Dayna Hilton – Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

We released the second edition of Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog in July after a very successful first printing. We are fortunate that the book is a multi-award-winning, critically acclaimed children’s book and that is has been credited with helping save the lives of two adults and seven children.

When children learn of the adventures of Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog in this book, they learn valuable fire safety tips enabling them and their families to help keep fire safe. These tips include recognizing the firefighter as a helper and a friend, knowing the sound and purpose of a smoke alarm, learning how to crawl low under smoke, and understanding the importance of practicing a home fire drill using an escape map. Educating children on the correct behaviors to take before there is a possibly of fire in their home, is critical in order to help keep them and their family safe.

Five year old Angelica shared this story with me after Sparkles and I had read Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog at her school, just two months earlier, “Firefighter Dayna~ I was in bed under the ‘cobers’ [covers] and the smoke came. I crawled out of bed and crawled low, just like Sparkles [the Fire Safety Dog] showed me to. I said, ‘C’mon daddy, you have to get on the floor and crawl low like Sparkles.”

By this time, her dad was disoriented because he had been standing in the smoke filled room. Thankfully, he was able to follow Angelica out of the house. The firefighters later shared with me that Angelica’s father followed her out of the home. As he reached the door, the firefighters scooped him up and took him to the hospital, where he spent 7 days~ 4 in ICU. Immediately after they carried him away from the front door, the home flashed over (a “flashover” is where the home totally becomes engulfed in flames).

Principal Tanya Davis shared this story with me soon after our visit to the same school, “I was walking down the hallway on Monday and one of my third graders came running up to me and said, “Mrs. Davis, my microwave caught on fire and I grabbed my brothers and sisters and we got out of the house because we saw smoke.” She took a quick breath and then said, “Sparkles taught us to get out quick, so we ran outside.”

Since then, Sparkles and I have made it our mission to help save lives, reduce injuries, and decrease property losses from fire. When we hear stories of how successful our program has been, we want to work even harder. We are truly passionate about helping keep children and their caregivers fire safe.

In addition to providing quality fire safety programming, our children’s fire safety books are educationally sound and based on the latest fire safety research for young children by Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Publications.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am a firefighter, fire safety educator, children’s book author, Executive Director of Keep Kids Fire Safe Foundation and owner of Firehouse Dog Publishing from Clarksville, Arkansas. My Dalmatians, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, Spanner and Tango, help me teach fire safety. I live and breathe fire and life safety education and hope to help keep everyone fire safe.

After joining the fire service in 2000, I became interested in fire safety education after attending a class at the National Fire Academy (NFA) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It was at that time that I realized that my state ranked 7th in the nation in fire related deaths and injuries. While at the academy, I vowed to do whatever I could to help change those unfortunate statistics.

Since then, I have made it my life’s goal to help keep childrenand their caregiver’s fire safe throughout the United States.The opportunity at the National Fire Academy opened my eyesand provided the foundation for everything that I am and do today.

My four-legged friend, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, (rescued from a home with 62 other dogs), was adopted by our family in May 2003, with the sole intention of her becoming a member of our family. It wasn’t long before I realized that Sparkles was a fast learner, enjoyed going to the fire station and that she loved being around the firefighters. One evening, just for fun, I thought I would see if Sparkles could crawl low (one of the key fire safety behaviors that we share is the importance of crawling low, getting out, and going to your meeting place). With a video camera in one hand and a treat in the other, I asked Sparkles to crawl for me and she did so on the very first attempt! I was very excited and before I knew it, I had a partner helping me share the fire safety message. I am very thankful that I have that video and it amazes me to think how many miles she has crawled since that very special day!

When Sparkles was younger, she would jump into her bed, and I would cover her with a blanket. She would pretend to be asleep, when she heard the sound of a smoke alarm, she would jump out of bed, crawl low, and go to her meeting place. It was a very effective way of reinforcing fire safety behaviors that the firefighters had taught.

Now that Sparkles is older and does not travel as much, we are going to begin doing author Skype visits with schools in the United States and abroad. With schools experiencing budget cuts, this will be the perfect opportunity to share the fire safety message and will also allow us to reach more children from all over the world. We have already received several requests from other parts of the world and are quite excited about the upcoming school year.

What inspired you to write this book?

Since I was very young, I wanted to do three things; become a firefighter, play the bagpipes, and write a children’s book. The first two were easy, but the third proved to be more challenging. I wanted to write a children’s book, but was unsure as to what I wanted to write about.

