Serious clowning around; Firefighters use light-hearted method to educate youth

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, October 6, 2012

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FIRE SAFETY – Decatur Fire Captain Nate Mara and Firefighter Jennifer Tumlinson (background) are two of the three stage performers in this year’s Clown Brigade skit. Captain Chris Caster plays the role of Captain Bunkers, and the show also employs a puppet. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Each year during Fire Prevention Month, members of the Decatur Fire Department swap their bunker gear and fire engines for clown paint and a props trailer to deliver life-saving messages.

Throughout October, members of the DFD Clown Brigade travel to local schools and employ catch phrases, novice acting and humor to educate youngsters as they have done for six of the last seven years (with the exception of last year when the department moved to its new Fire Hall).

“The kids don’t realize it, but they are learning,” said Captain Nate Mara, a pirate in this year’s show. “They just think they’re laughing and having a great time.”

Firefighters select topics relevant to their audiences, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

This year’s pirate-themed show highlights several safety topics including how to call 911 from a cell phone, providing the “who, what and where” and reminding them to stay on the line; exit drillls – having two ways out of every room in the house; the “get out and stay out” notion; and the importance of establishing meeting places, whether it’s a tree, mailbox or neighbor’s house.

Characters in this year’s show also address the issue of bullying.

“We pick topics that identify with the kids,” Mara said. “Not a whole lot of people have a home phone, but every kid is around an iPhone or some kind of cell phone. It’s important to teach them to press the green button to make the call.”

Firefighters begin preparing for the following fall’s show in February with a trip to Lauglin, Nev., to a “clown school.”

“It sounds silly, but we go out there and network and watch other people do their show and communicate with other life safety clowns,” Mara said. “The people that are going to participate as stage clowns get to go and come back with a plan for themes and topics. And it goes from there.”

The brigade starts writing the script in August, completing it by the end of the month.

Although this year’s show only casts three pirates and a puppet, its production is a department-wide ordeal.

“Everybody at the department, in some way, shape or form, has helped,” Mara said. “They have either helped us load the trailer or make a costume, or maybe they helped with the wiring or building of the set. Even spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends come out and fling a paintbrush.”

Rehearsals begin in September, two to three nights a week, and the brigade gets one final tuneup with a “family day” performance the weekend before taking the program to local schools.

“The family show helps us get the kinks worked out,” Mara said. “Our families are the most critical. They’ll tell us if the jokes are funny, if we need to add or remove something. But everybody is so busy these days, this gives us an opportunity to get together on a Sunday afternoon and have a little bit of fellowship.”

In addition to the three schools in its district, the Decatur Fire Department Clown Brigade extends an offer to perform as an aid to the safety programs of other departments.

“We do it as a partnership with that department,” Mara said. “We’re all in it for the kids.

“It’s very rewarding,” he continued. “The fact that there might be a kid that knows us by our clown name and who recite some of the lines we use in our show, to know you’re even a little bit of effective – that’s why we do it.”


  • Oct. 9 Rann Elementary – 2:15 p.m
  • Oct. 10 Carson Elementary – 7:45 a.m.
  • Oct. 11 Young Elementary – 2 p.m.
  • Oct. 16 Paradise Elementary – 9 a.m.

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