Flashing lights and singing puppets helped the firefighters of Central Emergency Services deliver an important message to young students — fire safety is a must.
October is fire safety month, and the one-hour puppet show, held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, was a fun way to deliver the message to kids.
Justice Adcox, 4, and his brother Archer, 3, attended the puppet show Wednesday with Grace Lutheran School.
“If fire gets on your clothes, stop, drop and roll,” Justice recalled after the show.
Cloth puppets of all shapes, sizes and colors sang to the audience. Fire Marshall Gary Hale talked to the children, including the parents in the discussion.
He had a student demonstrate stop, drop and roll and later held up matches and a lighter and warned the audience of their dangers.
“If you find these, do not touch them,” Hale said sternly.
He said his discussion and the inclusion of the puppets helps solidify the message.
“The goal of the show is mainly fire safety, (and) the puppets help bring the message across in a very entertaining way,” he said. “Using ‘up-beat songs’ has been our goal in keeping the attention of all audiences, both young and old.”
Wes Perkins, Deputy Fire Marshal, said the shows use older songs with altered lyrics to keep the message upbeat.
Songs including the Doors “Come on baby light my fire” and the Tokens “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” are turned into fire safety versions. Kids danced around and were entranced by the puppets that played saxophones, keyboards and sang to the group.
“It is a good time, and it makes a difference,” Perkins said.
The puppets originally belonged to the Kalifornsky Beach Fire Department in 1987. After the public voted to consolidate CES and the K-Beach Fire Department in the late 1980s, the puppets were put away.
The original puppets program came from a company called Puppet Productions, which is no longer in existence, with six puppets and a cassette tape containing six to eight pre-recorded fire safety songs.
Today’s show has evolved into something bigger, with more than 90 colorful puppets, a selection of 150 songs to make the program more interesting and entertaining, as well as a larger stage, bright lights and a sound system.
“So today, after 25 years, the puppet program has reached into the hearts of pre-school through third-graders, both public and private schools throughout our fire district,” Hale said.
CES has been fortunate to take the puppet program to many areas of the Kenai Peninsula, including Ninilchik, Anchor Point, Homer, Cooper Landing, Kenai, Moose Pass and schools in the Anchorage area.
“We refer to our puppet show as the ‘Production,’ since it takes a minimum of four puppeteers to put on a good show, along with a host out front to extend the message, while taking 45 minutes to set-up the show and 35 to 40 minutes take down,” Hale said. “The production grew so large, CES had a special travel trailer made to accommodate all the stuff.”
Hale said after several years of presenting the message through the production, he has seen a difference.
“Now in my 39 years in the fire service, it becomes apparent young students have to be our teachers. Teachers to take the message home and make their parents aware of what they saw and learned by seeing the puppets and the message given,” Hale said.
The three goals of the show, Hale said, are to teach kids to stop, drop and roll; don’t touch matches and lighters and the importance of fire alarms.
“I know it works when I get stopped by parents or children while in the public, telling how their child came home and wanted to test the smoke alarms.”
Perkins said this week he will visit area schools with some of the puppets to deliver the message to kindergarten through third graders. He will then go into individual fourth- through-sixth-grade classes and deliver the fire safety message.
Perkins said since the show has been in existence, the number of fires started by juveniles has dropped drastically.
“It definitely makes a difference,” Perkins said.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org