By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Fire Department personnel resumed in October an annual tradition that had been in mothballs for the past two years because of the COVID pandemic.
City firefighters, accompanied on three occasions by Sparky the Fire Dog, visited four local schools and a meeting of the community’s youngest Scout troop during October (which was National Fire Prevention Month) to talk fire safety and fire prevention to some of the immediate area’s youngest children.
“This is our fourth school, plus we did the Cub Scouts, so we’ve done the Scouts, A.C. Moore (PreK), Rachel Patterson (Elementary School), Atmore Christian School and Escambia Academy,” Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles said during AFD’s October 28 visit to RPES. “I’m just glad we were able to go back to doing this. We haven’t done it in two years because of COVID.”
While providing safety tips and explaining the workings of various firefighting rescue tools and items of fire suppression equipment, the firemen have also looked to establish friendly relationships with the community’s younger set.
Sparky (portrayed at Rachel Patterson by Firefighter Kyle Hostetler) has played an integral role in that aspect. That was true again at Rachel Patterson, as AFD’s costumed Dalmatian mascot and second grader De’Angelo Hardy, who was dressed as Scooby Doo and was all smiles, slapped paws together in a “canine high-five” that took place in a hallway.
“We actually ordered Sparky earlier, but he just came in a little while ago,” Peebles explained. “For the first couple of schools, we didn’t have Sparky, but he’s been with us ever since we went to the Cub Scouts. The kids seem to love him.”
The Scouts got an even more realistic and eye-opening lesson in fire safety than most of the school children.
Their fire safety and prevention demonstration, held in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church, had to be cut short when Sparky (Firefighter DeMarcus McMillian at that time) and Lt. Danny White were dispatched to a car fire in the middle of the meeting.
Although the spread of COVID has waned to an acceptable degree, Peebles said he decided to keep another of the department’s fire safety tools under wraps for at least another year.
“We’re not doing the Smoke House this year,” he said. “The kids have to get real close in there, so we’re going to hold off another year on the Smoke House. I really like it; it does a good job of giving a real effect of a burning house, because the kids have to get down below the smoke.”
Despite the absence of the popular fire safety prop, the children with whom AFD has interacted so far this year seem to have understood what they were told and shown.
“It’s been good,” Peebles said. “The kids have been really receptive. They seem to grasp what we’re trying to teach them, even the little ones do. We have to cut it down a little for the preschoolers, but they do understand what we’re talking about.”