“With technology as prevalent as it is in today’s society, this style of clowning and educating is necessary. It gets kids unplugged and engaged in what we are doing and teaching.”
Dan Walsh is a firefighter, paramedic, and the President of Texas Life and Fire Safety or Texas LAFS. (Amazing name, right?) They provide training and support for a new and relevant clown niche that capitalizes on comedy and storytelling’s educational and life-saving potential. He contacted Red Nose Factory about bringing my noses to the Texas LAFS Convention in Ft. Worth. Here Fire and Safety Clowns from around the country will meet, share ideas, improve their craft and support each other.
Educational entertainment is not new. It formed the base of human oral histories before written language and has since inspired the work of brilliant people like Ben Franklin, Walt Disney, and Mr. Rogers. Today, my heart smiles to meet Dan and hear about his clown community. They are a new root-branch on an ancient tree that extends deep into the soil of our society. And isn’t it brilliant?! Brave first responders are deciding to spend their time ‘edu-taining’ children and adults in their communities. It is like preventative medicine. The tasks couldn’t be more different, but the objective is the same. To save lives, reduce trauma, and support joy.
Performing, storytelling, and definitely clowning are all heroic acts as well. If you have ever tried them, then you know. It’s not easy. But a simple song, a goofy jig, and a shared laugh can shape a person’s entire life and turn them into a more safe and competent adult when they begin to make choices on their own. Or it can make them afraid of clowns… it’s a thin line. I’m guessing that Dan and his colleagues would much rather dress up like fools and sing songs wielding a ukulele. Rather than rushing a crumbling blaze with hoses and respirators.
Fortunately, the work that these passionate firefighters and paramedics are doing down in Texas is catching on like, well, wildfire. Due to the short notice, I could not make it to Texas; Dan offered to manage a small booth for me. I sent him a grip of noses, and he sold them all like a boss. Dan is the president and a generous, hardworking president too. He has since contacted me again about this year’s convention, which is May 6th, 7th, 8th in Lewisville, Texas. See the link below for their Facebook page and more details. Below are a few simple questions I asked Dan to answer in his own words. I hope it is inspiring to you.
In the Spotlight with Dan Walsh
What kind of clowning do you do?
Our type of clowning is fire prevention clowning. I like to call it ‘edutainment’ because we educate by entertaining. Throughout the year and during fire prevention month, we go out to schools in our respective cities and teach kids about fire and life safety. I began doing this kind of clowning after seeing it in person over ten years ago. Once I saw it, I was hooked, and my passion was ignited.
I had never heard of Fire and Safety Clowns before meeting you. Can you tell me a little about its history and where you think it’s going?
Educational Characterization is an educational methodology that uses characters, puppets, clowns, and other characters as a vehicle to deliver lessons to our target audience of Kindergarten through second or third-grade children. This method was developed as an alternative to a lecture-based teaching methodology to help keep the kids’ attention.
Where I think that it is going is hopefully bigger than Texas. We currently have members of our organization TX LAFS that stretch all over Texas, from all regions. I would love to see our organization grow to have members in different states and all over the country. But even if our organization does not grow to thousands of people in multiple states, if we can give all of our current members the tools they need to “edu-tain” in their cities, then we have done our job.
The ultimate goal in all of what we do is the kids. We want to educate and entertain the kids so they will know what to do when there is an emergency. With technology as prevalent as it is in today’s society, this style of clowning and educating is necessary. It gets kids unplugged and engaged in what we are doing and teaching. If more departments use this teaching style, they will be able to impact and educate more children in their area.
What do you love most about this work?
I love being able to use clowning as a tool to connect with the children to help them learn and understand in a fun and interactive way. Watching the kids’ faces as we perform clown gags and magic all to teach our messages makes it worth it. Knowing that what we are doing is hopefully making a difference. And the kids will remember it and talk about it when they get home, and hopefully use it when they need it.
What is the most challenging part of this work for you?
Being creative, innovative, fresh, and funny, all while sticking to our message and get it across to the children. Another challenging part is trying to do all of these things while also being school appropriate and rated G so that all may enjoy.
Who do you admire most in your field of clowning? And Why?
There are several that I admire most. Three names that top that list are Brent Rollins, Charlie Schenck, and Aaron Morrow.
The three of these gentlemen are pioneers in our field. Brent started the whole’ life and fire safety clowning’ movement in North Texas. He started by going classroom to classroom in character by himself and teaching life and fire safety messages. He helped grow the McTown Klownz and the McKinney Fire Dept program to what it is today with his passion and vision.
Charlie and Aaron work together in the Denton Fire Department clown program. These two make one heck of a team. They have worked together for over 10 yrs. They are the pair that I strive to be one day. The creativity, passion, and drive these two have is unlike anything I have seen in a long time. They even go one step further than most in our field and use live music to play for the kids.
Texas LAFS President