Chicken Dance Helps Whitfield Clowns Spread Fire Safety Message

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - by Mitch Talley

The energetic sounds of an accordion echo off the walls of the gym at Antioch Elementary School one recent afternoon.

The Whitfield County Fire Department Clown Posse is back in town and ready to have some fun.

“We’ve been working really hard on all of our dance moves,” Kee-Kee the Clown says to emcee Jason Phillips. “We can make a chicken dance.”

“Y’all want to see a chicken dance?” Kee-Kee asks, looking out at the large group of students, who quickly respond with a loud “Yeahhhhhh!”

Just then, sure enough, Skeeter the Clown comes riding out on the shoulders of a dancing chicken and bounces around the gym floor.

“That’s not a chicken dance,” the skeptical emcee retorts.

“That’s a clown wearing a chicken suit.”

“So you’re not impressed?” Kee-Kee asks.

“No, I’m not impressed,” Mr. Phillips responds.

“Plan B,” Kee-Kee responds. “Let me do one amazing magic trick….”

With that, the 2017 edition of the Clown Posse is off and running as they deliver another entertaining show and spread their fire safety message for the 17th consecutive year.

“We’ve had some good success with the program,” Lt. Chris West said before the performance, as the clowns made final preparations for another of their shows delivered over a seven-day period in front of some 4,200 students at 13 elementary schools in the county. “Fire calls over the years of kids playing with matches and lighters are drastically lower, so we hope this has contributed to it.”

In fact, an Antioch Elementary student actually helped save her family last year when she remembered the clowns’ message and called 911 after their kitchen caught fire.

“So we’ve seen success and we definitely want to keep putting our messages out there,” West said, repeating the goal of the show to emphasize the main themes of stop, drop and roll, don’t play with matches and lighters, and get out of the house safely with the EDITH drill (Exit Drill in the Home).

During this year’s show, though, the clowns didn’t pay attention to those three important fire safety messages, at least at first. They got in trouble for making bad grades, couldn’t have a snack per their parents’ decision, went ahead and made a ham, turkey and cheese sandwich, and promptly caught the kitchen “on fire”  when they tried to bake it in the oven.

Students pointed excitedly at the smoke, trying to warn the clowns about the fire. The frightened clowns first went a little crazy running around the stage, but then remembered to get down low and crawl out of the burning house, then all gather at their pre-determined meeting place, their mailbox. Firefighters dressed in real garb then responded to the blaze, showing the kids what firefighters would look and sound like in case of a real fire. Students also watched as the clowns got in trouble with emcee Phillips for their antics.

A lot of important messages crammed into a funny, five-minute skit.

“We want the kids to know how important it is to know two ways to get out of their house in case of a fire,” West said. “We try to make sure that families know that if their kids live on the second story and there’s no way for them to get out on the roof so they can jump off, to make sure they’ve got an escape ladder for the kids to get down from the second story.”

They also talked how no one should go back into a burning house once they’ve escaped, no matter how tempting it might be to try and save another family member, a pet, or a favorite toy.

A catchy song also helped the students remember the importance of “Stop, Drop and Roll” in case they catch on fire, to help smother the blaze.

This year’s shows were the first without Battalion Chief John Chester, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year.

“John had helped us in the fire safety education program for five or six years,” West said, noting that 
Chester had served as emcee of the shows many times. “We really miss him.”

In honor of Chester, West told the students about him at the end of the show, leading into a short slide show of photos.

This year marks the 17th  edition for the Clown Posse, which started from humble beginnings in 2001 when Kee-Kee (also known as Lt. Shawn Damon) and Lt. Chris West did a two-man show at Cohutta Elementary.

“It was just me and him, straight man and clown,” West recalled. “We had just a few little props, and we went in and taught fire safety. It caught on in the county. That first year, I think we only did four or five schools. The second year, in 2002, we did all 10 county schools, and now it’s just grown to what it is today.”

The popularity of the show has grown not only with the schools but also with the firefighters.
Nearly 20 firefighters (and one firefighter’s daughter) take part in the shows. When firefighter Samantha Splawn, who is employed full-time in the county’s Probate Office, couldn’t play her role as Edith for every show, Wesley Williams’ daughter Natalie stepped in and did a great job, West said.

