- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

A cold winter and the holidays means space heaters, hot stoves, fireplaces, twinkling lights and even candles are being used more often to keep warm and festive. Combine this increased use with an uninformed child's fascination with flames, and it could lead to tragic results.

Luckily, a pooch who has spent 51 years teaching the world about fire safety has a great cyber-presence available to lend an educational paw. His site comes packed with colorful images and clever ways to teach families about the dangers of Mother Nature's hottest invention.

Sparky the Fire Dog

Site address: www.sparky.org

Creator:

Headquartered in Quincy, Mass., the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has served its members and society by working to reduce fire-related and other injuries through consensus codes and standards, research, training and public education since 1896.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site knowing it would be a great way to reach kids and families with positive, technically accurate fire and life-safety lessons that would deliver our message in a fun and creative way," says Meri-K Appy, vice president for public education at NFPA.

Word from the Webwise:

With a wink of his eye, this intelligent Dalmatian points children 7 to 12 years old toward a circus midway of fun, all the while reminding them about fire safety. A click on any of the flashing billboards Fun With Fire Trucks, Ask Sparky, News Flash, Family Stuff, Sparky's Arcade Games, Cool to Do, Hot Diggity Dalmatians or the Story of Sparky reveals an educational adventure that balances on-screen games with printable activities and prudent advice.

For example, a stop by Family Stuff offers four coloring pages, including "Stop, Drop and Roll With Sparky" and "Sparky Says 'Thank You' to Firefighters;" a detailed list for organizing and practicing a home fire-escape plan; a photo-based presentation of an escape plan with the help of the Miller family; a downloadable safety checklist; and a hunt for home hazards with the Simpson family.

The hazard hunt, which looks similar to the Miller fire-escape plan design layout, has visitors clicking on Cooking Safety, Electrical Safety and Heating Safety to view several captioned images of the entire Simpson family. The family makes sure propane tanks and other fuels are stored outside the home in an approved safety container, checks that kitchen appliances are unplugged when not being used and makes sure potholders and oven mitts are within easy reach of the stove.

I really enjoyed the Fun With Fire Trucks section, which not only had a neat driving game to play, but also had a breakdown of the parts of a truck, a side-scrolling image gallery highlighting five vehicles and some audio snippets of sirens and bells.

A sneaky way to teach fire safety can be found in Sparky's Arcade Games, which offers four challenges for readers and two for nonreaders. Among the best are a baseball simulation in which players get hits by giving correct answers to multiple-choice questions and a matching game using 10 cards to reinforce a home escape plan.

Other places of interest include a fashion page on how Sparky's look has changed over the past 50 years (found under News Flash), a way to "Dalmatianize" Aunt Edna (under Hot Diggity Dalmatians) and an area where Sparky answers plenty of important questions, such as "How do fires start?" (under Ask Sparky).

Ease of use:

Visitors will need a browser that supports the Quicktime, Shockwave and Adobe Acrobat plug-ins to fully enjoy the site.

Don't miss:

The recently added SparkyVille challenge (under Sparky's Arcade Games) gives children a chance to visit Sparky's hometown and undo the risky mischief created by Danger Dog. Using an interactive map, sound and animation with plenty of clicking and collecting required, this simplistic video game reveals some of the leading causes of injury and death to children younger than 14, including burns, motor-vehicle crashes, bike incidents, poisoning, choking and playground injuries.

Family activity:

Obviously, one of Sparky's major missions is putting the clan's safety knowledge into practice, especially at home, where the risk of fire and injury from other causes can be greatest. Downloading the Escape Planning Grid is essential so everyone can sit down and plot out a strategy for escape from a fire before it might become necessary.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

This cartoony stop featuring multiple areas of safety will keep children lecturing parents for months about the dangers of fire and the need to have working alarms and extinguishers and an escape plan.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.
     a;ve a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).



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