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Entertainers also offer serious safety messages

Their day jobs include searching through charred rubble for a fire cause, dispatching emergency calls and stopping speeding drivers. But on Monday, they were characters in a slapstick, music-pumped show to teach serious safety rules to children.

It was the inauguration performance of Sonoma County's Safety Pals theater troupe.

The group of about 16 performers and stagehands did the show three times at J.X. Wilson Elementary School, rocking the multi-purpose room for hundreds of first- to third-graders.

"They were completely engaged," said Wendy Koch of her second-grade Wright Charter School class.

"I think it was fabulous. They integrated music and costumes to teach their messages," Koch said. "They made it fun with dogs and clowns."

Crosswalk safety, how to call 911, exiting a burning home, smoke detectors, helmet use and anti-bullying were messages sprinkled throughout the 30-minute show.

Jose, a Spanish-speaking firefighter puppet, provided translations.

"When you engage kids with theater and laughter and music, they're going to remember this stuff," said Cyndi Foreman, who plays "Cinders" the clown.

Foreman is the fire-prevention officer for Central Fire, the newly formed administration for Rincon Valley and Windsor fire departments.

Her fellow actors include a range of front-line and behind-the-scenes, local and state public safety employees.

By Wednesday afternoon, the group will have performed for about 1,700 students in west and southwest Santa Rosa.

The students will conduct quick pre- and post-show tests about their safety skill knowledge.

Oreonna Andrews, 10, indicated the messages got through.

The Wright Charter third-grader could recite the recommended rules for smoke detectors -- checking batteries monthly and changing them twice a year. She also knew the answers for crosswalk safety -- stopping, looking both ways, looking again and listening.

But ask her what she thought of the show, and she'll tell you: "I liked the clowns. Their big feet didn't fit on the scooters."

The idea for a local troupe came last spring when the Butte County fire pals group performed in Santa Rosa.

"We saw it and loved it so much we started our own troupe here in Sonoma County," Foreman said.

The volunteer troupe includes 11 members who traveled to Arizona for a kind of clown and acting camp.

Ruben Mandujano, a longtime Healdsburg firefighter and fire inspector, is hooked. He's also now known as the voice of Jose the puppet.

"I'm ready for this," said Mandujano. "I'm excited about it."

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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