SOUTHPORT, N.C. (WECT) - If you happen to walk into the Southport Fire Department during Fire Prevention Week, you might second guess where you are.
Looking more like a circus than a fire station, firefighters hurriedly change into bright-colored costumes and paint their faces red, white, and blue. Transformed into clowns, they plod single file down the hallways and hop into firetrucks, headed to area senior centers, elementary and pre-schools.
“Usually when people see firemen it’s in a stressful time or the worst time in their life at that point," said Southport Police Chief Todd Coring, also known as Fire Clown Blaze. "They get to see us interact with them in a fun way and we’re really just trying to bring home a message to help save their life.”
Firefighter Madison Drew is a fourth-generation Southport firefighter and second-generation Fire Clown, also known as Inferno.
“We do things just a tad bit different than everyone else,” Drew said. “Most people think that firefighting is a serious job, and it is- we take seriousness in our job- but there are times that we get to joke around too.”
Drew is now in charge of the Southport Fire Prevention program, organizing events for the troupe of Fire Clowns. He’s passionate about their fire safety message and the impact it has on children — he should know, he was one of them.
“I can remember him sitting in the front row looking up watching us, knowing who we were of course in our costumes,” said Southport Fire Chief Charles Drew, Madison Drew’s father.
Juggling both jobs as fire clowns and firefighters can get tricky.
“One year during fire prevention week we had just left a program and there was a structure fire call that came out so we had a couple of clowns that responded,” Chief Drew said. "We had a fire clown that was pulling an inch and three-quarter line off the side of the trucks, charging the truck. We had another clown that was running the truck.”
The Southport Fire Clowns haven’t always been well received. In 2016, the group was told not to perform programs at schools after hoax images circulated online, showing clowns allegedly trying to lure children into the woods.
“We actually had some programs that we were teaching across the county and I wasn’t dressed out that day but a couple of our guys were scheduled at Belville Elementary School and they were asked not to dress up,” Chief Coring said. “You get that sometimes. People are scared of clowns.”
For the most part, Chief Drew says their message is well received, and one that is remembered for years to come.
“One of the most rewarding things is when a kid comes up to us that has grown up and says ‘hey we had a fire in my home and I remembered how to get on my knees, crawl low under the smoke, woke my parents up and got them out of the house and we all survived the fire.’"