Clowns Use Humor To Teach Serious Lessons

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Clowning around in the name of education, Fire Marshal McCloud and his deputies Fizzles and Flambé are a traveling troupe of jesters who spread the word about fire safety.

Training and teaching at a national level, the threesome took this year's show, "Grandpa Mac's Recollections," on the road to the 16th Annual Educational Characterization Through Clowning & Puppetry Seminar last week in Bullhead City.

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Fizzle and Flambé clown around in the name of education -- teaching children about fire safety.

"We took our program to Bullhead City (on Feb. 5) and they were blown away," Forest Service fire prevention officer Darryll Atchison said.

Atchison teamed up with Pine-Strawberry engineers Kevin Figueroa and Stacy Parkerson about six years ago. All three are active-duty firefighters. They call themselves Clown Toys Production and their mission is fire prevention and life safety.

Their supervisors through other inter-agency work brought them together.

"We had the same interests and responsibilities," Atchison said. "We were short-handed and they kind of married us together do this interagency kind of thing."

It is working, and Atchison credits his Forest Service supervisors at the Blue Ridge Ranger District and the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department for the commitment to fire prevention and life safety education.

"It is hard to measure results and when the money gets tight," Atchison said, "we cut prevention because it doesn't produce anything.

"This is a benefit to the community overall. The bottom line is to prevent injury and death of our children."

Being innovative, creative and just plain silly, the trio will work as long as three months to create a show that delivers a timely message in a way that will hold the attention of the target audience, kindergartners through fifth-grade students, he said.

"We sit around and try to figure out new ideas," Atchison said. "We start building on it and contributing to it. Sometimes we step on each other's toes and we are comfortable with that. I may push hard for an idea and they convince me no, but we will take a piece of that idea and work with it."

Each year, the show evolves and new themes are added and others dropped.

"Every year we try and include campfire safety," Atchison said. "The 20- to 40-year-olds in our society do not know that they are supposed to put their campfires out. No one told them," he said.

He said he knows this because in the summer, he and four of his employees drive through one-half million acres of the Coconino National Forest every Sunday afternoon putting out abandoned campfires. He puts out 10 to 12 himself. That equals an estimated 50 unattended campfires in one weekend -- and he estimates the number of unattended campfires left on the Tonto National Forest is the same or higher.

While Atchison, Parkerson and Figueroa all work for different agencies, they all live in the woods and cover much of the same ground. The communities served have similar issues.

"There are dozens and dozens of behaviors we are trying teach," Atchison said, listing, fire safety in the home, bike safety, seat belts and more.

"Last summer, there were many ATV accidents involving children and we can include that in our messages," he said.

Previewing this year's performance before a home crowd in the Pine-Strawberry Elementary School gym on a Tuesday night, the clowns held the students' attention and got the adults to join in the laughter with a combination of slapstick routines, double entendre humor and silly antics all meant to deliver four clear and simple messages:

  • ampfires Dead Out
  • oys and Tools Sorted Out
  • moke Detector Checked Out
  • xit Plan Mapped Out

Fire Marshal McCloud (played by Atchison) directed the two deputies, Fizzles (Parkerson) and Flambé (Figueroa) through the four messages. The clowns had audience participation, enlisting pint-size volunteers to put out a campfire, but first they had to get to the forest. A presentation kept the current message lit up for the audience and also added a bit of humor as Fizzles and Flambé ran down Hardscrabble Road, courtesy of video additions, even stopping at the fire station only to be urged on by Smokey Bear himself.

The clowns produced a short movie about the smoke detector bandit before ending on the ever-popular EDITH plan (Exit Drills In The Home). This skit found Flambé singing and Fizzles scrambling to keep up the pace as the repetitive song increased in speed.

Children left laughing, and collected a hug, a pencil, an eraser and a sticker from their favorite clown after the show.

The clowns will be contacting schools and setting up performance in Payson, Pine-Strawberry and Winslow this week. If you would like more information on the shows or would like to schedule a show, call for Clown Toys Productions at 476-4272 or 928-477-2255.

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