The Ottumwa Courier

December 19, 2012

Firefighters reaching out to kids with coats, toys and safety information

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Though known for extinguishing flames, the guys at the Ottumwa Fire Department are showing off their own warmth during the holiday season.

Operation: Sparky Clause, one of the fire department’s charitable initiatives each year, has a few different parts to it.

With a winter storm warning now being issued by the National Weather Service, Agassiz Elementary School Principal Dana Warnecke said toys weren’t the feature that she found most touching — it was the gift of a warm winter coat for kids in need.

“Good timing, guys,” she said as two firefighters entered the school office just as the dismissal bell rang Tuesday afternoon.

One child without a warm coat had been called to the office, where Firefighter Josh Chance and Capt. Pat Short were able to give her the coat they had bought earlier in the day.

“Do you want pink or purple?” asked Warnecke.

The little girl pointed to the purple jacket. It fit perfectly, the firemen told her. The student thanked them, then rushed home.

“Now she’ll have something warm before the snow hits,” Short said.

“It was perfect timing,” Warnecke agreed, “just before the anticipated cold weather.”

Chance headed the effort this Christmastime.

“People are still bringing toys into the [fire] station through the 20th, but some people gave money,” Chance said.

His captain said he was thankful no matter what people donated.

Chance said the money, however, was used to buy warm jackets for elementary-aged children. Area schools have been calling to tell the firefighters which students could use some help and what their sizes are.

“Because Herberger’s really worked with us, we were able to buy a lot of coats and hats and gloves,” Short said.

The firetruck delivering jackets has already stopped at other schools, bringing three or four coats here, six or seven coats there.

But the department received its own gift on Tuesday.

Brian Eagleton, an engineer with FM Global company, helps to reduce risk for various groups around the world. They also like to support “small projects” taken on by local firefighters.

They decided that the new educational mascot, Sparky the Fire Pup, was exactly what Deputy Chief Cory Benge called it: “A way to get the attention of the kids [to whom we teach] fire safety.”

The professional mascot costume cost $2,995. Firefighters had raised a thousand dollars in donations. FM Global gave Benge a check for $2,000.

“We do anything we can to reach the kids,” Benge said.