“When we first started the Clown Posse,” he said, “we had to sell the idea to the schools. Now the minute I walk in the door, they say, ‘Oh it’s time again! We’re ready.’ That tells me it works for the school system because they believe in it enough to take time out of their curriculum lineup to do it. Schools  have a lot to teach now, and they can’t deviate much. But they believe in the fire safety message delivered by the clowns, and the kids will talk about it for days.”

2017 FIRE SAFETY EDUCATION PERSONNEL

Shawn Damon (Kee-Kee the Clown)

Chris West (coordinator)

Wesley Williams (Hose-A the Clown)

Jason Phillips (emcee)

Charles Blair (Expert the Clown)

Harold West (helper)

Darren Burnette (Pluggie the Fire Plug operator)

Jake Warnix (Sparky)

Lee Coker (sound)

Branden Pewitt (Skeeter the Clown)

Samantha Splawn (Edith the Clown)

Natalie Williams (Edith the Clown)

Brady Walters (helper)

Christian Chadwick (sound)

Jesse Bond (emcee)

Kyle Lawless (Crawl Space the Clown)

Jamie Franks (helper)

Derek Craft (helper)

Cody Ruddell (helper)


The Salvation Army Of Greater Chattanooga Announces The 2nd Annual Media Battle Of The Bells

Fireside Chat Storytelling Series In Collegedale Kicks Off Jan. 4

Wilder Street Tactical Street Painting Project Delayed Due To Rain


On Friday at Hamilton Place Mall, WDEF News 12 Now, WRCB-TV 3 and WTVC News Channel 9 will battle it out to see who can collect the most money in their iconic Red Salvation Army Kettle. Each ... (click for more)

The City of Collegedale Parks and Recreation Fireside Chat Storytelling Series will kick off Jan. 4, 2019 at 7 p.m. The first Fridays in January, February and March bring entertainment and storytelling ... (click for more)

Due to a rain delay, the Wilder Street Tactical Street Painting Project has been delayed until Sunday. Wilder Street will be closed between North Chamberlain Avenue and Campbell Street ... (click for more)


Happenings

The Salvation Army Of Greater Chattanooga Announces The 2nd Annual Media Battle Of The Bells

On Friday at Hamilton Place Mall, WDEF News 12 Now, WRCB-TV 3 and WTVC News Channel 9 will battle it out to see who can collect the most money in their iconic Red Salvation Army Kettle. Each station will be at a different main mall door entrance with the goal to raise the most money so The Salvation Army can serve those in need this holiday season and throughout the new year. ... (click for more)

Fireside Chat Storytelling Series In Collegedale Kicks Off Jan. 4

The City of Collegedale Parks and Recreation Fireside Chat Storytelling Series will kick off Jan. 4, 2019 at 7 p.m. The first Fridays in January, February and March bring entertainment and storytelling for all ages to Founders Hall at The Commons, 4950 Swinyar Dr. The Fireside Chat series joins the Encore Kids Drama Club as the City of Collegedale's Parks and Recreation department ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Ooltewah Residents Ask Sewage Treatment Plant Go In Meigs County Instead; WWTA Says Growth To Be Stymied Without Plant

An overflow crowd of Ooltewah residents opposed to a sewage plant "in their back yard" recommended on Wednesday that it go further north, perhaps Meigs County where TVA is building a major power center. Officials of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) said Mahan Gap Road is the best location and least expensive. Without a new plant, development ... (click for more)

Earthquakes Hit Tennessee Valley Early Wednesday Morning

Two earthquakes happened early Wednesday morning just north of Chattanooga, awakening many early in the morning. The earthquakes registered at 4.4 and 3.3 magnitudes at 4:27 a.m. Some people felt them in North Chattanooga and Ooltewah. They were also felt as far away as Atlanta and Nashville. A St. Elmo woman told of the sewing machine that she uses as a night table by ... (click for more)

Opinion

Alstom And Tubman: A Tale Of Two Sites

The former Alstom industrial site on the riverfront and the former Harriett Tubman housing site in East Chattanooga both have a lot of redevelopment potential. And yet the city of Chattanooga seems to view them quite differently. Alstom is the fair-haired child; Tubman is the forgotten child. The Alstom area was recently designated as an "opportunity zone" in a new program ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: My Best Breakfast Ever

As I have grown older, I have grown more peculiar. I love having so many wonderful friends who I’ll see out in the mornings, all hail and hardy, but most of the time I enjoy having breakfast by myself. Hear me out: whether it is the Cracker Barrel, the Bluegrass Café or any number of other places I enjoy, most often there are delightful people who invite me to share their table ... (click for more)