One day, as Sparkles and I were getting ready to do a fire safety presentation at the local primary school, I noticed the look of pure happiness in her face as I donned her red vest. Her tail wagged a mile a minute, and then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I looked at her, smile, and said to myself, “There is my book.” That day, the book, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog was born!

It has been challenging to see myself as being an author, as I consider myself to be a fire safety educator first, and an author second. Fortunately, the two have come together and go well hand in hand.

How did you choose the title?

The idea for the book came to me immediately after the idea for the book hatched. I did not even consider any other names.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

Funding was initially a challenge, but we were able to obtain the help of the fire service in spreading the word about the book. Our biggest supporter since the books release in April 2008, has been our corporate sponsor, First Alert. The company helped support and promoted our book launch and has helped us reach more people across the United States than we ever dreamed possible since its release. First Alert will soon become a sponsor for our author skyping visits, and we are very thankful to them for helping keep children and their caregivers fire safe.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes, I have to be in the perfect setting to do my most creative work, however, I am constantly jotting down ideas where ever I am. I am never without my little notepad and pen! Ideal conditions for writing include a beautiful day, my favorite chair outside under a tree, a legal pad, my favorite gel pen, the scent of a vanilla candle in the air, and the Carpenters playing softly in the background. A setting like this truly gets my creative juices flowing.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

When I initially read Dan Poynter’s book, Self-Publishing, he mentioned the Iceburg Theory. He stated that 20% of a writer’s time is devoted to writing the book and 80% was devoted to marketing the book. At the time, I did not thoroughly grasp the concept and I learned very quickly that he was exactly right! Whenever people ask me about writing and publishing a book, I am quick to point out Poynter’s Iceburg Theory!

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would not change a thing! I am very happy with how things have turned out since I have written my own books started the publishing company and. I am in a very happy place right now.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

Sparkles and my schedule is extremely busy, and I am unable to read as much as I would like to. My favorite books are the books in the “Books for Dummies” series, especially those books related to social marketing and children’s book publishing.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Sparkles next book, Sparkles Goes to Boston, will be released October 16th. The Southborough Fire Department is the location of this second in a series of children’s books.The book, which chronicles Sparkles’ big trip to visit our friend, Firefighter Jim Peltier at the fire station, includes age appropriate fire safety tips which are also based on Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Publication’s comprehensive preschool curriculum project for young children. Firefighter Jim, Sparkles, and myself, are the main characters of the book. Chief Mauro and firefighters from the department are also featured in the book. We are excited that we will get to go back to see Firefighter Jim for the book’s release.

And finally, the Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog Coloring Book (released September 11, 2010) isa perfect stand-alone coloring book or companion piece to our books,Sparkles Goes to Boston and Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog. Children can join Sparkles as she achieves her dream of becoming a real fire safety dog. This is one of my favorite books and has beautiful illustrations of Sparkles by Eileen Edwards. Eileen and I met on Facebook and are both big fans of rescued animals. Eileen donated her energy and talents for the coloring book in an effort to help Sparkles and me share the fire safety message. We have another Facebook friend, Jane, who has donated her time and talents doing a lot of the graphic work for the books.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

The past two years, I have learned many things to help make the publishing business work: realizing that writing and publishing takes extremely long hours and involves many sacrifices. Being in what I call a “one-woman” operation, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and support. It is extremely important to remember to take “baby steps” and to be very passionate about what you doing. Become an expert in your field, work to build partnerships, learn all that you can about marketing and don’t be afraid to do pitches to big corporations. Everyday I say to myself, “Think it, and you will become it!” I wouldn’t trade of the hard work for anything in the world!

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The book is targeted toward children ages 4-8 and their caregivers. What is perfect about this book is that it can be read without the reader having an initial understanding of fire safety behaviors (although it is our hope that they already do!). The book has been read by firefighters from all across the United States in their reading programs and fire safety presentations and has been featured in the Home Safety Council’s “Start Safe” curriculum and Oklahoma State University’s Fire Safety for Young Children Curriculum. The book is suitable for grandparents, teachers, and anyone else wanting to keep their young ones safe from fire.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Our sites provide a valuable avenue to share information about our books as well as fire safety messages. Both Sparkles’ blog and webpage are interactive. They include fire safety tips, activity sheets and videos, as do our other sites.
The books are available on and at your local bookstore.