Twelve elementary students of Council Rock School District got the star treatment this month when they were honored by both the school board and elected officials in less than a week.
These were the finalists of the 36th annual Fire Safety in the Home Contest – an annual competition, co-sponsored by Council Rock and the Philadelphia Chapter of the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters Society, that tasked the kids with writing essays or creating posters on the subject of fire safety during National Fire Prevention Week, which this year took place Oct. 6-12.
The students were guests of honor at the Nov. 14 school board meeting, held at the Chancellor Center in Newtown. Each winner was called to the floor by school board director Joseph Hidalgo to receive a monetary prize and commemorative plaque, and stand proudly next to their creative projects for photos.
Their names were read again on Nov. 20 at the board of supervisors meeting, which took place at the Northampton Township Administration Building in Richboro. Both Northampton and Newtown Townships presented special citation awards of recognition, while Sens. Tommy Tomlinson and Steve Santarsiero and Reps. Wendi Thomas and Perry Warren presented commendations from the state House and Senate. The students also received citations from Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick.
According to Pete Palestina, contest coordinator, former Northampton supervisor and CPCU member, this initiative has been held each year since 1994. Palestina, who was readily involved with public safety issues in the community while a supervisor, launched the contest in an effort to promote fire prevention and safety education at a young age.
“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,” 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.”
The contest was open to all Council Rock elementary students, grades 1 through 6. Each school had a staffer assigned as a coordinator, for which questions from students or parents could be addressed. Participants created projects about various aspects of fire safety, including how to “stop, drop and roll,” establish a meeting location away from the home, and call 9-1-1.
Teachers submitted their classes’ top projects to be critiqued by a panel of judges, which was comprised of Hidalgo, Palestina and Northampton Township Fire Marshal Frank Fenton.
During the Nov. 14 presentation, attendees heard from Jessica Kearney, secretary of the CPCU Philadelphia Chapter – a professional organization for the insurance industry.
“You might be wondering why an insurance society is sponsoring this. Well, a little history lesson,” she said. “Fire in the house was actually the first insurable peril that we had.”
Following Kearney’s remarks, Hidalgo and Palestina were in agreement that the contest can help save lives. Palestina praised Richboro Elementary student Alison Butkiewicz, who has participated in the contest for three consecutive years, for utilizing safety techniques she learned in her research.
Over the summer, the Butkiewicz home was struck by lightning, which resulted in a fire. Thanks to Alison’s past Fire Safety projects, the family had a plan of action to exit the house.
“I truly believe that this program is exceptional,” said her mother Michelle. “It truly helped us in the chaos of that evening. We knew the plan and we were actually eerily calm. Ali, she just knew exactly what to do.”
One by one, as proud loved ones and teachers looked on, Hidalgo announced the names of each winner.
Finalists in the first- and second-grade category were Gabriel Cocco (Goodnoe) in first place, Johnny Reilly (Goodnoe) in second place, Sofia Ogrizovic (Hillcrest) in third place and Andrew Sussman (Hillcrest) in fourth place. Reilly was home with a fever, so his father Tyler accepted the award on his behalf.
Finalists in the third- and fourth-grade category were Butkiewicz (Richboro) in first place, Trenton Wackowski (Hillcrest) in second place, Misa Jeiranashnli (Goodnoe) in third place and Ichiro Gardner (Welch) in fourth place.
Winners of the fifth- and sixth-grade category were Weston Wackowski (Hillcrest) in first place, Sree Allampally (Goodnoe) in second place, Brian Kiedaisch (Newtown) in third place and Emma Paschai (Newtown) in fourth place.
First-place winners received a $100 cash prize, plaque and movie tickets. Second, third and fourth place received a $50 cash prize, plaque and movie tickets.
The students hail from Newtown Borough and the townships of Northampton, Newtown, Wrightstown and Upper Makefield. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org