A 35-minute-long three-act play performed by firefighters, paramedics and volunteers is teaching Salt Lake County schoolchildren about fire prevention and safety, how to say no to drugs and how to battle peer pressure.
The actors, called the Fire Proof Players, are under the direction of Jay Miles, director of public education for the Salt Lake County Fire Department. The troop started performing the play, which includes music and dancing, last week before audiences at elementary schools in the Granite and Jordan school districts.By the time the production closes Nov. 17, Miles said, more than 55,000 schoolchildren from kindergarten through the sixth grade in 75 schools in the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County and in West Jordan, Riverton, Draper and South Salt Lake, will have seen it.
The message, Miles says, is simple: "We care about you and we want you to be safe and well. We don't want you to be hurt by fire and we don't want you to get into trouble with drugs or with any bad actions that you might be drawn into through peer pressure."
In one scene, actors look as if they have toilet seats around their heads, but it's a foam ring representing a smoke detector and the actors, wearing funny noses, tell the students that smoke detectors are important and explain how they work.
Actors' T-shirts sport the logo "It's Hot to Not," signifying the importance of saying no to drugs. The play teaches children 10 ways to battle peer pressure, especially when someone asks them to take drugs - without losing their friends.
Miles said the 10 ways are: "just say no; just leave; act shocked; change the subject; ignore them; make a joke out of it as if you don't take them seriously; use flattery; return the challenge if you are dared - saying simply, `I dare you not to take drugs'; make an excuse to end the conversation; and suggest a better idea or say `let's do something else.' "
In addition to Miles, the Fire Proof Players include Salt Lake County firemen Jack Homer and Bob Kladianos, who are also paramedics, and Don Korth; West Jordan firemen Brad Wardle and Jay Wilson; Rusty Horton, a 911 operator with the Valley Emergency Communications Center; Michelle Harvey, a member of the Utah Opera Company who wrote the play and its musical numbers; and Carol Jackson, who is Hiccup the Clown and secretary for the Utah Jesters professional clown organization.
Harvey's daughter, Alexys, 5, often participates with the group, too, during warm-up sessions at the schools before the play.
During the play, Harvey and Miles play the guitar and Miles plays a trombone to accompany some of the songs.
While this is the fourth year Miles has directed a variety of educational programs to teach fire safety and fire prevention, this is the first time he has taken a traveling play to the schools.
"It really gets the children's attention. I don't know if we can reverse the trend toward increasing drug use, but we are trying. I'm scared when I realize how big the drug problem is in America and right here in Utah. We have to do all we can to try to fight drug abuse."
Miles said he hopes to put on another - but different - play next year in the schools. In the meantime, the Salt Lake County Fire Department, which has one of the most aggressive fire prevention programs in the nation, presents other kinds of educational demonstrations and lectures throughout the year to youths from kindergarten through the 12th grade and to senior citizens.