Viral clown threats hurting local fire safety programs

Lynnane Nguyen reports.

Viral clown threats are having unintended consequences for local firefighters.

Several local departments use clowns in their fire safety programs as a fun way to teach young kids. But now, they're seeing cancellations.

The clown program is new this year in Prosper but has been around for years at other local fire departments. But recent hoax clown threats spreading on social media are taking a toll on some programs. And for firefighters, it's no laughing matter.        

Some days, Chris Jefferson fights fires as a Plano firefighter. But on special days, he trades his firefighting uniform in for a giant pair of clown shoes and becomes 'Snozzle' the clown, saving lives through fire safety education.

“A real clown makes people happy and brings joy into someone's life,” he said. “They love it. They have a great time, and they laugh, sing, clap. And they're really able to retain the information.”

But nationwide viral clown threats have been casting clowns in a bad light, spreading rumors and fear. It's gone so far, at least three students in Rockwall, Mansfield and River Oaks cold face charges.

It’s also taking a toll on the Prosper Fire Department's clown fire safety program which just started this year.

The department's already had three cancellations and is now requiring any firefighters in clown costumes to stay close to other firefighters in uniform to avoid any false alarms.

“The timing could not be worse,” said Assistant Chief Stuart Blasingame. “What makes me mad is a choice few people throw on a mask, call themselves a clown, they go out and scare people and then it scares people from having the actual good people that are clowns going out on a fire prevention to teach these kids a lesson. 32:49

Blasingame says the cancellations mean kids are missing out on valuable fire safety education.

“They don't know they're learning while they're doing this,” he said. “The kids just think we're having a great time.”

And Jefferson has a message for anyone who may want to take part in the social-media trend.

“Stop. Please stop,” he said. “It's not entertaining. It's not beneficial. It's not positive. Take the creativity into a head and make it positive.”

Some departments have also modified their programs to calm people's nerves by addressing the rumors and recent clown threats before the show starts to make sure kids know these clowns are not there to scare them.

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