Firefighters disguised as clowns perform slapstick routines and magic acts while teaching lifesaving tips about fire safety, prevention and emergency situations.
The National Fire Protection Association issues a them every October for Fire Prevention week - Oct. 7-13 - and for the entire month.
This year's theme,“Have 2 Ways Out!”, focuses on the importance of fire escape planning and practice.
The Firestoppper clowns were started in 2000 by Thomas “Pokey” Anders, who has since retired from the Zachary Fire Department.
Anders founded the fire safety clowns after a trip to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., for the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
Anders, a training officer at the time, got the idea after meeting a clown unit from Brevard County, Fla., who had their own fire safety clown program.
Anders brought the idea back to Zachary and the fire clowns were born. And taken very seriously. The department brought in a team of Shriners to learn make-up techniques and turned to Acadia Klown Unit of Baton Rouge for training.
The original cast of the Firestoppers included Anders, who used his lifelong nickname “Pokey” for his clown character, Ronald Hives as “Pyro” and Pam Buvens as “Sparkles”.
Hives (Pyro) is still a clown member today. “This role fits me perfectly because I was a class clown in school,” Hives said. “My favorite part of being a clown is getting stopped in the store or on the street by a kid yelling, ‘Hey, it’s Pyro!’"
The Zachary Firestoppers hit the road during October visiting local and regional schools teaching kids the importance of fire safety. They perform funny skits with props, and are dressed in wigs, makeup and colorful clown costumes.
The department uses funds from its fire prevention budget to keep the clowns on the road.
Costumes, props, wigs and makeup-items essential to a clown-must be updated every few years.
“It’s money well spent if it can save even one child’s life,” say the Firestoppers. “These kids are learning techniques which can save their own lives and someone else’s.”
“I love it! It’s heartwarming to see the children’s reactions when the Firestoppers do their skits. For such a serious subject, our clowns make it fun and entertaining while teaching fire prevention and safety. The time and effort put forth from the Zachary Firestoppers tells you how important they feel it is to reach out to children at such a young age regarding fire prevention and safety,” said Karen Burdette-Phillips, Secretary to the Fire Chief.
The current cast of the Zachary Firestoppers, all Zachary firefighters, are: 12-year veteran, Capt. Ronald Hives as Pyro, seven-year veteran Danny Riefer as Flash, six-year veteran Capt. Tommy Sims as Axe.
The fire clowns occasionally includes Firefighter Anthony Capone as Blaze, who is not on tour this month.
Capt. Gordon Lipscomb as Buckshot has also done a stint as a Firestopper.
Firefighter Bryan Henderson occasionally fills in as the voice of “Freddie the Firetruck” while his mom, Greta Henderson, is the clown costume seamstress, and and sister Katie paints the Firestoppers’ murals and backdrops.
All the clowns agree that the most rewarding experience for them was a few years ago.
After performing at a school in Walker, a 6-year-old girl in the audience saved her grandmother’s life that very night when their home caught fire and the girl later told the media, “I told my Grandma that once you’re out of a burning house, you gotta stay out! The clowns taught me that!”