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Midland Living Magazine

Sparky Spreads Fire Knowledge

Jan 27, 2020 11:42AM
written by elizabeth york | photos provided by the midland fire department & hometown living




The famed Smokey Bear made his debut in 1944 as a joint effort of the US Forest Service and the Ad Council; he became an iconic image for forest fire prevention. Perhaps lesser-known is Sparky, the mascot of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), introduced in 1951. Sparky’s focus is on residential, structural, and similar fires that could affect children and families.




 



Unlike his bear cousin, Sparky is a Dalmatian and is dressed as a bonafide firedog with full firefighting bunker gear. While many mascots don’t speak, Sparky is vocal, sharing a message of fire safety and prevention that is tailored to children and their families. Sparky comes with a voice changer and microphone that enables his inhabitant to interact with listeners in real time. He also has several songs he can play and dance along to. While Sparky is a longtime fixture in the NFPA, he just began his service with the Midland Fire Department.




 


“Sparky’s been a great addition to our fire safety initiatives,” said James Howard, fire marshal for the City of Midland. “Sparky is all about teaching the kids what to do if they have a problem and how to react to it. It’s been more interesting than a fire investigator standing up there and giving tips. Sparky has given us the ability to connect more because he can answer their questions and be a lot more interactive. When he plays songs, we’ve found the kids retain it because they remember the lyrics. It helps the message sink in faster.”





 


While Sparky is fun, his topics are serious, too. He teaches listeners what to do in a fire situation, how to call 911, and what to tell the operator.



Fire investigator, Tony Bunch, has helped incorporate Sparky into the MFD’s outreaches. The mascot joins Pluggie, a fire hydrant robot on the team. Sparky appears at events and programs such as National Night Out, Fire Prevention Week, Halloween Trunk or Treat, and more. The mascot presents at schools and other groups in which children have the opportunity to learn about protection from fire-related incidents.




 


“So far I think it’s been good,” Bunch said. “The kids are more receptive to hearing about something from someone they can relate to. It really helps that they can take pictures with him and he can show them there’s nothing to be scared of with the fire department.”



Sparky receives important questions, but his fans also like to share their curiosity and experiences. “A lot of the questions are if they can pet him,” Bunch said. “They’ll ask if somebody is in there. We do have the occasional child that can get up and teach the class. They have stories that relate to what we’re talking about. Younger kids tell us about how they’ve seen a fire truck.”



 


While Sparky is fun, his topics are serious, too. He teaches listeners what to do in a fire situation, how to call 911, and what to tell the operator. The mascot teaches about the importance of  having a working smoke alarm, having an escape plan, and knowing how to stop, drop, and roll. Sparky also instructs listeners regarding the danger of playing with items like matches and lighters.




 


“The kids are more receptive to hearing about something from someone they can relate to. It really helps that they can take pictures with him and he can show them there’s nothing to be scared of with the fire department.”  — Tony Bunch | Fire Investigator




The message of fire safety is important especially for parents and caregivers. “I think the biggest thing people can do is have a plan,” Howard said. “When fire touches close to home, having a plan is the best thing you can do to keep your family safe.” 



An initial safety measure is having a working smoke detector, Howard said. He cited a NFPA study in which six out of 10 home fatalities involved a smoke detector that no longer functioned. Another major issue is unattended cooking, which has been the leading cause of residential home fires for the past 20 years.




 



The MFD serves the residents of Midland County and has 10 stations in Midland. Station 5 is being closed and rebuilt at the same location, and a new station, Station 11, is being built to accommodate the area’s growth. Volunteer fire departments help support their work in the county. 



In 2018, the department received more than 18,000 calls. In 2019, they were on pace to surpass that. “With an increase in population, you can naturally assume we are going to have an increase in call volume,” Howard said. 




 


“I think the biggest thing people can do is have a plan. When fire touches close to home, having a plan is the best thing you can do to keep your family safe.”

— James Howard | Fire Marshall




About 80 percent of the department’s workload is in response to emergency medical needs from treatment to hospital transport. The MFD responds to traditional home and industrial fires, and has a hazardous materials response team for fuel spills and other hazardous chemical and biological materials. Additionally, the department provides support for local law enforcement with a tactical paramedic team and is on call for the Midland International Airport.




 


“In everything we do, we are honored to serve our community.” 
— James Howard | Fire Marshall



The Fire Marshal’s Office is also responsible for fire investigations within the city, reviewing building plans, general annual inspections of commercial buildings within the city, code enforcement, and more.


In spite of their full workload, MFD members still prioritize community education. Sparky is a lighthearted representation of their mission. “The guys are all really knowledgeable and have been taking turns being in the Sparky costume,” Howard said. “In everything we do, we are honored to serve our community.” †



The Midland Fire Department is utilizing Sparky to spread the message of fire safety and prevention. Visit Sparky.org for safety information, games, videos and more.

To explore scheduling Sparky for an event, call the MFD at 432-685-7333.


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