Learning critical lessons

Council Rock and CPCU announce winners of 35th annual Fire Safety in the Home Contest

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Local stars shine: The 12 winning students with (from left) school director Joe Hidalgo, contest coordinator Pete Palestina, Northampton chairman Barry Moore, Rep.-elect Wendi Thomas, Newtown Township chairman Phil Calabro, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson’s chief of staff Ryan Skoczylas, Peter Chong on behalf of Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia CPCU secretary Jessica Kearney, and Rep. Perry Warren. Source: Pete Palestina

When Newtown Township board of supervisors chairman Phil Calabro was young, his knowledge of what to do in the face of a fire was minimal, to say the least.

“As a kid, all I knew about fire prevention was to stop, drop and roll,” he said.

Today, Calabro is proud to see that local elementary-aged children are much more informed. They understand the importance of regularly checking smoke detector batteries, and, during an emergency, having an escape plan and dialing 9–1–1.

So how exactly did this new generation become so prepared? For the students of the Council Rock School District, their education can be credited to the Fire Safety in the Home Contest, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary.

Conducted by the Philadelphia Chapter of the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters) Society, the competition tasks all elementary students in the district with writing an essay or creating a poster on the subject of fire safety during National Fire Prevention Week, which this year took place Oct. 7–13.

Each school submits its top entrants for final judging, with the 2018 panel comprised of school board director Joseph Hidalgo, Northampton Township Fire Marshal Frank Fenton, and former Northampton Township supervisor Pete Palestina, who also serves as the coordinator of the contest.

On Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Northampton Township Administration Building, located at 55 Township Road, Richboro, the winners of the contest were announced during the Northampton Township board of supervisors meeting. Proud parents and teachers, community members and elected officials were in attendance to congratulate the young award recipients.

Surrounded by the colorful, informative creations of the students, Palestina took the floor to provide some background on the contest, a project he holds near and dear to his heart. In 1983, when Palestina was serving as Northampton supervisor, he was simultaneously finishing his first term as president of the local chapter of the CPCU, a membership organization of more than 22,000 credentialed insurance professionals.

“I thought, what can we do as a public safety liaison to do something along those lines for the community,” Palestina said.

That year, he contacted the then-president of the Council Rock school board, pitching the idea for the Fire Safety in the Home Contest. As an insurance professional, he saw the loss of countless lives and properties that could’ve been prevented if the community was better prepared for disaster. The president agreed and the contest was hosted for the first time, continuing and growing ever since.

“I can’t think of too many things in my 23 years as a supervisor, and even since then, that I’ve been more proud of,” Palestina said. “As long as I’m around, I’ll continue to do it.”

Palestina invited a handful of individuals to join him in distributing the awards — Northampton Township board of supervisors chairman Barry Moore; Calabro, who was there to congratulate the two winners from Newtown; Rep Perry Warren; Rep.-elect Wendi Thomas, a former Council Rock school board member and contest judge; Ryan Skozylas, chief of staff for Sen. Tommy Tomlinson; and Peter Chong, who was representing Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick.

Skozylas, who granted Senate citations to the students, shared his thoughts on the importance of the project.

“You guys and girls were able to learn some critical lessons, some critical fire prevention lessons that could potentially save not just your life, but your family’s life,” he said.

The names of the winners were read by Hidalgo, who stressed the difficulty felt in judging the many high-quality entries.

“All students who participated should be commended,” he said.

The contest was divided into three levels of competition — first-and-second graders, third-and-fourth graders, and fifth-and-sixth graders. First-place finishers in each received $100 cash, movie passes and a plaque. Second-, third- and fourth-place finishers received $50 cash, movie passes and a plaque.

For the youngest category, Spencer Joworisak of Rolling Hills Elementary was the winner. Second place went to Alison Butkiewicz of Richboro Elementary, third place to Ashley Miller of Hillcrest Elementary, and fourth place to Kyleigh Pisarek of Welch Elementary.

The winner of the third- and fourth-grade category was Nicholas Gromosaik of Churchville Elementary, with his brother Alexander, also a Churchville student, coming in second.

“It’s interesting, the two of them,” Palestina said. “They were so close that we had a difficult time choosing a winner, and I think it was the color that won. The yellow over the red, but they were very close.”

Third place went to Noah Melhuish of Rolling Hills, and fourth place was awarded to Riley Witmer of Hillcrest.

In the final category of fifth and sixth grade, Alexandria Murashka of Goodnoe Elementary came in first, Abby Walsh of Goodnoe was second, Sam Khelmer of Richboro was third, and Hope Hackbert of Hillcrest was fourth.

“We hope that the children understand and learn about fire safety so that their family and the entire community benefits from a fire safety aspect,” Palestina 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.”••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com