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Firefighter shows off his passion for M&Ms

By all accounts, John Capers is a fine firefighter. But it isn't his prowess at putting out fires that has earned him the title Firefighter of the New Millennium. It's his love for _ some say addiction to _ a certain chocolate confection that melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

After responding to a minor blaze on a recent morning, Capers became a celebrity of sorts when a crew from M&M/Mars descended on Daytona Beach Firehouse No. 1 to make the 37-year-old firefighter a star.

Well, maybe not a star, exactly. But he and his rather unusual tattoo were captured on videotape that will be used in connection with the candy company's tongue-in-cheek Millennium Hype advertising campaign.

Not only is Capers the official Firefighter of the New Millennium, the tattoo on his extremely muscular left forearm has also been proclaimed tattoo of the New Millennium by M&M's Center for Millennium Hype. The fact that it features a dashing green M&M firefighter holding a fire ax and standing next to a yellow fire hydrant may have had something to do with the selection.

Capers, who admits to a "pack-a-day" habit _ and more when he can get them _ has been hooked on the plain chocolate candies (he only eats the peanut ones in a pinch) "ever since I was a kid." The extra calories haven't been a problem, he said, since he regularly works out.

"I'm just glad it finally paid off," said his wife, Christine, who came to the firehouse to join in the hype along with Capers' two teenage sons _ who are also heavily into M&Ms.

Capers has been collecting M&M memorabilia _ figurines, dispensers and other items _ almost as long as he's been eating the candy. And it was his fondness for his favorite snack that prompted him to get his M&M tattoo almost two years ago _ while munching on the multi-colored sweets to ease the pain, of course.

So he figured that, considering his obvious devotion, he might have a chance to win something in M&M's "Official Things of the New Millennium" contest. Firefighter and tattoo were among the 200 categories, along with everything from belly button and barbecue king to couch potato and bank machine. To increase his chances, Capers entered in six categories, including welcome mat, which he also won.

But it wasn't dreams of fame or glory or big prizes that prompted him to fill out all those entry blanks, write 50-word essays and send in snapshots of himself and his tattoo.

"I just wanted to win something," he said. Which is a good thing, since all he gets are some official certificates, T-shirts, lots of free M&Ms, and the chance to win a trip to an MTV awards show.

Karen Freid, who's handling public relations for the M&M's Millennium campaign, said she didn't know how many firefighters or tattoos Capers had to compete against to get his titles. Overall, the company received more than 13,000 submissions. She did say, however, that he is one of only eight who were chosen to appear in promotional videos that will be shown as part of a national advertising campaign. Whether Capers will end up in actual TV commercials, she couldn't predict.

Fellow firefighters, meanwhile, are well aware of Capers' cravings.

"He can't go without them in a 24-hour period," noted his friend, Jeff Smith. And he regularly empties the M&M snack machine at his firehouse when he's on duty.

"John hits it once or twice a shift," noted Capers' supervisor, Lt. Douglas McGarver. "Everybody knows about his affliction."

"I think he needs to get a bigger shirt," quipped Fire Chief Paul Skinner, as he stopped to chat with the Firefighter of the Millennium. "I've admired his tattoo for quite some time."

There's no need to worry, however, that Capers will let the acclaim go to his head. The Firefighter of the Millennium just plans to go on doing his job and indulging in his favorite snack, which _ by the way _ he likes in every color.

"I eat them all equally," he said.

"And everyone else's, too," added firefighter Rob Klem.