Clowns might be scaring kids across the country, but the Mansfield Fire Department is calling their bluff.
Since 2003, Mansfield firefighters have dressed up as clowns to produce fire safety shows for the city’s elementary schools, and they aren’t going to let a new creepy clown trend stop them. But the firefighters don’t want to scare anyone.
“They’re not wearing full makeup,” said fire chief Barry Bondurant. “They toned it down. We even offered to do the show without makeup. I said, ‘The show must go on.’”
Creepy clowns frightening, threatening and attempting to lure children into the woods have been reported from South Carolina to California since August, with more than a dozen arrests. A 14-year-old Mansfield student was taken into custody last week for threatening clown posts on an Instagram account.
The Safety Brigade in the Keller Fire Department, which usually dresses as fire safety clowns, switched to pirates this year in response.
Mansfield’s fire clowns and the school district did discuss dropping the grease paint until the creepy clown sightings stop.
“We all talked so there wouldn’t be any issue for the children,” said Mansfield school district police chief Jimmy Womack. “It shouldn’t stop the children from seeing a good, valuable show. We’re not going to let hysteria stop us from doing what we need to do.”
The show went on at J.L. Boren Elementary last week, and will continue throughout the month of October, which is fire prevention month. No one seemed frightened or concerned, said Boren principal Tracy Johnson.
“We’ve had the program for years,” she said. “It’s a tradition here. We’re a tight-knit group. We see them and know them. Our theme is super heroes and that’s how we look at them. This is a fire safety show. It’s not about clowns.”
The message is a good one, and it’s helping, Bondurant said.
“Thirteen years we’ve been doing this,” he said. “I have 33 years working in Mansfield. We can see the trends of juvenile fire setting going down. Before this hysteria, kids could accept the clowns. It holds their attention instead of just another adult lecturing them.”
The fire clowns talk about a variety of topics -- smoke detectors, wearing helmets, carseats, having two ways out of a house, not panicking -- while clowning around and entertaining the kids.
“Clowns let us get the message out in a fun way, but still get the fire safety message across,” said Lieutenant Davy Sanchez, who started the fire clown program in Mansfield and is the show’s puppeteer. “You volunteer to be part of this program. Everybody that does it enjoys kids. It takes a person who’s kind of a jokester to get out there and make a fool of themselves.”
The firefighters are aware that clowning around has gotten a bad name lately, and they have made accommodations. They did not go out as clowns on National Night Out on Oct. 4, and they haven’t worn the full white-face makeup and red noses in several years, said Lieutenant Kyle “Nozzle” Wright.
“We hope this will blow over,” Wright said. “It’s a shame because clowns entertain children and it’s something we use to educate children and make it more fun.”
Engineer David “Rookie” Gilmore knows that clowns can be scary, so he makes a point not to be.
“I make sure when I’m out there that I get down on their level and give them a chance to see we’re not scary,” he said.
The firefighters look at what’s going on in the community and safety trends, then spend the summer writing a new show each year.
This article contains information from Star-Telegram archives.