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Quincy, Mass.—March 18 marks the 60th birthday of Sparky the Fire Dog, the official mascot of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), who has been teaching children, parents and teachers on fire prevention and public safety for the past six decades.
To kick-off this year-long celebration, today, the NFPA is launching a “Voice of Sparky” contest to find one special firefighter to be the voice behind this iconic Dalmatian spokesdog.
From Feb. 1 through Feb. 16, career and volunteer firefighters as well as other fire department employees can submit videos of themselves giving their best Sparky impersonation on www.nfpa.org/SparkysBirthday.
A panel of NFPA judges will select three finalists, and America will get to choose the winner by voting for their favorite video submission on Sparky’s new Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SparkyTheFireDog, between Feb. 21 and Feb. 28.
The honored firefighter will receive an authentic Sparky the Fire Dog costume, an all-expenses-paid trip to the Boston area to record for the NFPA Fire Prevention Week video, and public education materials to continue spreading the word about how to prevent fires in the home.
“Sparky has allowed us to connect with millions of children and their families by making it exciting to learn about fire prevention and safety,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications.
“With this anniversary, we aim to reach more children, parents and educators with fun events and new educational programs throughout the year.”
Sparky was created in 1951 for an Advertising Council campaign.
Two years later his fire prevention campaign reached more than 68 million people through radio public service announcements and another 3 million through television.
As an influential figure in fire prevention, his success can be attributed to collaboration with firefighters and others to educate the public on important prevention and safety messages.
He has even experienced a touch of fame; in the 1980s, celebrity Dick Van Dyke served as the voice of Sparky to help expand the reach of Sparky’s messages.
Los Alamos Fire Department’s Sparky the Fire Dog is just as old.
Fire Marshal Mike Thompson said LAFD’s Sparky probably dates back to either the 1960s-1970s. The fire department actually has two different versions of the mascot. One is a puppet and the other is a life-size costume.
“The reason we use Sparky is it helps bring information to (children’s) level,” Thompson said.
He added Sparky assists in many safety messages and the mascot really works.
As for the large costume, Thompson said kids love it; they go right up to Sparky. There is never any trouble finding someone to fill the suit, he said.
Since Sparky’s inception in the 1950s, the number of fires and fire injuries in the United States has declined, which is due in part to enhanced public education efforts.
Today, approximately 3,000 people die each year because of fires and thousands are injured.
Sparky’s work continues and is more important than ever because most fires can be prevented when people take personal responsibility and follow a few safety guidelines.
According to NFPA research, children younger than age 5 are one and a half times more likely to die in a home fire than the general public.
“Sparky plays an important role in communicating fire safety to kids and families.
“The use of games, characters and children’s activities are key in providing safety messages in fun and entertaining way,” Carli said.
In addition to finding a “voice” for Sparky, NFPA is working with Scholastic to expand curriculum to pre-school students in the fall.
The NFPA is also developing programs for high school volunteers to implement, thus reaching more elementary school children who may not have already been introduced to Sparky.
“While we are still in the planning phases of all the great ways we’re going to celebrate Sparky’s birthday, we are very excited about what’s to come,” Carli said.
For additional information on the “Voice of Sparky” contest celebrations throughout the year, visit www.nfpa.org/SparkysBirthday.