Animated Mike Gets New Yorkers To Listen to Firemen’s Story
Cartoon Mobile wages campaign against hostile crowds and false alarms in 20-minute curbside programs
A unique way of informing the public about the dangers of false alarms and hostile acts against firemen, and also methods of fire prevention, has been tested with great success in New York City. The experimental program was sponsored by the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
Using a Cartoon Mobile, a mobile unit that achieves instant animation through a process called Aniform, and staff members of the New York Fire Department community relations office, the two-week program got its tryout in ghetto areas last summer.
“We were very gratified with the comments made from members in the field,” said Joseph Lovett, president of the UFOA. “It is evident that it was well received and served a very useful purpose in making a positive identity with the residents of the area.”
Mike talks with public
An animated cartoon character, Mike the Faithful Fire Fighter, carried on two-way conversations with the audience to put messages across in a humorous way and make a lasting impression. The key points covered were false alarms, hostile acts against members of the department and fire prevention.
“This direct contact with the public leaves a lasting favorable impression of the department,” said Lieutenant Vincent Julius, a 15-year veteran assigned to the experiment. “It enabled us to convey the message of fire prevention, normally a dry subject, in a humorous manner.
We also tried to get across the idea that firemen are members of the community, they live in it and are there to extinguish fires. The fireman is their friend,” the lieutenant added.
The unit has mobility and was used in all the boroughs, but especially in slum areas such as Brownsville, East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and also Harlem. In two weeks, it made 87 stops in these areas.
The Aniform process, which seems complex to onlookers, is no mystery. Hidden from view is a specially trained operator who manipulates the character, ad-libs lines and delivers the messages to the public. He sees the audience through a one-way mirror, and a microphone relays audience conversation to him.
The character is projected on a TV screen, recessed in the side of the truck, by a closed-circuit camera. The operator moves the figure and synchronizes mouth movements to speech, giving the illusion that the character is actually speaking. It creates a “live” conversation impression.
Show lasts 20 minutes
The theme of the program was “The Life We Save May Be Yours” and ran for 20 minutes at each location with Mike the hit of the show. The cast included a fireman speaker outside the unit and the hidden animation operator, who also shows slides and movies of fire casualties and fire fighters in action in tough situations.
The children’s reaction was good, including the real young, who were stunned at first but then reacted favorably. The neighborhood children spoke to Mike and told what they knew about fire prevention, false alarms and interfering with the work of fire fighters. The bee discourse with Mike led the viewer to feel that he or she was an integral part of the program. This personal involvement helps the individual to remember the message being conveyed.
Continued use urged
“We were happy with the successful program,” remarked Lovett. The UFOA, he added, is “interested in any program that contributes to the safety of our members and recommends continued use of the Cartoon Mobile.”
Commissioner Robert O. Lowery was also enthusiastic about the program and called the Cartoon Mobile “a very versatile educational and entertainment instrument. Our experience with it indicates that it is easily adaptable to fire prevention educational use.”
Next summer, it is planned to use bilingual operators to reach both the English and Spanish-speaking communities. It also may be used in school fire prevention programs, recruitment campaigns and scheduled programs at firehouses in conjunction with civilian visits.
Because of the mobility ol the operation, it can be used by any fire fighting unit anywhere. In many communities, firemen work in close conjunction with the business community and the unit can be shared by both. In many cases, funds from public-spirited citizens can help support this type of mobile program.
The Cartoon Mobile was originated by Vincent Tilotta, president of Pax Productions, 250 West 57th Street, New York, and the characters were created by Morey Bunin of Aniform.