Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Adventures of Firefighter Bill and Officer Paul…and the Semmlers

In early March of 2020, the Southlake Police and Fire Departments created a promotion to give away Officer Paul and Firefighter Bill squishy toys.  The promotion started right before Spring Break and the departments encouraged local kids to take the duo out on their vacations and trips and send back photos.

Every Firefighter Bill and Officer Paul was given away, but a few days after the promotion began, the United States began shutting down for the pandemic.  Vacations were lost.  Flights were cancelled.  A few pictures of the guys trickled in and it seemed to be the end of the campaign…but not for Ron Semmler and his wife Helaina.

Every other week or so for the last two years, the Southlake DPS inbox has dinged with a new photo and adventure involving Officer Paul and Firefighter Bill and…some other figures.

How did this all start?  In 2011, Ron and Helaina were on a trip with some close friends who had a child too young to travel.   To delight the little one when they got home, the friends brought his plush “Otter” and used him as a stand-in for photographs.

When Ron’s friend Alex was a no-show there, Ron saw a display at the Crocs store at an outlet mall, where the store had made shoe human figures (called “Croslite Guys”) as a way to advertise. He bought a pink pair and added some Spongebob Squarepants eye Jibbitz charms and used it as a stand-in for photos for Alex.   Around this time, Ron found out about the whole Flat Stanley/Travel Buddy concept and he started taking “Crocs Alex” with him and Helaina on trips.

As the years passed with more traveling, more “kids” joined their fleet.  Most of them are given to them by friends they know or meet on their trips.  There’s Roscoe, and Sunshine, and Sassy.  There’s Ahab XII which is a mini version of a much larger solid wood version of a sea captain given to him by friends he met on a trip to Yellowstone Park.  The original larger version of Captain Ahab recently made a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro and his adventures are documented on the “Ahab’s Adventures” website.  And now for the last two years, there’s been Firefighter Bill and Officer Paul.

“It’s amazing how many people actually have some sort of a Travel Buddy and are convinced no one else does it,” Ron said.  He recalled being at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin waiting for the bats to come out, when a woman behind him tapped him on the shoulder.  “She asked for a favor and said it may seem crazy, but wanted to know if I would take a photo of her with a little chicken figure.”  Ron pulled out Crocs Alex and Otter and assured her she was quite sane.

Ron said random strangers will drop their Travel Buddies in his photos to prove to their friends it’s not just them with this little quest.

Over the last decade, Ron and Helaina and “the kids” have traveled the world.  The Falkland Islands.  Antarctica.  Eastern Europe.  The adventures keep coming and Ron and Helaina are thankful to have a little piece of the Southlake Police and Fire Departments traveling with him.

Stars and Stripes Sunday, July 3