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Utahns moved a step closer to taking a bite out of crime when the new "McGruff Truck" program rolled into action in Salt Lake Thursday.

The crime-prevention program was launched in ceremonies attended by state and company officials and volunteers dedicated to making neighborhoods safer for Utah children.The program was developed by the Utah Council for Crime Prevention/Department of Public Safety in partnership with Mountain Fuel Supply Co. Decals are used to identify Mountain Fuel vehicles and their drivers as sources of help for children going to and from school, while at play or in latchkey self-care situations.

McGruff Truck is an extension of the McGruff House program, in which children are taught to recognize houses displaying a McGruff House sign as places to turn for help. McGruff House, which also began in Utah, is operating in 42 states and is coordinated by the Utah Council for Crime Prevention and the National Crime Prevention Program.

"McGruff Truck is not an extension of law enforcement providers," said Daniel Col-lette, council project coordinator. "The proj-ect's motto, `We'll call for help,' clearly states its purpose. The McGruff Truck driver does not act as a policeman or paramedic. He or she simply calls for whatever help is needed.

"And while the program primarily is for children, a McGruff Truck driver would extend the same service to any citizen."

Utah Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen praised the program.

"In a period of tight fiscal constraint, public safety partnerships between public and private sectors are critical to the well-being of our communities," he said. "As a department, we applaud the forefront efforts of Mountain Fuel and the Council for Crime Prevention in addressing this important issue of child safety, and we encourage other utilities to adopt the program."

Mountain Fuel's commitment to children's safety isn't new. Since 1985, the company has been publishing photographs of missing children in Gaslight News, which is sent monthly to Mountain Fuel's 470,000 customers. The company has also sponsored child-safety seminars and has been involved with the Utah Chapter for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

"We have long been aware of the role our employees play in deterring crime simply by their presence and the visibility of Mountain Fuel vehicles in the neighborhoods we serve," said Mountain Fuel President D.N. Rose. "We enjoy a good reputation as a service organization and hope awareness of McGruff Truck will remind children and other citizens that a Mountain Fuel employee can be depended on to call for help in an emergency."

Rose said the McGruff Truck will be introduced to children this fall through an extensive in-school program conducted by law enforcement representatives, assisted by parent-teacher organizations.

After successful pilot testing in Carbon and Emery counties, McGruff Truck is being expanded throughout Mountain Fuel's service area in Utah and Wyoming.