VINTON–For the past five years, the Roanoke County Fire Department, the Rockingham Insurance Group and the Simmons Insurance Agency in Vinton have partnered to increase awareness of fire safety through their “Team Up for Fire Safety” art contest in the local elementary schools.
October is observed as National Fire Prevention Month throughout the country. It is the longest running public health and safety observance on record, beginning when President Woodrow Wilson issued a National Fire Prevention Day proclamation in 1922.
October was chosen because the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began on October 8 and continued through October 9 leaving 250 people dead, one hundred thousand homeless, two thousand acres scorched, and 17,400 buildings destroyed.
However, the Chicago disaster was not the only horrific fire on that date. The Peshtigo Fire, which has remained the most devastating forest fire in American history, also started on October 8, 1871, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and burning 1.2 million acres in northeast Wisconsin. Because of these two fires, Wilson issued the proclamation.
Each year there has been a theme for the observance, including “Keep Fire in Its Place” in 1940, “Today Every Fire Helps Hitler” in 1942, “Flameproof Your Future” in 1949, and “Fire Feeds on Careless Deeds” in 1953. The motto was “Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start” for several years, followed by “Learn not to Burn.”
In the 1980’s the focus became preventing fires in homes by asking families to develop plans to escape their homes in case of fire and using and maintaining smoke detectors. This year’s theme was “Hear the Beep Where You Sleep.”
Children in grades K-5 are invited to participate through their art classes at W.E. Cundiff and Herman L. Horn Elementary schools. Art teachers Charlene Gardner (at HLH) and Lisa Jervis (WEC) organized the contest in their respective schools. This year there were about 370 entries in all. First and second graders participated at Cundiff with 260 entries; about 110 third, fourth, and fifth graders entered from HLH.
Winners are chosen based on creativity, the quality of the artwork itself, and how well the current theme is incorporated into the drawing.
Organizers say the art competition gives students a chance to express their creativity and to learn important safety lessons to share with their families. They are hopeful that this translates into fewer house fires throughout the area.
Vinton Town Councilwoman Sabrina McCarty, Chris McCarty of Grand Rental Storage, and Tavie Choate of Banks Insurance judged the artwork this year.
The winners and their families were invited to a showing and celebration at the Vinton Fire and Rescue Station on November 18 where the awards were announced by Debbie Simmons of Simmons Insurance.
She thanked the art teachers, the school system, and principals Peggy Stovall (HLH) and Sherry Bryant (WEC) for allowing their students to participate.
Winners of the art contest received gift bags and Walmart gift certificates. First place winners received $50 gift certificates, 2nd place winners, $30 certificates; 3rd place winners, $20; and honorable mention, $15. Winners also received firefighter hats.
The students, their families, and teachers were treated to a party at the Fire Station provided by Pizza Den, Bojangles’, and Teaberry’s. Bob Lewis of the Vinton McDonald’s donated coupons for a free hamburger to all participants in the contest.
This year’s winners in the kindergarten and first grade age group, all from W. E. Cundiff, were: first place Riley Hazelwood, second place Fallon Davis, third place Eli Dooley, and Honorable Mention, Cayden Wright.
Winners in second and third grade were: first place Hailie Garst (WEC), second place Lennon Wright (WEC), third place Olivia Meador (HLH), and Honorable Mention, Melissa Monk (WEC).
Fourth and fifth grade winners, all from Herman L. Horn, were: first place Maddox Wolfe, second place Kristen Patrick, third place Chandler Lusk, and Honorable Mention, Claire Glover.
The Meador family was recognized for having three daughters win the contest in recent years. Olivia, age 8, won this year. Miranda, age 12 has won; and Justice, age 13, has won twice.
Simmons Insurance in Vinton and Moneta is part of the Rockingham Insurance Group. Carol Simmons has been an agent since 1986. Their office on Hardy Road opened in 1996. Son Stacy and daughter-in-law Debbie are agents with the firm and assisted with this year’s event along with Danielle Brown, Cameron Simmons, and Judy and Barry Leitch.