MANSFIELD — The cold, wind-whipped drizzle that threatened to extinguish the first-ever Mansfield Fire Safety Palooza did not shake 6-year-old Bryce Baker’s determination Saturday morning.With help from volunteers, he pulled on his junior jump suit and other fire bunker gear, then set his sights on the obstacle course of the inaugural Junior Firefighter Challenge, laid out in the parking lot of the Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts.Bryce whizzed through the course, which included hammering a steel block to move it a short distance, dragging a strip of fire hose, spraying a mock fire target, crawling through a tunnel and finally dragging a stick-figure man made of folded fire hose to safety.The youngster got straight to the point when asked if the experience might inspire him to become a firefighter: “Yep.” His favorite part of the course? “I like the tunnel, because it’s dark.”By the time he finished and collected his T-shirt — there were enough shirts for the first 1,000 contestants — a line of children and their parents was forming.The weather put a damper on attendance early at the daylong event, as strong winds chilled temperatures to the low 60s. But the end of the drizzle brought relief to organizers.“Rain or shine,” Fire Marshal Clay Cawood said with an smile, about a half-hour into the Palooza. “We’re going to commit to everything. Everything is on schedule.”It was too late to save his Friday estimate that the Palooza might draw 10,000 people. Nevertheless, he said he was pleased with the 1,000 to 1,500 people he estimated had visited the Palooza by mid-afternoon, a couple of hours before closing.The Junior Firefighter Challenge was part of a more than six-hour Fire Department event that featured a theme of kitchen fire prevention and safety.“We’re trying to get out more of the message to the kids and the citizens — it’s not just for kids, it’s adults as well,” said Fire Chief Barry Bondurant. “And I think that teaming up with the school district will help get this out there to everybody. I think we’re going to start doing this every year.”The school district, which works hard to rent out its new, state-of-the-art facility, donated its services Saturday “since this is a positive event with education, fire safety and prevention,” district spokesman Richie Escovedo said.The Fire Safety Palooza is by far the department’s most ambitious outreach to the community, and it could replace the “open houses” that fire stations have conducted annually since 1996, officials said. Those generally draw 300 to 400 residents for up-close views of the trucks, equipment and operations.“While it’s great having residents come by the fire station and see where we work, it does limit us because of space,” said Fire Inspector Phillip Baker, a member of the department’s clown troupe.In addition to the open houses, firefighters also take their fire-prevention and safety program each year to elementary schools within the city limits. But that excludes children of the district’s schools in the city of Arlington.“We just wanted to offer it up to more people in the community,” Baker added. “Hopefully, those (Arlington resident) students can come in with their parents and see what we do.”Among the activities, firefighters used a portable, two-wall kitchen and gas stove to demonstrate the right and wrong ways to extinguish a grease fire. The wrong way is to pour water on the fire, which only causes it to spread, sometimes with a steam fireball, Cawood said. Better to smother it with a pot lid if possible.In another demo, firefighters used the Jaws of Life to pry open a wrecked car, and they rolled out their top-flight fire trucks and their new hovercraft. Also, a PHI Air Medical helicopter dropped by for close inspection by Palooza-goers.The fire-prevention clown troupe took to the center’s roomy theater stage to perform its new show, “Cluck Dynasty,” with a fire-safety spin, every hour on the hour.The Fire Department’s Mansfield Pipes and Drums bagpipe group, dressed in red-plaid kilts and pink T-shirts in recognition of breast cancer awareness month, braved the chilly updrafts as they performed America the Beautiful during the opening flag-raising ceremony.Cawood already is looking forward to next year, when the events might include obstacle-training course competitions with area fire departments.“This is the first annual Palooza,” Cawood said. “We want to have (next year’s) here and get bigger and better. And, hopefully, get better weather.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann