnson High School's Navy ROTC program. Anderson was happy to get some more practice before he is assigned to help police handle the Fourth of July celebration in Baker Park on Thursday as a member of Frederick police's Explorer Post 153.
"It's nerve-wracking, your heart's really pounding because you don't want to make a mistake, people will get mad," Anderson said. "But also, when you're the person telling people where and when to go, you've kind of got their lives in your hands. If they crash, it's on you."
The relatively slow intersection near Frederick Municipal Airport was chosen to allow the Explorers to get used to the experience in a low-pressure environment on Monday. But when the crowds begin to arrive in downtown Frederick on Thursday, the circumstances will be dramatically different. Assuming the weather cooperates, as many as 75,000 people could make their way downtown for the festivities, according to Jen Martin, executive director of Celebrate Frederick Inc.
Fortunately, each of the Explorers will be partnered up with a Frederick police officer on traffic detail. Their help will mainly be needed as the thousands of attendees rush to their cars in an attempt to get out of the city after the fireworks.
"It is vitally important that you are paying attention, not only to traffic, but also to your partner and what they're doing as well," Santangelo told the Explorers, before directing a question to Officer Margery Lee, who coordinates the Explorer post.
"Are they going to have radios?" he asked.
When Lee responded that no, Explorers wouldn't be issued radios for the assignment, Santangelo turned back to the class with a grin.
"Well, then, you're going to have to get loud," Santangelo said. "This is not the time to whisper."
Recognizing the popularity of the city's Fourth of July festivities and fireworks show, the police department plans far in advance for the big day to ensure the event proceeds as safely as possible, said Michele Bowman, a department spokeswoman and public information coordinator.
The holiday is a restricted leave day, which means that unless it's a medical emergency or another equally critical circumstance, requests for leave or time off are universally denied. The crowds also force the department's specialty squads, including the criminal investigation and professional services divisions, to take up patrol and traffic directing responsibilities backing up the regularly scheduled patrol shifts, Bowman said.
"There will be officers throughout the entire park, but the police department is going to be set up right by the tennis courts in Baker Park," Bowman said. "We’ll have our command bus there, and then the fire department stages their contingent there as well. We'll also have officers at every intersection surrounding Baker Park, and we’ll also post officers up at West Patrick towards South Jefferson [Street] to help facilitate traffic getting onto U.S. 15 after the fireworks."
The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services will also cover Thursday's event, employing two separate medical tents, as well as two bike teams and two ATV teams that will roam the park and respond quickly to emergencies as needed, said Sarah Campbell, a division spokeswoman.
"There’s going to be a first aid tent and an EMS tent at the Country Stage at West College Terrace and Fleming Avenue, and there will be another EMS tent at the incident command post at West College and Second Avenue where police will be setting up their command bus," Campbell said.
Back at Monocacy Boulevard and Hughes Ford Road, 17-year-old Brooklynn Waite was getting a little nervous as a sudden uptick in vehicles pulled up to the intersection, leading Santangelo to step in with a few well-aimed shouted commands and gestures to back her up and keep things under control.
"I was a little nervous when all the cars started coming at once, but we got everybody through all right," Waite said when she'd returned to the sidewalk to watch the next student jog out to Santangelo's position in the intersection. "That was exhilarating, because I was worried I was going to get hit."
After the last Explorer had taken a turn in the intersection, Santangelo reminded the class that they needed to be polite but firm when giving directions, particularly on the Fourth of July.
"The good thing about the Fourth is, we're going to tell you, for example, all traffic is westbound [at this intersection], no exceptions," Santangelo said. "And here's the thing: You're going to make people mad. They're going to yell at you, they might call you bad names, but all you have to say is, 'Can't talk, keep moving, can't talk, keep moving.'"