By Langley Cornwell
Dayna Hilton joined the fire service in 2000. In 2003, her rescued Dalmatian Sparkles gave her the idea to teach fire safety to children. Through the years, Dayna and her Fire Safety dogs have touched the lives of thousands of children nationwide and saved the lives of several. Additionally, she’s the Executive Director of the Keep Kids Fire Safe® Foundation and she’s authored three children’s books: Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog Coloring Book and Sparkles Goes to Boston.
I had the honor of ‘meeting’ Firefighter Dayna via chats and emails. You see, with Dayna, even if you don’t talk to her personally it feels like you know her. Her boundless energy, focused fire safety message, and undying devotion to her dogs are a magnetic combination. As a ‘one woman and two dog’ operation, she’s been able to accomplish so much. She and her dogs are passionate about what they do and have dedicated their lives to helping keep children safe. Here is an excerpt of our recent interview.
How did you find Sparkles?
I rescued her through the Dalmatian Assistance League of Tulsa. She came from a home overflowing with animals; Sparkles had been living in squalor with 62 other dogs.
What can you tell us about her background?
Aside from where she came from, I don’t know much about her background. What I do know is she was naturally great with children. Whenever kids approached she would roll around seeking belly rubs. One day we were playing and, just for fun, I wanted to see if she could crawl really low. She did it immediately, without any formal training. Crawling low is a crucial component of surviving a fire because it keeps your smoke inhalation to a minimum. When Sparkles began low-crawling on command, the idea for spreading a fire safety message to children was born.
Did Sparkles inspire the books?
Yes, totally. Sparkles had a tail that wagged non-stop; the only time her tail stopped wagging was when she slept. The idea for my first children’s fire safety book came from that tail! One day, Sparkles and I were getting ready to do a fire safety presentation at the school, and I put on her red vest, as I always did. That day was special though, as I looked at her and truly saw the love in her eyes. She couldn’t wait to get that vest on and go to work. I knew immediately that a children’s fire safety book was born!
Every day that Sparkles was in my life was a blessing. When I think about all of the lives she touched it’s overwhelming. Not only was she an amazing fire safety dog and a true credit to the fire service, she was a wonderful friend and companion.
From the time we met, Sparkles tried her best to make me happy. When I would leave the room, her ears would perk up and she would stand there, sometimes for hours, just waiting. Her love was unconditional.
Sparkles truly found her calling, and I am forever grateful she was in my life. When she passed away, I was heartbroken at losing my best friend, but I’m thankful that her legacy lives on, both through Tango and Siren, through “Sparkles’ Pathway” and through all the lives she has touched and will continue to touch. She was more than just my friend; she was a friend to millions of children. It is my hope that all the fire safety dogs that follow will share Sparkles’ passion for helping keep children safe, and we will continue to help save lives. Sparkles would have wanted it that way.