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'Smokey' Brown Honored for Fire Prevention
Missouri Ag Connection - 02/09/2018

For more than 30 years, Ron Brown has donned the faux-fur brown suit, adjusted the ranger hat that says “Smokey,” and clearly communicated how to prevent wildfires. From children to senior citizens, thousands welcomed him as Smokey Bear. His El Dorado Springs, Mo., community also knows him as a 49-year volunteer fire fighter. So the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) presented Brown with the Eugene F. McNamara Memorial Award for excellence in wildfire prevention.

The award is granted by the Northeast Area Forest Fire Supervisors, a 20-state umbrella organization devoted to wildfire prevention, management, and training. MDC staff presented Brown with the award during a luncheon at the Missouri Natural Resources Conference at Lake of the Ozarks.

“Ron is not limited to just his local community. He has traveled to the corners of the state to present Smokey’s message to schools, day-care facilities, picnics, churches, Wal-Mart stores, and numerous presentations at Fire Safety Days,” Ben Webster, MDC Wildland Fire Program supervisor, noted in the award nomination letter.

Brown, 63, treasures a letter describing how a young girl saved a sibling’s life by carrying her out of a burning house and seeking help. The girl told grownups that is what Smokey had told her to do in case of fire.

“If I can save one child or one life, keep them from getting hurt or worse, everything I’ve done is worthwhile,” Brown said.

His first Smokey ties began in his grade school years when, like millions of American youngsters, he joined the Smokey Bear Club and got a letter in the mail along with a ranger badge and a sheet music for the "Smokey the Bear" song. He still has the badge. Then about 1969, as a teenager he joined the “Alert Club,” whose members rehabbed an old pickup truck and water tank into a brush firefighting apparatus to serve a four- or five-county area. The volunteers paid for the truck and their gear out of their own pocket. That service morphed into decades-long duties as a volunteer fire fighter in the El Dorado Springs community. Brown retired as an emergency operations coordinator at the 3M plant in nearby Nevada, Mo.

“I’ve stomped on a lot of burning grass and fought a lot of wildfires,” Brown said.

He enjoys Smokey Bear presentations because he believes fire prevention is important to people, property, wildlife, and forests. School children are glad to see Smokey, but so are residents at nursing and special care homes.

“I’ve been Smokey for everybody,” Brown said, “from 3-year-olds at day care centers to nursing home residents. You should see some of the elderly people’s faces light up.”

In past years, Brown got an assist from his late wife, Nancy. She posed at appearances as Smokey’s handler, assisting with talks and passing out fire prevention materials. Nancy passed away last June. But the firefighting brotherhood remains to help. He often makes appearances as Smokey along with fire departments at safety events throughout Missouri.

Brown stays current on firefighting training and is still active as a volunteer. And he’s also still portraying Smokey Bear, since 1944 a mascot for the fire prevention campaign by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council.

“As long as I can get up and put both feet on the floor, I plan on putting that bear suit on, anytime or anywhere,” Brown said. “I pay my own travel expenses. There’s just something about firefighting service and Smokey Bear that’s in my blood I guess.”

MDC fights fires and administers a program that provides grants and surplus firefighting equipment to fire departments throughout Missouri. For information, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4A.

For more information on Smokey Bear, visit https://smokeybear.com/en.

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