The Barbados Fire Service’s Fire Prevention Unit in association with the Media Resource Department of the Ministry of Education have come together to launch a new series of animated features aimed at making the message of fire prevention and fire safety more palatable and relevant to Barbadian audiences, particularly children.
Benny the Cat, an animated character, will act as the Fire Service’s virtual spokesman on a variety of media platforms going forward.
Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard said the character was first conceptualized some 20 years ago, but had gone dormant.
“However, thanks to the creativity of some of the members of our Fire Prevention Unit, we were able to bring him back to life. We recognize that we must start with our children to build a level of safety consciousness and it is our aim to make Benny a household name, and this is an additional tool for us to use in all forms of media to reach all audiences,” he said.
Leading Fire Officer Natasha Forde came up with the idea to use a local character, based on her experiences when she gave lectures on fire safety at the island’s schools over the years.
“I often wrestled with the fact that most of the literature and other information we used came from other countries and had to be modified to suit our culture. For example, when doing presentations at schools, we always had to emphasize that our emergency number was 3-1-1 and not 9-1-1, and also the videos were not in our native tongue,” she said.
“I addressed this issue with my colleagues and they wholeheartedly agreed with the idea of creating our own characters. We looked at fire stations around the world and saw that they either used a dog, Sparky, or Smokey the Bear in their fire safety messages. However, a cat was unique and we thought that would be a good way to capture an audience.”
Script writer, Leading Fire Officer Andrew Taylor picked up the story from there: “I was shocked when I first heard about Benny as I thought he was a thing of the past, but I did not hesitate to join forces with the team to bring him back. I figured he had to be introduced in a new setting so I put him in a village with a number of other characters and I set the story in the parish of St Michael because that is where most of our fires occur.”
Graphic artist Kendra Haynes, whose daughter Kelly was the narrator for the first animated feature, said “it was a lot of work because I had to create not only Benny but all of the supporting characters as well”.
Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw said she was pleased to see the collaboration between two completely different departments to bring an important message to Barbadians.
“Children tend to be among those who lose all of their possessions in house fires, and naturally, these children will grow up one day to be homeowners, so it is important that they get the message of fire prevention and fire safety early in life, and I am also pleased to see that this is completely a local production which highlights the talent we have here in Barbados,” she said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams, under whose portfolio the Fire Service falls, called it “an amazing initiative” and commended the Fire Service for its use of the media and the officers for the passion they demonstrated for their work.