If you’ve spent any amount of time to visit Dollywood, you’re certain to have taken note of the immersive theming that our teams include throughout the park.
I enjoy the Easter eggs that are found around every corner of the park. Some of the theming isn’t so hidden, however, like the twisted trees and scattered debris at Tennessee Tornado or the audial theming of crows cawing at Mystery Mine. Obviously, our teams do a tremendous job of making visitors feel as if they are an integral part of the experience thanks to the extensive work on theming.
With that said, I was glad to be involved (in a very small way) in the theming at FireChaser Express. While the overall theme was created by an amazing group of talented folks, our marketing team was able to add a few touches to the experience that you can see today. When we started to work on marketing the ride in late 2013, we wanted to highlight the overall theme of the ride—that anyone who steps up and volunteers is a hero.
To highlight the real heroes to which the ride’s theme pays tribute, we wanted to find a way to honor firefighters for the tireless work they do every single day to keep us all safe. One of the ride’s main theming components is the vintage 1941 Ford fire truck you see in the main courtyard leading into the queue line.
While the marketing team didn’t procure the truck, we did use it at two media events at regional fire stations to leading up to the opening of the ride as part of the “FireChaser Express Heroes Tour.”
Local fire stations provided us with used fire hoses they were unable to use any longer. We took the hoses as well as the fire truck to the Knoxville Fire Department Headquarters on Oct. 23, 2013. We encouraged firefighters from that station and all surrounding fire stations to sign their names on the fire hoses. The fire truck also made the trip to Kingsport Fire Department Station #2 on Feb. 27, 2014, where firefighters signed the fire hose, and then read books from the Imagination Library to students from the Palmer Early Learning Center. A representative from the city also presented a proclamation in honor of the Imagination Library that day. After the event in Kingsport, the fire truck had to return to Dollywood so it could be put in place at FireChaser Express.
Between Oct. 2013 and March 2014, the fire hoses were taken to more fire stations throughout East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee. Firefighters in Nashville, Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities and all points in between had an opportunity to sign the fire hoses at large city fire stations and small rural volunteer departments. After we toured all of the fire stations throughout East Tennessee, we brought the fire hoses to Dollywood and had all of our hosts who have served as fire fighters sign them. It was an honor to see brave men and women from across the state add their signatures to the fire hoses which were going to be displayed at at the ride upon opening.
Several stations along the way also donated various pieces of outdated equipment to be used in the theming of the ride, many of them period-correct for the 1940’s era reflected by FireChaser Express.
We also learned of another fire station tradition during the Heroes Tour. Fire fighters love to exchange the patches of their own station with other stations they may visit when on trips away from home. Many of the stations we visited provided us with their own patches. To recognize the heroes from the stations we visited, these patches can be found in a shadowbox hanging on the wall as you get ready to board the ride.
Prior to the ride opening, we worked with the show American Pickers to find artifacts that could be incorporated into the theming. The episode featured Dolly and the backstory on how some of the ride memorabilia was found.
The fire hoses featuring their names—and more than 1,300 additional signatures—were placed hanging in the ride queue. Next time you walk through, be sure to look up and see them in the open tower on the backside of the ride queue.
On Sunday, May 4, we concluded the Heroes Tour with a dedication ceremony on International Firefighters’ Day. At the event, we asked each station to send a representative and their family to the park. During the ceremony, the bell (which you will find located next to the fire fighter statue at the entrance to the ride) was rung for each station we visited. It was a moving experience, and one I’ll remember forever. The bronze firefighter at the ride entrance also was unveiled that day as a reminder of the courage and bravery of those willing to risk everything in serving others.
There are so many stories throughout Dollywood, and I’m proud to have played even a small part in the story of FireChaser Express and the Heroes Tour.