The Quincy Fire Department (Illinois) has introduced the newest member of the department, but he is a little different from other firefighters. He walks, he talks, he has a long nose and he has spots on his ears.
Sparky the fire dog made his debut to the Ohio Players' song "Fire" during a short press conference Wednesday at Central Fire Station. He will make his first public appearance Saturday at the Dogwood Festival Parade.
The Sparky costume was worn by Quincy firefighter Jerry Smith, who is part of the department's public education team. Firefighter Michael Dade, also a member of the public education team, said the department plans to use Sparky when dealing with younger children, especially in visits to area schools.
"Anybody that has kids knows that everyday when they come home from school, they want to talk about what they did," he said. "Firefighters coming in the middle of the day changing up their routine really leaves an impression on them."
Sparky will help present the department's Risk Watch campaign, which targets the children in the city.
"I think this is a little more kid-friendly way to deal with the younger members of our community," Dade said. "We want to fight fires through prevention. The more information that we can get out there to the most people is one of the best ways we can do that."
The Sparky costume cost about $4,800 and was paid for by money the department received from the Foreign Fire Insurance Board. The eyes can blink and wink, the mouth moves to the user's voice and programmed songs, and the user's voice can be modified. It also contains a cooling system.
"He has all these little personality traits that he can kind of use as we're talking to kids," Dade said.
Sparky has been part of fire safety and fire prevention for more than 60 years. He can be found in many educational videos and materials distributed by the National Fire Protection Association.
Fire Chief Joe Henning said the public education team has seen a renewed vigor over the last year.
"We've brought some new members on the team, and they really have been working hard to come up with new, different and innovative ways to take our public safety message to the public," he said.