Ottumwa Life Holiday 2018 - Page 29

Sparky becomes the face of toy drive during the holidays BY WINONA WHITAKER D Sparky greets students at Liberty Elementary School. illon McPherson slipped himself into the Sparky the Fire Dog costume on a cloudy day in October. The former Army Ranger from Burlington is embracing all aspects of being an Ottumwa firefighter. McPherson left the combat raids to fight fires, res- cue people in need and greet children as a large, spot- ted dog. “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was a little kid,” McPherson said. “I’ve served my nation, and now I get to serve my community.” Fighting fires is a physically demanding job; McPherson likes that. The job provides an ever-chang- ing environment. “Every day’s different.” Some days McPherson gets to be a dog. As the holidays approach, Sparky the Fire Dog, the official mascot of the National Fire Protection Association, becomes Sparky Claus, the face of Ottumwa Fire Department’s toy drive for under-privi- leged children, one of many charitable programs the fire department takes part in. “We started out ringing bells for the Salvation Army,” said Josh Chance, Sparky Claus chairman. “We found out all their angel trees weren’t being taken.” The fire department took the unclaimed names of children off the Salvation Army Christmas trees and hosted toy drives to provide toys for those children, Chance said. The department had such support from the commu- nity that it started collecting toys every year. “When the Salvation Army left, Sieda took over to kind of fill the void,” Chance said. “So now we take care of Sieda families.” Any extra toys are distributed to other charitable organizations like Hope House and American Home When Sparky is not in use, his head hangs on the wall, says firefighter Josh Chance. Sparky has to be updated periodically. The old Sparky was more anotomically accurate, and the newer one is more cartoonish. Photos by Winona Whitaker HOLIDAY! 29