Weatherford Democrat

November 16, 2012

Weatherford's fire prevention program takes off

Christin Coyne

WEATHERFORD — The Weatherford Fire Department’s fire clowns have become quite the hit.

The number of schools they are visiting is growing and the group’s goal is to reach by next fall nearly every 1st through 3rd grade student in Parker County with their annual safety fire message.

Using songs, jokes, makeup and costumes, the clowns taught about 3,300 students from all Weatherford ISD elementary schools, Victory Baptist Academy, Weatherford Christian School, Brock Elementary School and a homeschool association during a two week period last month, up from about 2,300 reached last fall.

Though they do give fire prevention presentations at nursing homes and schools, the fire clowns are easily the department’s largest community education program, according to Weatherford Fire Marshal Bob Hopkins.

During the 20-minute skit performed for young elementary students, the fire-themed clowns teach topics such as Stop, Drop and Roll and Get Out, Stay Out.

“It’s so energizing,” Weatherford Fire Marshal Bob Hopkins said. “The kids learn from it. They learn from having fun.”

The local version of the fire prevention program that is popular across the nation is something Hopkins said he and others have wanted to implement for some time.

“Prevention works,” Hopkins said. “When you get them young, teach them young how to be safe, they carry it into adulthood.”

But it’s not just the students they are hoping to reach. It’s the whole family.

“The thing is kids, once they learn fire safety, they take it home,” Hopkins said. “They won’t leave their parents alone. They have fresh minds and a lot of energy.”

Children will go home and tell their parents that the clowns said they need to change the battery in the smoke detector, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he’s had parents approach him on the street, telling him they know all about the fire clowns from their children.

It’s not just fire safety they hope to teach children, either. At some point in the future, they might teach safety around the house or not to talk to strangers, Hopkins said. Their goal is to help students become aware that everyone has to be responsible for safety,

They are currently working with the Parker County fire marshal to try to take the program to all the elementary schools in the county and hope to engage twice the number of children as they did this year, Hopkins said.

The fire clown program is a collaborative effort between Weatherford Fire Department employees and administration staff, who get together months in advance to begin writing a new skit script, creating costumes, building props and practicing the timing-crucial humor. The group doesn’t just consist of the clowns but includes people like firefighter Mike Rudd and Chaplain Gene Smithwick, who wrote the script, and firefighter Matthew McKittrick and Deputy Fire Marshal Dee Sosebee, who run sound during the performance.

Aside from those with the fire department who volunteer their time for the project and spend their own money to create props, others in the community are instrumental in bringing the program to children, according to Hopkins.

Craig Swancy has donated the use of a sound system, including cordless head mics, a significant cost, Hopkins said.

Kimberly McClintock, with the Weatherford Agrilife Extension 4-H office, will also be helping them with scheduling, he added.

Area residents can help support the program by donating to the Weatherford Fire Department fire prevention program or just to the department, Hopkins said.