In 1944, the US Forest Service was looking for a way to promote forest fire prevention, and decided a fictional bear named Smokey would be the perfect messenger.
“Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” Remember it? Of course you do. It was burnt into the psyche of every kid growing up in this country. Smokey became a national icon.
Now, the question is will Rocket?
The Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Los Angeles Fire Department all are betting on a red headed, cartoon dog named Rocket to reach our most vulnerable, trusting population — children pre-K to 3rd grade, and older.
They may not listen to adults talk about what to do in emergency and dangerous situations, but a cartoon dog? C’mon.
It’s a cute idea for a deadly serious subject. Sad to say, but if we don’t open their eyes this young to the bad news, the good news may never come.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner has cut a video with Rocket, along with Dodger third baseman Justin Turner on safety, and 20,000 Rocket Rules of Safety books were just distributed to fire departments throughout the state for parents to read to their young children, and talk about afterwards.
“Rocket is all about giving children a sense of control, security, and safety,” says LAPD Chief Michel Moore. “He’s strengthened our outreach in the neighborhoods.”
Former LAUSD police chief Todd Chamberlain, who quit recently after his budget was slashed by 25 percent, says Rocket is “providing the students of LAUSD with the essential tools to recognize potential dangers, which is vital to the safety of our school community.”
Rocket Rules are also in public libraries, children’s museums, and other school districts and fire departments across the state.
He’s the creation of ex-Valley girl, Bunni Benaron, and her husband, Rick, who formed the Hero In You Foundation in 2014 to honor the heroic lives of firefighter first responders, and it took off from there.
“Nobody was teaching kids this young how to stay safe in an emergency,” says Bunni, a former school teacher. “We began working with LAPD, and partnered with them on a safety book. The messaging was important, and Rocket was the perfect way to get it across to young children.
“He’s our mascot, first responder, everything to us. All messaging comes through Rocket.”
Earthquake safety, crossing the street, wildfires, looking for exits in a large crowd, avoiding dangerous things and places, the Rocket touched all the bases – in English and Spanish.
But even Rocket didn’t see COVID-19 coming. “We came out with six COVID videos for children, and LAUSD loved it because it was so timely. Superintendent Buetner did a safety video with Rocket, and now we’re moving in the direction where they need us.”
Rocket’s already teaching young children what to watch out for, now it’s time to teach them what to look for. His next videos are on friendship, kindness, and diversity.
Wouldn’t it be great if Rocket could burn that into the psyche of today’s young children, like Smokey began doing with forest fire prevention 76 years ago this month.
For more information, go to rocketrules.org/thehero-in-you-foundation.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at [email protected]