In the day, Tualatin Elementary School Fire Prevention Singers were the hot ticket
Like a pair of teenagers who haven't seen each other in years - in fact it's been 22 years - Don Anderson and Linda Laine sit down at the piano and belt out the 1920s-era song 'Has Anybody Seen My Gal.'
It's the same song they used to warm up the students as part of the Fire Prevention Singers during the 1970s and 1980s when the pair were in charge of 20 hand-picked singers would sing their hearts out as they warned about students about the dangers of home fires.
And how they could prevent them.
From 1972 to 1989, Anderson, who served as public information officer for the old Tualatin Rural Fire Protection District, founded and coordinated the troupe of Tualatin Elementary School students who made up the program.
By the time the program was disbanded, Anderson, a Sherwood resident, estimates that thousands of students heard the messages of preventing house fires and creating a safe escape if a fire ever occurred.
'Everyone wanted to be a Fire Prevention Singer,' said Anderson, now 86.
Inspired by 'The Junior Fire Marshal's Song,' a little 1957 ditty released by the Hartford Insurance Company, Anderson enlisted the help of a well-respected sixth-grade Tualatin Elementary teacher, Joy Lindner.
'So Joyx put together a group of kids and she trained them and we went around together,' recalled Anderson.
After a grueling schedule of practices - students practiced every day for six weeks - performances were set as close to the beginning of Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9) as possible. A 1989 schedule shows that the students performed in elementary schools in Wilsonville, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood in a schedule that would make even a season performer's head spin.
'(The) program set Tualatin Elementary apart from all schools in the area,' said Anderson.
The late Lindner, who accompanied Anderson on piano, was described by former Tigard/Tualatin Times' editor Mikel Kelly as having a '1,000-watt smile,' and a 'perennially positive approach to everything.' She would help Anderson for seven years before Laine, a popular music teacher, stepped into the slot in 1979. Laine, who now lives in Astoria, quickly got up to speed with a program that proved immensely popular.
'One of my students wrote an essay in his regular classroom,' recalled Laine. 'He said 'my goal in the sixth grade is to be a Junior Fire Marshal Singer.''
Laine said she would pick the students based on voices, noting 'the louder, the better.'
'Because we sang in gyms generally, we needed kids who could really belt it out,' said Laine, who was with the singers for 10 years.
Students with big smiles were a plus, she noted. Costumes consisted of blue jeans, a checkered scarf (usually red and white) and a white shirt. Topping it all off were plastic fire helmets, usually gifts from insurance companies.
Ultimately, the idea behind the group was to reduce the number of residential fire deaths.
'We succeeded in doing this,' Anderson said.
In fact, those who saw the Fire Prevention Singers sometimes went on to use what they had learned to help others.
Laine recalled that one student whose sister's 'clothes caught on fire and (he) pushed her down and rolled her and the fire went out.'
Anderson too said a mother once wrote to him thanking him for the calmness her son exhibited when the family's house caught fire.
'He said 'don't worry mom, Fireman Don told me what to do,' recalled Anderson.
During performances, one of the show's star attractions was 'Rhody Red,' a 4-foot-tall marionette puppet with bright red, orange and yellow feathers. The leaders of the group were generally a boy and girl student known as Sparky and Sparkette. The program also featured a fire district dispatcher who dressed as a clown.
In addition to the piano, there was a fiddle player as well.
'Everything was about teaching fire safety,' noted Laine.
One part of the show featured Sparky and Sparkette showing how to put out a fire with a water bucket, throwing the 'water' into the audience.
'It was just cellophane in it and it was fastened to the bottom of the pail,' Anderson said.
Then there also was Mr. Flame Tamer. Played by a student, he brought his wonderful fire prevention machine with kids going up and down portraying valves and rocker arms. There was Smokey the Bear and Anderson had an assistant, Rick 'The Crazy Professor' Harrington.
'The whole idea of the assembly was to get kids engaged,' said Anderson.
Anderson said he tried to keep the mood light, void of fire facts and statistics.
'My basic premise was no one was going to watch a dull program,' he recalled. 'We had to make it fun.'