When a 175-pound Mastiff appeared before 25 kindergarten students at the Otis Memorial Elementary School on Cape Cod, Mass., recently, a series of emotions covered their faces from exhilaration to extreme fear. The dog, owned by LT Chris Alexander, an Air Station Cape Cod safety officer, and his wife Mary, is the centerpiece for a new safety program which was devised to help keep kids safe through the use of the dog and a new coloring book.
The Alexanders joined forces with a group of AirSta Cape Cod crewmen including LT Frank Genco, AMC Steve Roe, AM1 Paul Fowler, AE3 Jeremy Leclair and AT2 Kevin Cartier to design a new coloring book filled with informative drawings. According to Alexander, a pilot who is also the air station's safety officer, the coloring book and the Mastiff go together like hot dogs and catsup.
The book's main character, a dog named Coastie, was modeled after the Alexanders' pet and became a creative, lovable teaching tool to attract kids' interest and imagination. "The idea behind the program is that Coast Guard work is often hard and dangerous, but Coast Guard personnel have set procedures, specialized training and equipment to safely complete their jobs," said Alexander.
The book teaches kids that they too can use the same types of equipment and procedures to remain safe. In the book, safety ideas are illustrated. On one particular page, Coast Guard aviators are shown wearing their aircraft helmets. On the following page, children are drawn wearing helmets while skating. "Other safety ideas within the book include the usage of seat belts and life jackets," said Alexander.
The Alexanders, Cartier and Genco took Coastie along to the elementary school to show the students, with the aid of a felt dramatization board, that their motto "Safety is fun. Safety is for everyone," can allow children to learn safe practices from example. According to Mary Alexander, the coloring book is part of the overall safety program, drawing upon the knowledge and experience of Coast Guard people.
"We bring the presentations into the classroom and use the coloring
book as an outline to explain how Coast Guard crews perform their jobs safely
and the importance of workplace safety," said Genco. The interactive
program allows children the chance to see, touch and try on Coast Guard
survival and safety equipment. The students also participate in the felt
board demonstration where they can dress Coastie, a safety boy, and a safety
girl in their proper safety equipment using felt characters and equipment
pieces. After the felt board demonstration, pounding paws prevail.
"The coloring books are passed out and the Coast Guardsmen ask, 'Would you like to meet Coastie? The children shout a resounding 'yes!,'" said Mary Alexander.
Although the coloring book safety program began at Air Station Cape Cod,
Alexander forwarded the concept for command approval and chartered a working
group to further develop the concept.
Since its inception and an endorsement from CAPT Leonard Bosma, the air station's commanding officer, Alexander has recently mailed the program to Headquarters in an effort to launch the program Coast Guard wide. Additionally, the program was also recently introduced at the Boston Children's museum as part of the museum's "Boats Afloat" exhibit.
According to Alexander, about four million children are expected to visit the exhibit over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the Alexanders remain hopeful that Coastie won't gain much more weight, but they do expect the Mastiff to continue visiting school children and keep their interests on safety, at home, along the waterfront and throughout their lives.