A furry head poked into the window of a red trailer and burst into song: “Let’s have a fire drill! We’ve got to have a plan to survive!”
Twenty-five children from Grow ‘N Learn summer camp in Knightdale cheered and laughed at the puppet dog’s antics. As the song progressed, they sang along and even danced to the beat in the Knightdale Fire Station bay.
Behind the antics are the three puppeteers: Knightdale Fire Cpt. Goley Boggs, Fire Lt. Chris Miller and Firefighter Candler Thornton, who use the puppets during tours and educational events to educate children about fire safety in an entertaining way.
“It’s for all ages,” Thornton said of the show’s appeal. “They get a lot out of it.”
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The puppets are Boggs’s brainchild. He started the shows about two years ago.
“We started it because we always went to schools (to teach about fire safety), and every year we brought equipment and a truck,” Boggs said.
For classes with small children, the presentations didn’t always keep students’ attention.
“We wanted to get on their level,” he said.
Inspired by an unused fire trailer sitting at the station, he pitched the idea to fire Chief Tim Guffey and to local businesses to raise funds for the equipment. Now, the trailer is decked out with a TV for fire safety cartoons, speakers for the script, storage drawers with stickers and activities, five puppets and air-conditioning for the puppet-handlers.
Each business that donated to the project is displayed in white lettering on the red trailer. It sits in the station’s bay as the conclusion to a station tour, but Miller and Thornton often transport it elsewhere.
“When we first started, it was a big hit,” Boggs said. “We were getting calls all over the place, even outside of Knightdale.”
Although they like to limit their visits to their town’s limits, the team has visited schools, day cares and is headed this fall to the N.C. State Fair at the Fire Prevention Booth. Requests are frequent, and they’ll put on a show every couple of weeks, and are booked up during Fire Prevention Week in October.
Characters include a fire captain, a firefighter and Stan the Dalmatian. But on Monday, the Grow ‘N Learn students’ favorite puppet, who elicited cheers and giggles, was wooly-dog Elvis.
“My name’s Elvis. I ain’t nothing but a hound dog and I have something important to tell you about burns,” the puppet said.
After the performance, Miller drills the students with a review about what they learned about burns, smoke, calling 911 and stop, drop and roll.
Teachers have told the department that students sing “Stop, Drop and Roll” and other tunes in the school hallways for weeks on end after the firefighters’ visit.
“We get tickled at each other,” Boggs said about the puppet antics, trying to pass each other the proper character in sync with the script. “We have a good time.”