In the real world, she’s Kim Gear, a volunteer for the Olathe Fire Department.
But for a few hours Sunday, she was Boots, a clown with bright yellow hair, overalls and black cowboy boots decorated with glitter. And she was all about teaching a few lessons on fire safety. Not just to the kids at the Olathe Fire Department’s Open House Sunday afternoon, but also their parents.
“You know, clowns never get old,” Boots joked to Fire Capt. John DeJulio as a handful of entertained kids watched. “Are smoke detectors like that?”
DeJulio shook his head no: “They only go for eight to 10 years and then need to be replaced,” the captain told the onlookers.
During Sunday’s Open House, Boots and her counterpart clowns, Blaze (volunteer Peggy Beddall) and Bubba (Firefighter/paramedic Beth Fox) — all part of O-Town Clownz — were among the top attractions at this year’s Open House. They taught kids to “crawl low and go,” when a smoke detector goes off, demonstrated what a beeping alarm sounds like and reminded kids to treat matches like a tool, not a toy. Then they mingled through the crowd, posing for photos.
Like they do every year, fire department officials wanted to mix fun with facts at the event that capped off Fire Prevention Week, which ran Oct. 7-13. The department enjoys the opportunity to show families everything they do and allow kids to get up close and personal with people and equipment they usually see only from afar.
“Not only do they get to see the firefighters, but feel and touch the equipment,” said Capt. Mike Hall. “It gives us the opportunity to connect with them and show we’re just like them. We’re brothers and sisters and dads.
“That way, they can see us before an emergency and see what we do,” Hall said.
And they learn to not be afraid, said Kathy Major, who with husband, Mike, took their three grandchildren to the open house for the chance to see a truck or two, learn a few lessons and meet some firefighters.
“If you see someone come into your house wearing a mask, it can be scary,” Kathy said. Seeing and talking to them before a tragedy ever happens is helpful, she said.
The whole event played out like one big show-and-tell. In one spot there was Tango the bomb dog putting on a show. Across the way, a volunteer read a story about firefighters. A firefighter told kids how important it is for their families to discuss an escape plan in case of a fire.
And then there was one of the main attractions, a shot at spraying a real fire hose.
Kids stood in line and when it was their turn, they steadied the hose and pulled back, aiming the water at a swirling target.
“That was my favorite,” said Samuel Major, 5.
Each year, the department adds to the event. On Sunday, organizers just had to look at the kids’ smiles or hear their giggles to know some of the new attractions were keepers, especially the bunker gear area. Pint-size children slipped into big fire boots, pants and jacket. One little guy tipped over backward when he tried to steady himself with the weight of the gear.
Then there was the helmet. Four-year-old Noah Nielsen, who had his head swallowed by the helmet, glanced up at mom and smiled. She got into the act and put on her own gear.
“He was the one who wanted to do it,” said mom, Rachel Nielsen, laughing. “Then one of the firefighters said, ‘You want to race Mom?’”
Though there’s no doubt Noah liked dressing like a firefighter and watching his mom do the same, he said it wasn’t his favorite. Nope, to show what he liked best, Noah pointed to the CPR station, where kids could use blue, white and black plastic contraptions to learn how to save a life.
The goal, for firefighters like Beth Fox, is for the kids to go home with more knowledge about fire safety than they came with.
“We want to educate as much as we can,” she said. “Educate through fun so it doesn’t feel like they’re learning.”
To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.