President Barack Obama is introduced by former President George H.W. Bush at the start of the Points of Light Institute forum.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Hilton reaches children around the country with help from her fire safety dog Sparkles.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Dayna Hilton
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Dayna Hilton never passes up an opportunity to talk fire safety education.
On the night of Oct. 16, however, the audience was a bit different for the firefighter from rural Arkansas.
She shared the fire safety education message with other specially invited guests as they waited for the arrival of President Barack Obama and former President George H.W. Bush.
Hilton said it was an honor to have been invited by Bush to attend the Points of Light 20th anniversary celebration at Texas A&M University.
"It was an amazing experience," she said during a telephone interview Monday. "It was an honor to have been personally invited by President Bush."
Hilton said it was an honor to represent not only her department -- Johnson County Rural Fire District #1 -- but Fire Corps and firefighters across the country.
"To be included in this intimate group, to be invited by the President, I can't describe it..."
Each year, Johnson County RFD #1 firefighters and Fire Corps donate over 6,000 hours to the department's fire safety program.
Joining Hilton at the Presidential forum was Kari Wood, a program coordinator for the national Fire Corps office. She was a former director of the Johnson County group.
Fire safety education typically takes a back seat at fire departments, especially rural ones where members must raise funds as well as train and handle calls.
That's why several years ago, Hilton started looking for assistance in delivering fire and life safety education.
She didn't have to look very far. Students at nearby University of the Ozarks accepted the challenge, and formed a Fire Corps.
In addition to helping their local fire department with fire safety education, the students also mentor and host other functions for children in the rural communities, Hilton said.
For their unique efforts, the joint student and fire department fire safety team was honored with a Points of Light award in 2006.
Hilton said she was proud to tell other volunteers about the program last week. "I was grateful for the opportunity to share the experience with everyone so they know what a tangible difference that not only firefighters but Fire Corps volunteers can make in a community"
She said the past few days have been a blur. "Never in my wildest dreams..."
Her involvement has jettisoned from the hills of Arkansas to Times Square and Las Vegas. Earlier this month, a picture of Hilton and her fire safety dog -- a Dalmatian named Sparkles -- were featured on JumboTrons in those cities.
"Can you believe it? Wow, it's amazing when you think of the number of folks that saw the picture, and made them think about fire safety."
Hilton's voice rises as she explains that children's lives have been saved because they paid attention to Sparkles' demonstration of things like "Get Low and Go -- If you see or smell smoke, drop on all fours."
She said it's disturbing to her how many children die in house fires annually. "I really believe we're getting the message out. That's what's important to me."
During fire prevention week, the two once again were featured on TV.
"We're excited to be joining forces with Firefighter Dayna and our sponsor State Farm to share these important fire safety messages on Sprout," said Andrew Beecham, senior vice president of programming at Sprout.
"Sprout is all about creating a fun, interactive experience for parents and kids to share together, so it's great when we have an opportunity to produce a noteworthy themed week like this on our live Sunny Side Up Show," he said in a prepared statement.
This wasn't the first time, Sparkles and Danya were on children's TV programs. And, she's confident that kids are paying attention.
She recalled a young child recognizing her while she was walking on the Mall in Washington, D.C. a few years ago.
"I was not dressed in Class A uniform or anything fire department related. The child kept turning around and looking at me. Then, he yelled: 'Firefighter Dayna!"
She said she's blessed to have the support of her family. "My husband is not a firefighter. But, he understands how important this work is. My son is a firefighter, though..."
Hilton said it's all about saving children's lives, and she's willing to pull out all the stops to get them to remember what to do if
In addition, Hilton's book, "Sparkles, the Fire Safety Dog," has made strides on Amazon.com last week reaching No. 3 in the firefighting children's books category.
Hilton said she takes every opportunity to share fire safety messages -- whether it's to pre-school students, senior citizens or fellow volunteers invited to a function by the President of the U.S.