In his extended persona, Mark Hunt has lively eyes, a head that twirls and an arm that can shoot a stream of water 50 feet. He bears a strong resemblance to a fire hydrant.
"If they saw me as a real person, kids would feel intimidated with my size and my uniform," explained the 6-foot-2 Hunt.
But as Pluggy--a moving, talking, eye-winking, water-squirting robot that teaches fire safety--he said, "Kids think of me as a friend, and that way they're apt to take my advice. Pluggy becomes someone close to them."
Built by a robot manufacturing company in Utah, Pluggy has a plastic body, a built-in siren and audio-tape cassette and operates on a rechargeable battery. Hunt's voice is transmitted through a microphone in a hand-held remote control box with seven channels.
The 31-year-old fire inspector at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station said he believes that Pluggy has become the best fire safety teaching tool his department has ever used. "It's a great bargain for the $4,500 we spent for it two years ago."
The use of Pluggy as a training device was actually the brainchild of Fire Chief Joe Anderson of Garden Grove, who saw the robot at a conference and recognized its value.
"My wife was with me, and she walked up to the hydrant and it asked her for a kiss," Anderson said. "She gave it one. I figured it would be an attention-getter, not only for kids but also for adults."
He notes that other fire safety instructors use robots in different forms, such as a fire truck, to present their messages.
Hunt's first reaction was that the robot "was a piece of junk and a waste of money." But he has changed his mind because everywhere he has taken Pluggy "kids would really respond to it."
It helped, he added, that the built-in cassette played rock 'n' roll music called "Stop, Drop and Roll," which just happens to be one of the safety tips he offers on visits to schools, fairs, carnivals, parades and child-care centers.
Hunt sees his work with Pluggy as a chance to communicate with children, especially with the message that fire is useful for things like cooking and heating but can be dangerous when not used properly.
"I like dealing with children," he said. "They're really inquisitive about fire, and their minds are always working."
And while the unmarried Hunt believes he has "a way with children," he admits, "I don't think I could handle one of my own."
After Lori S. Robertson decided to open shop in her Newport Beach home, she needed a name for the new business. She called it Sherlock H. & Watson Too.
"I just thought it was catchy," Robertson said. It's also appropriate, since she locates just about anything--except missing persons--for anyone.
Some of her past finds include a load of Portuguese sardines, an exotic party location in Hong Kong and a sales organization for the manufacturer of umbilical cord cutters.
"It's been my nature to locate things," said Robertson, 50, who was graduated at age 37 from Cal State Fullerton, and who in past years has been an importer, run a singles travel agency and operated a gift manufacturing business.
"Finding something for people gets my adrenalin going," said Robertson, who once taught an assertiveness class. "I always could pick up a phone and not be afraid of talking to anyone."
First they had fun carding the people who showed up for the birthday party.
"You had to be 80 or older to get in," explained Roseann Boro, recreation coordinator for the Oasis Senior Citizen Center in Corona del Mar, which tossed the bash for the 80-and-older set.
Most seniors brought their baby pictures to show each other and later enjoyed some patriotic songs by the 100-member Harbor View Elementary School chorus, Boro said.
Then they cut birthday cakes for the 62 people who attended.
Was anyone actually celebrating a birthday? Nope, Boro said.
"When you get that old, you can celebrate a birthday anytime you want to."
Acknowledgments--Anaheim resident George Ferrone, who has overseen the financial affairs of the City of Anaheim for 11 years, was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers, the highest honor bestowed by the 700-member organization.