Every year, the cities of Charlestown and Westerly, Rhode Island, host the annual Karl E. Kenyon Smokey Bear Parade, which the residents wholeheartedly take part in. A tradition that has been in existence for over 50 years, the parade risked cancelation this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the people at Dunn’s Corners Fire Department prevented such an outcome and ensured that the parade took place exactly as it always has.
The annual parade was started by former Dunn’s Corners Fire Chief Ed Green almost five decades ago. It was aimed at encouraging interaction between the volunteers and community members. It was during the time of former Chief Karl E. Kenyon that the event started including Smokey Bear. After Kenyon’s death in 2010, the name of the parade was modified in his honor.
This year, the parade seemed headed toward cancelation. But things started looking good in June after authorities eased restrictions and social distancing rules. This boosted the organizers’ morale, pushing them to conduct the yearly event. After locals came to know about it, Acting Dunn’s Corners Fire Chief Keith Kenyon received numerous phone calls from the people announcing their support for the event. And with everyone working together, the parade was successfully held on July 16.
The event featured the fire departments of Westerly and Charlestown, as well as the EMS crew. First responders from the surrounding communities also participated. The parade drew a good number of people. Though the parade is usually targeted at children, adults were also present in significant numbers. After all, people had been cooped up in their homes for a long time and were looking forward to some enjoyable social activity, which the Karl E. Kenyon Smokey Bear Parade provided.
“We wanted to do this to provide a small glimmer of hope in these tough times… People look forward to this tradition and we came together and realized that we could still do something that would be enjoyable, keep both the public and members safe, and keep our tradition alive,” Dunn’s Corners Fire Capt. Jeffrey Thomas, publicity chairman for the annual event, said to The Westerly Sun.
Some people in the crowd remarked that such events should be held in all communities so as to build trust and cohesion among the members. One woman was happy that her kids got to see firefighters and police officers, two groups that they looked up to.
Smokey Bear is the campaign icon of the U.S. Forest Service. The name “Smokey Bear” is inspired by a New York firefighter called “Smokey” Joe Martin who suffered severely after a heroic rescue attempt in 1922. Smokey Bear’s first appearance was in a 1944 wildlife prevention poster that depicted it putting out fires with the famous slogan “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.”
Prior to Smokey, the early posters used to have the Disney character Bambi. The Postal Service gave Smokey Bear its own zip code in 1965. At present, the character of Smokey is voiced by actor Sam Elliot. You can follow Smokey on the official Twitter account @smokey_bear. Surprisingly, a real-life “Smokey” existed earlier. This bear had survived a forest fire by climbing trees, thereby earning the name “Smokey.” However, it died in 1976.