Clowns used to convey serious message to children

January 30, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — Safety should be universal, says a group of clowns from Texas.

Universal as in “important to everyone in the universe.”

The clowns were concerned particularly with making sure children are safe at home.

They appeared on stage at Desert Valley Elementary School on Tuesday morning, before an audience of schoolchildren and firefighters in town for the Arizona Fire and Burn Educators Association Risk Reduction Through Education & Characterization conference.

The clowns, from Plano Fire-Rescue, put on the show as part of an effort to help other fire agencies set up similar programs.

Early in the program, clowns “Patches” and “Snozzle” told the kids that a “very important person” wanted to talk to them about safety.

“Mr. President” then emerged, escorted by clown “Agent Sparks” in full Secret Service getup. The president said he had a “huuuuge” announcement to make.

Mr. President said he was forming the “U.S.A. Space Force” and was looking for a space safety ambassador.

Both Snozzle and Patches wanted the job, but each had to learn some safety lessons before being considered.

They were helped by an alien who talked to them about the importance of always wearing seat belts, then learned about exit drills in the home (or “hotel,” which also fits the acronym E.D.I.T.H.)

The clowns, including Agent Sparks, practiced testing a smoke detector, identifying two ways out of any room, testing a door for heat, crawling under smoke and meeting at a predetermined location.

Once you’re out, Patches said, don’t go back into a smoke-filled residence for anything — not even siblings, pets or money.

“Let the firefighters do that,” he said. “Because they’ve got the special equipment and training.”

A practice 911 call didn’t go as planned. Patches became frustrated as Snozzle refused to make a prank call to the dispatcher. Instead, he explained that when calling 911, someone should be prepared to tell the dispatcher his or her name and location and the nature of the emergency.

When a horseplay session left Patches a little hurt, he complained, but refrained from calling 911, after Snozzle asked if it was a real emergency.

The clowns then discussed the causes of home fires and had the students help them with the difference between toys and tools.

A ball and a tablet went into the toy box, and a saw and hammer were identified as tools, and not for children to touch.

The clowns then brought out an oversized lighter and matches, with Snozzle asking the students whether it takes a really big match to start a really big fire.

“No,” he explained. “A big fire can start from a tiny spark.”

“One less spark?” Snozzle continued, to which the firefighters in attendance responded “one less wildfire.”

Snozzle warned the students that the dangers of playing with matches include possibly “burning all your stuff up.”

Mr. President then came back, and after a coin flip, Snozzle was named first U.S.A. Space Force cadet. He won the audience’s hearts, however, by giving his slot up to Patches, who then blasted off in a flying saucer dubbed the “U.S.S.F. Oopsie.”

The show ended with a recap of the day’s lessons.

Plano Fire-Rescue puts on about 40 clown shows a year, Snozzle said afterward. He said the shows are designed to teach kids safety in a fun way.

“It’s extremely effective,” he said. “Because it associates a happy emotion with the information we want them to retain.”

The Bullhead City Fire Department is hosting the four-day AFBEA conference. The BCFD has been putting on clown shows for area elementary schools for more than 30 years, fire inspector-investigator Barbie Skeen said.

About 105 firefighters from around the U.S. are attending the conference, BCFD spokeswoman Lori Viles said.

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