By James Haynes
The Cullman Times
Since 1944, Smokey Bear has been depicted campaigning against forest fires and wildfires. This year, in honor of Smokey’s 70th anniversary, the Cullman Fire Department will be exhibiting a vintage Smokey Bear display at Station 2 on Main Avenue.
The display will now be part of publicly-available tours of the station, Cullman Fire Chief Edward Reinhardt said, adding that the display itself is estimated to be about 50 years old.
“We believe it dates back to the ‘60s,” Chief Reinhardt said.
The life-size exhibit was recently donated by Rodney Basenburg of Cullman, Reinhardt said.
“We got it a few months back,” Reinhardt said. “We’re still trying to get glass over it.”
The Smokey Bear character originated during World War II to educate members of the public and counteract wildfires in the West, since many firefighters were serving overseas. Later, in the 1950s, a young bear cub was rescued from a wildfire, and would go on to be the living Smokey mascot. Smokey is now one of the most recognizable fictional characters, according to the Ad Council.
Chief Reinhardt added that as a child, he “was part of the Smokey the Bear Club at the time.”
While Smokey’s original focus was fighting forest fires, in 2001 his slogan was changed to encourage preventing “wildfires.”
Locally, Reinhardt said the fire department actively works to educate youth with the message of fire safety.
Prior to Fire Prevention Week, at the end of September, county schools will come in for tours of the Fire Department, Reinhardt said.
In addition, “Every year at Fire Prevention time (Oct. 5-11 this year), we do handouts and stuff,” Reinhardt said. “What we’re trying to do this year, if the City [opts] to fund it, is to do Smokey the Bear handouts.”
The Fire Station and exhibit are available for members of the public to view.
“We do tours anytime, pretty much, as long as our schedule allows,” Reinhardt said. “We ... try to have something for everybody.”
To schedule tours of Fire Station 2, call fire Inspector Jason Heaton at (256) 775-7186.