POTTSTOWN PA – Children whose parents are members of the Ringing Hill Fire Company will enjoy a special treat Saturday (April 7, 2012), as they become some of the first youngsters to meet up close and personal with the firefighters’ new spokesdog, “Sparky.”
An animated, stuffed pooch who “drives” a miniature fire truck branded with Ringing Hill’s name and logos, Sparky will make a grand entrance during the company’s Easter holiday celebration, Secretary Kim Lightcap said. He’s certain to be one of the hits of the morning, but hey, the hound has stiff competition. After all, he’s going up against the Easter Bunny.
Sparky’s no simple party animal, though. Beneath his soft, furry, and computer chip-laden exterior beats the toy heart of a born educator. Ringing Hill Assistant Fire Chief Chris Wilcox said Sparky is a fire safety teacher kids can relate and listen to and, surprise!, actually talk with … thanks to a little human help and a lot of technology.
Department members who are Sparky’s operators will tilt his head, raise his ears, move his paws, and open his mouth with the same type of radio-controlled equipment used to manipulate model cars and airplanes. An on-board battery powers his fire truck, its flashing lights, and accompanying musical soundtrack. By wearing a headset with supplemental microphone, Sparky can converse – well, his operators can, at least – with their prime audience … classrooms filled by children who are accustomed to having their attention captured by televisions and computer screens.
“We like to get information out to children, so we can teach them about fire safety and fire education,” Wilcox explained, but in a media-saturated world it takes more than just men and women dressed in fire coats and hats to break through the clutter and make an impression. “We’ve seen Sparky used by other fire companies,” he added, and Ringing Hill was impressed by his effectiveness in reaching kids.
“We’re able to actually talk to children through Sparky … and we can hear the children respond to him too,” Wilcox said. The two-way conversations allow for questions, answers and follow-ups as if Sparky was more than just an assemblage of wires and silicon wafers. “It works out very well,” he noted.
The Ringing Hill Women’s Auxiliary made Sparky’s arrival possible. It raises funds every month with well-attended bingo games and other projects, and Lightcap said her fellow members were excited when approached by firefighters about what they hoped to accomplish. The bright red truck and its occupant stands about four feet high and four feet wide, but moves across a room at a fast clip. He can even cruise down local streets in a parade. They determined Sparky would be a worthwhile investment, and agreed to buy him for the company.
“It made good sense to us. They have all intents of using (Sparky) as much as they can,” Lightcap said of fire company members.