Safety first

Council Rock School District and CPCU hosted 33rd annual “Fire Safety in the Home” contest during National Fire Prevention Week

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Creativity was at an all-time high within the Council Rock School District Oct. 8–14. Poster boards were decorated, essays were written and live-action segments were filmed. But none of the hundreds of participating children cared about receiving an A. For them, it was all about what they learned while creating their master pieces for the 33rd annual “Fire Safety in the Home” contest during National Fire Prevention Week.

An important message: During National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 8–14, Council Rock elementary students participated in the “Fire Safety in the Home” contest by creating posters, writing essays or filming creative videos. PHOTO: Peter Palestina

This highly-anticipated yearly event, which is open to all Council Rock elementary students, was started by former Northampton Township supervisor Peter Palestina. In 1983, while serving as the township’s elected official, Palestina was working simultaneously as the president of the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) Society’s Philadelphia chapter, a membership organization of credentialed insurance professionals.

With his background in insurance and additional experience on the township’s Public Safety Awareness Committee, Palestina quickly realized how big of an issue lack of fire prevention knowledge was. To ensure his community was learning fire safety as early as possible, he contacted the president at the time of the Council Rock School District, who was immediately on board to host the first “Fire Safety in the Home” contest.

Now with hundreds of student participants, the contest has grown exponentially over the years and continues to be a collaborative effort between the CPCU, school district and township. Students are asked to write an essay or do a creative work or poster on fire safety, and are broken up into three age groups — grades one-two, grades three-four and grades five-six.

In past years, students have submitted everything from story plots and game boards to pictures of themselves in action protecting family members against a fire. According to Palestina, the options are unlimited, as long as they’re learning something valuable.

“We hope that the children remember what they learn about fire safety so that their family and the entire community benefits from a fire safety aspect,” he said. “Too often we read about the loss of lives and property from a fire, and if we can save but one life, it makes programs such as this contest well worth the effort.”

After the projects are completed, a coordinator from every school selects the top five projects from each category to move on to the next round. The Northampton Township Fire Marshal’s office narrows the remaining submissions down even further before the finalists are reviewed independently by a panel of judges. This year’s panel consisted of Palestina, Council Rock School Board Director Wendi Thomas and Northampton Township Fire Marshal Frank Fenton. Each composes a list of which students they believe should be the top four, and after reaching a unanimous decision, the grand prize winners are selected.

First-place finishers in each level of competition will receive $100 cash, movie passes and a plaque. Second-, third- and fourth-place finalists will receive $50 cash, movie passes and a plaque. The awards are scheduled to be presented Nov. 16 at the Council Rock School Board meeting.

In addition, citations will be presented to each winner by state Sens. Tommy Tomlinson and Charles McIlhinney, state Reps. Scott Petri and Perry Warren and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. This ceremony will take place at the Dec. 20 Northampton Township Board of Supervisors meeting.

For those students whose projects made it to the judging round but weren’t chosen for grand prizes, Palestina writes personal letters of congratulations to each so they can still feel a sense of accomplishment. Though the competition runs for only a week, he wants the lessons learned to last a lifetime.

“When kids get involved with friends and their mothers and fathers, they get to learn safety,” Palestina said. “Hopefully it stays with them as they get older.” ••

More information on the CPCU is available at

Samantha Bambino can be reached at