When ‘Mr. Awesome’ Speaks, The Kids Listen, Laugh And Learn - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

When ‘Mr. Awesome’ Speaks, The Kids Listen, Laugh And Learn

October 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
When ‘Mr. Awesome’ Speaks, The Kids Listen, Laugh And Learn

By City of Chandler

For Chandler first- and second-grade students, learning about fire emergencies from their Chandler Fire Pals might help keep them healthy and safe if the unexpected happens.

Chandler Fire Pals are a small group of firefighter volunteers who have been trained to make a connection with students and teach them about potential dangers and how to act with confidence in an emergency situation. Fire Pals support the Department’s Partnership for L.I.F.E. (Learning In Firesafe Environments) program, providing fire safety classroom instruction to first- and second-grade students at more than 33 Chandler area public and charter schools.

The fire department has more than 17 firefighters serving as Fire Pals this school year. Many of those volunteers were mentored by one of the department’s most gregarious, fun-loving firefighters, Adrian Thomas. In his 10 years as a Chandler firefighter, Thomas has earned a reputation among his peers as a jokester with a wild sense of humor and an ability to entertain his fellow crew members. He is currently assigned to Station No. 10 on McQueen Road in southeast Chandler. Thomas has been working with Chandler elementary school students since 2010, before the Fire Pals program officially started. What is his secret for being able to connect with students, especially first- and second-graders?

“I’m really just a big kid, myself,” Thomas said. “I’m there to teach them some important lessons, but if my presentation is not entertaining, they are going to lose interest quickly. And if the kids aren’t going to pay attention to ‘Mr. Awesome,’ then they aren’t going to listen to anyone.”

Mr. Awesome is the fun nickname Thomas gave himself – an extension of his bigger-than-life personality – and an attention-grabbing persona that he brings into the classroom. Mr. Awesome fills his lessons with humor and an interesting mix of “Adrian-isms,” his collection of wacky observations and silly jokes.

For Thomas, the Mr. Awesome character isn’t much different than who he really is, but for the kids Mr. Awesome is the hook that helps them remember the important safety messages they need to know.

“I don’t want these children to be afraid, I want them to be prepared,” Thomas said. “I tell them that the chances are very low that they will be in a fire. But if there is an emergency, there are certain things they should remember. For example, we role play a 9-1-1 call, and I ask them if they have their address memorized. Do they know the phone numbers of their parents?”

Often, when the students get a turn to ask their Fire Pal a question, they surprise Mr. Awesome. “What I hear the most from these kids is, “What will happen to my dog or my cat? Who is going to protect and save my pets if there is a fire?’

“And I tell them that their first priority has to be getting themselves out of the house quickly and safely,” Thomas said. “If they are outside and safe when our fire engine arrives, then I can go try to save their pets. I can’t do that if I have to first worry about their safety.”

To have a greater impact on a classroom, Mr. Awesome has another trick up his sleeve. He doesn’t speak to just the children.

“When you think about the cartoons we watched when we were kids, some of the jokes went over our heads,” he said. “But suddenly your mom or dad who might have been barely listening would start to laugh.

“We didn’t always know why, but we wanted in on the joke, too. My goal is to get the teachers to laugh. If I make the adults laugh, then I know everyone is paying attention to the message.”

For Thomas, the rewards of being a Fire Pal are immediate in the classroom.

“The kids brighten up your day. They want to tell you stories and give you hugs,” he said. “Most of these kids think of firefighters as heroes, which is a great feeling.”

The impact of his time in the classroom is also apparent at other times.

“I love it when I’m with the guys at the grocery store and kids see me and shout, “Hey, it’s Mr. Awesome!” he said.