The Laramie Fire Department is clowning around with area elementary schoolers this week as it travels to each school with its Fire PALS program.
An acronym for Fire Prevention and Life Safety, the nationwide program brings firefighters to schools around National Fire Prevention Week to talk about fire and general safety – all while performing as clowns with puppets, props and tricks.
Each year’s skit focuses on the central theme of that year’s National Fire Prevention Week, explained LFD company officer Jeremy Belaski, who runs the program. This year’s theme is the EDITH system, or Exit Drills in the Home, where students are encouraged to find an exit strategy in case of a fire.
“We have little packets we give to kids at the end and tell them to go home and make an escape plan with their family,” Belaski said. “We do a drill with them at the program with our clowns and puppets, just teach them about figuring out what to do if a smoke detector goes off if there’s a fire in the house.”
Beyond fire safety lessons like when to dial 911 and changing smoke detector batteries, Belaski said the program also includes lessons about life safety not necessarily tied to a fire.
“We’ve done bullying in the past, we’ve done wildland stuff in the past — anything that’s relevant to our area,” he said.
The firefighters participating in the program — including Tomy Jansen and Eric Wright as Mumbles and Pickles the clowns, respectively — are volunteers, finding whatever time they can to practice between calls and firefighting duties. Not only do the participants volunteer, but other firefighters must fill in on calls while the clowns are performing.
“We had to have buy-in from the (Fire) Chief and City Manager, and they’re all for going out and teaching our young community about safety,” Belaski said. “We get a lot of support that way.”
This week and next, the clowns and puppets will visit each school in Albany County, including charter schools like Snowy Range Academy and county schools like Rock River School.
The program itself was started around 20 years ago by Ann Pond, Billy Schutte and Cliff Smith and Fire Prevention Chief at the time Randy Vickers. However, Belaski said the addition of the county schools was just about five years ago.
“When we heard the county schools might be interested, we jumped on it immediately,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to get the children to talk about what they’ve learned with their families. Belaski said while they hear excitement form the children at the performances, “the feedback we get is usually from the parents.”
“The kids will get home and talk to the parents about stuff and almost force them to go change out their batteries or make a fire exit plan or something like that,” Belaski said. “I think we get good participation from them and I think they still like it.”