Wednesday Fire Safety Programming Tip 3/2/11

In a previous post , I mentioned that NFPA was searching for the new "Voice of Sparky®" to celebrate Sparky’s 60th birthday. Career firefighters, volunteer firefighters or other fire department employees were invited to submit videos of themselves giving their best Sparky impersonation. NFPA received two dozen videos, and a panel of judges from NFPA selected three finalists based on the best representation of Sparky's voice, as well as the creativity and enthusiasm used in the creation of the video.

A big hearty congratulations to Barry Brickey, public education officer for the Kingsport (TN) Fire Department for being selected as the new "Voice of Sparky®". Barry will receive an authentic Sparky the Fire Dog® costume (so jealous, Barry!), a trip to Boston to record for the NFPA Fire Prevention Week video – and public education materials to continue teaching children, their parents and educators about fire prevention and public safety. To see the winning video, click HERE.

Congratulations to the two other finalists in the "Voice of Sparky" contest, Steve McAdoo, Public Information Officer for the Clackamas (OR) Fire District #1 and Alex Mickschl, Fire Equipment Operator for the Spokane (WA) Fire Department.

When I first heard about this contest and that one of the prizes was a mascot costume, I thought, what better forum too share some tips for your department or organization’s mascot. Whether you have a Sparky the Fire Dog® costume or other costume, hopefully you will find the following tips useful:

  • Be sure to have a performer with lots of enthusiasm wearing the costume. Maybe you have a firefighter that loves to wear the costume and share his inner child or perhaps a local college student is looking for community service hours and would volunteer to help. 


  • The classic rule, MASCOTS SHOULD NEVER SPEAK. When they do, it ruins the illusion that the mascot creates. I found the following tips (also known as classic excuses) to explain why your mascot is not able to speak: 1) He/she has a sore throat and 2) He/she is a bit shy, let’s tickle them and see if they laugh. Isn’t that perfect?


  • Never (NEVER, EVER), take your mascots head off in front of children. This can be traumatizing! 


  • Keep your costume clean and in working order. Be sure to keep you costume in a bag so that it will not be seen by the public when you are carrying it to and from an event.


  • Do not drink or eat in your costume. This also ruins the illusion. Have you ever seen a clown eat or drink? Case in point.


  • Remember that you are representing your department or organization. Be on your best behavior at all times. Hiking your mascot’s leg at a fire hydrant might be funny to you, but not to the general public or to your Chief.


  • Remember to keep your movements slower with children. Many times you will find that children are afraid of mascots. Let them come to you. If they do not come toward you that’s okay. My guess is that they will be back for a hug later on.


  • Always have an escort. The mascot is the rock star. Everyone wants to shake your hand and have their picture made with you. Many times people may come from behind and you may not see them. Keep in mind that obstacles for falling are greater in a costume. And, finally, many times you may not see the younger set as your vision may be blocked by the costume. Escorts are perfect for this!

Now for some common mascot gestures:

  • Waving- When you are in a parade or in a situation that you need to stand out, use your entire arm to wave. When with a smaller child, open and close your hand to wave.


  • Laughing- Laughing can be so much fun and children love it! Just bring your hands up to your mascot’s mouth and nod your head as if laughing.


  • Blow a kiss- Children LOVE this, and even the very young can blow you a kiss back!


  • Hugging- The key here is to be GENTLE. Let the child come to you. Please don’t go toward the child as the younger ones can be scared by a mascot coming near them.


  • Aww, shucks! – just like it sounds. Think of Gomer Pyle when he says, “Gee, Andy” and you got it!

Here are some tips should your mascot be riding on a fire truck or on a float:

  • Know your boundaries. If you can stay seated, that would be the best. Many times a vehicle may stop and start during a parade and you could easily lose your balance. When Sparky rides on our engine, for example, we make sure that his “helper” is always with him.

    If your mascot is riding in a parade in extreme temperatures, please re-consider. One year a certain someone (yours truly) was riding in the Peach Festival Parade in my home town, and even though the parade route wasn’t long, I almost passed out from the heat. Can you imagine what the children would have thought to have seen Sparky pass out? Not a pretty picture.

At one time, I heard that Smokey the Bear® and Sparky the Fire Dog® were not to be at the same event at the same time, or have their pictures made together. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I would love to know should you happen to have the scoop. If you know the answer, please send me a note at and we'll share it here on's Playing it Safe Blog. And, should you have any mascot tips that you would like to share, we'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, stay safe!

*The suggestions in this blog are my comments and do not reflect the methods of other organizations in regards to the use of their mascot costumes.