The Man Inside the “Sparky” Costume Changes, but the Message Remains the Same

With 27 years of experience as Rye’s Fire Inspector, it’s safe to say Lt. Jim Dianni can tell you a thing or two about fire safety. He also knows how to work a room full of elementary school students.

Published October 21, 2011 3:58 PM
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sparkythumbWith 27 years of experience as Rye’s Fire Inspector, it’s safe to say Lt. Jim Dianni can tell you a thing or two about fire safety . He also knows how to work a room full of elementary school students. If you want to converse with experts when it comes to fire safety, you can visit this link to know about their services.

By Jim Byrne

sparky1With 27 years of experience as Rye’s Fire Inspector, it’s safe to say Lt. Jim Dianni can tell you a thing or two about fire safety. He also knows how to work a room full of elementary school students.

Next to his sidekick “Sparky”, a six-foot dalmation mascot, Lt. Dianni taught the perils of matches and lighters, as well as the significance of hot doorknobs, to a cafeteria full of entranced kindergarteners October 14 at Midland School. And, with the precision of a veteran comedian, he nailed his punch lines to keep the kids tuned in.

Explaining how to react when you wake up to smoke in the middle of the night, Lt. Dianni noted, with “Sparky” playing along, “The last thing we want you to do is get up and jump around like a crazy dog!” The children erupted in laughter.

sparky2The presentation was the sixteenth of 18 in four days, and Lt. Dianni, who is retiring from the Fire Department in March after 37 years on the job, admitted to being worn out. That’s understandable, but what about the guy in the “Sparky” suit? Actually, this year’s performances were something of a curtain call for Dan Bohchicchio, the third man to don the “Sparky” costume since it was first introduced in 1988. With his “hind legs going”, as the firefighters jokingly put it, he passed the “Sparky” torch to RFD volunteer Max Billington.

“I’m excited about it,” said the 20-year-old. “I tried it out the other day and enjoyed it. I love working with the fire department and children, so it’s a natural fit.”

sparky3Mr. Billington breaks the record for the youngest to wear the suit. Todd Barnum was the first to put it on back in 1988 when he was 26. He added, “I was the new guy, so there was no debating the decision.”

After four years as “Sparky”, Mr. Barnum shed the role and Walter Roode took over. He savored the position, and expressed how important teaching fire prevention to children is. “It really sticks with them at that young age.”

Mr. Roode also recalled going on call while still in the “Sparky” outfit, minus the head of course. A child at the scene of the fire exclaimed to his mother, “They even come in their pajamas!”

Lt. Dianni noted that some of the classic fire prevention teachings are still relevant today.

sparky4“Steve Otis’s mother taught at Rye Country Day for many years, so she saw the presentation countless times,” said the Lieutenant. “The sleeve of her cashmere sweater set on fire at home once, but she immediately ‘stopped, dropped, and rolled’, and it worked! I always thought that was pretty good – I saved the Mayor’s mother!”

Lt. Dianni added, “We’ve had a lot of help through the years with these presentations, and we could not have pulled it off without the dozens of wonderful staff and volunteers who have assisted. The neat thing now is that a lot of the teachers remember the same presentation from when they were schoolchildren.”

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