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Clowning Around and Saving Lives: Sometimes Safety is a Laughing Matter

After a slight increase in residential fires, the Camden Fire Department wanted to expand its focus from responding to fires to preventing fires. So the department's leadership created the FIRE PALS Characterization Program, complete with puppets, music, large props and, of course, clowns. That's where Nozzle, Snorkel and Flame, three firefighters with wigs, face paint, suspenders, audience-participation skits and magic tricks, came in.

The trio, along with two other staff members, have been bringing safety lessons to schools in Kershaw and neighboring counties, daycares, churches, and even senior citizen communities and adult daycares. The clown troop emphasizes the importance of a home escape plan, staying low to avoid heat and smoke, convening at a meeting place away from the fire, never returning to a burning building and the importance of working, up-to-date smoke alarms.

While highly entertaining, the presentations also ensure the message of fire prevention falls on attentive ears, making a serious impact on children in a state that loses 80 - 100 people every year to fire.

After school presentations, Nozzle, Snorkel and Flame sometimes stay and have lunch with the children. The clowns are mobbed like rock stars, with students jostling to sit next to the firefighters who stay in character. Presentations are customized to other safety incidents a school has experienced, such as bicycle safety if one of the students' classmates has gotten hurt, and computer safety.

At least one family has been helped. A 13-year-old girl was home with her brother and an 83-year-old relative. The elderly relative turned the stove on to light a cigarette, but the stove ended up igniting a pan of grease. The teen got everyone out of the home and to a central meeting place, actions she said she learned from the clowns who visited her school.

Contact Caitlin Young at cyoung@camdensc.org or 803.425.6154.