In a rare appearance, Firefighter Latiaa Sneed takes a break by lifting the head of her costume because it’s hot and heavy. It has a small battery-powered fan in the head piece. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

COLUMBIA, TN — Latiaa Sneed seems uniquely qualified for one of her assignments at Fire Hall No. 1.

Sneed majored in theater with a minor in psychology at Middle Tennessee State University and so she likes her role as a Dalmatian dedicated to fire safety.

Technically, she wears a costume manufactured for a safety promotions company that portrays the “Fire Pup” in coloring books. However, most children see the costumed crusader as “Marshall” the fire dog on “Paw Patrol,” a children’s cartoon show that’s not standard fare for adults, unless they’re parents, baby sitters, or close relatives.

Firefighter Sneed, an advanced emergency medical technician who started her EMT training at Columbia State Community College, was recruited by Columbia Fire and Rescue Chief Ty Cobb when he was assistant chief. Cobb is a former Democratic member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

“I started about a year ago,” Sneed said. As for her special assignment that includes wearing the large costume, she grins; “They make the rookie do it.”

The costume head is heavy. It’s hot all the way down to its oversized red fire boots.

Asked if it’s “a dog’s life” being a rookie, she replied, “Well, I’m over the public education program, so … a lot of the times, I’m ‘Marshall’ (also known as Fire Pup) or I go and talk to the kids, but I like it, so it’s OK.”

She teaches fire safety lessons to  fire hall visitors. That includes explanations about electrical fires, responsibilities for babysitters, and calling 911. Her chief wants her to emphasize how to escape from a burning building.

Originally from Murfreesboro, Sneed reflects on her MTSU minor in psychology; perhaps that should have been with a focus on child psychology and not just because she portrays Fire Pup. She has a son.

Sneed is also certified in swift water rescue with training at the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy in Bedford County. It was challenging. She’s overcome a fear of water.

Her story is of a woman succeeding in a man’s world.

Cobb, with Sneed portraying Fire Pup, visit elementary schools, day care centers, appear at festivals, church- and civic club programs and other events where they distribute coloring books, light-weight, red-plastic fire helmets for children and other goodwill tchotchke-like souvenirs.

“Please be safe,” is Sneed’s request to her audience. “Honestly, that’s the biggest thing.”

She wants to educate all age-groups.

“If you have any questions” about fire safety,” she says, “go to your local fire department.

“Make sure you don’t start something in the kitchen and leave the kitchen. Once you start cooking, be sure to finish.”

Last month, Sneed portrayed Fire Pup (recognized as Marshall by children) at a four-year-old boy’s birthday party in Fire Hall No. 1. After Fire Pup left the children to enjoy their Firehouse sandwiches, pizza and Dairy Queen birthday cake, Sneed led a tour of a big red fire engine in the garage, complete with an opportunity to climb across crew cab seating.

The garage was largely empty. Firefighters remained ready to respond to calls announced on a loud speaker from a dispatcher’s microphone.

“The kids had a good time,” Fire Capt. Josh Carter said. “It’s not an imposition on the firefighters,” but it was a special thing.

Columbia fire-rescue “wants to be involved in the community,” Cobb said March 13 after visiting Columbia Central High School with Fire Pup for a special needs students’ basketball game. The birthday party was an event sold during a silent auction during a formal affair in a restored mansion; last year’s venue for the annual James K. Polk Ball which raises operating funds for the only surviving residence of the 11th President of the United States.

Capt. Carter says if parents bring a son and/or daughter to the hall for a visit, they’re welcome, but Fire Pup might not make an appearance because normally fire fighters “don’t do birthday parties” in the fire hall, Carter says, citing liability issues.

Fire Pup, Chief Cobb says, “is just one thing we do to be involved in the community and teach safety.”

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...