Back in 1996 Plano Fire-Rescue started a new program that used firefighters in character as clowns to teach children important fire safety and injury prevention messages. Firefighter Calvin Cook was interested in joining the clown program but was told that his personality wasn’t a good fit as a clown. He didn’t take no as an answer and came back in character as Patches the Clown and asked for a chance to show what he, as Patches, could do.
Twenty-one years and tens of thousands of children and adults later, Firefighter Cook, as Patches, has certainly proven that most people, children and adults both, learn best when they are having fun and laughing. And for his work as Patches, Firefighter Cook was awarded the Mark A. Sanchez Memorial Award at this year’s Risk Reduction Through Education and Characterization Conference sponsored by the Arizona Fire and Burn Educators Association held in Bullhead City, Arizona last month. The yearly conference brings LAFS (Life And Fire Safety) clowns and characters from across the country together to learn and share ideas to be used in teaching children and adults how to stay safe from fire and other injuries. Plano’s LAFS group of clowns and characters has presented their annual safety show at PISD elementary schools since 1997.
The award is named for Mark Sanchez, a Flagstaff firefighter killed in a car crash in 1993. Firefighter Sanchez had participated in many characterization programs aimed at reducing childhood injuries. Each year an individual who has displayed a true dedication to promoting fire and life safety in their community through characterization is chosen to receive the award at the conference.
Firefighter Cook’ nomination for the award states, “There is a whole generation of children in Plano Texas who have grown up seeing Patches perform in his own wonderful style and they are safer for it.”