Fighting fires with crayons and paper

Independence Elementary School student Paiton Funderburk, 6, holds an award she won in a coloring contest on fire safety Tuesday.
Independence Elementary School student Paiton Funderburk, 6, holds an award she won in a coloring contest on fire safety Tuesday.

This is a fire story without fires -- or anybody who got hurt in a fire. And hopefully, because of what kids and teachers and Rock Hill's fire prevention team do, there will never be one.

At the Rock Hill Fire Department on Tuesday afternoon, 38 kids were called to a podium to get an award. The smallest kids, 19 first-graders, got awards for coloring. The bigger kids, 19 fifth-graders, got awards -- and money -- for essays about fire safety.

All 38 sets of families clapped for all of them.

Every person there will remember that award forever. And maybe they will all remember how to get out of a fire, avoid one or help somebody who is in one.

Kids in Rock Hill elementary schools learned fire safety from Matt Hatchell, Rusty Myers, Travis McDaniel and Karen Kane in the department's prevention office. More than 200 of those kids took the time to submit entries with a chance to win.

Even more, every one of those awards will go up on a wall somewhere, in a frame, or on a refrigerator door. All those kids will be able to say, "I won that."

A tiny girl from Northside Elementary School named Jessica Hancock at 6 years old won best coloring. She got $50. I asked Jessica what she was doing with her newfound riches, and she smiled without front top teeth and said nothing. When somebody makes it clear that their money is nobody's business, including mine, even I get the picture.

All the fifth-grade school winners from each of 18 schools won $25. The big winner, Tiffani Strait, won $100 for her essay about how to set up a fire plan at home.

"Two days I worked on it," she said, "then I typed it, too."

It was so good it could be a pamphlet on how to stay safe. Not bad for a 10-year-old girl. But she reads funny books and mysteries and anything she can get her hands on. She loves writing and math. And now, she's got cash.

She, too, can spend the dough any way she wants, said her mother, Barbara.

One problem, though. Tiffani's mother could post the award at home, but her father might have a tough time showing it off at work. James Strait is a bike cop for the S.C. Highway Patrol. Not much room to pin an award on a motorcycle.

• First grade: Brittney Morris, Rachel Pierce, Subia King, Taylor Crisp, Carson Guest, Paiton Funderburk, Stephanie Jimenez, Jayden Turner, Christian Birchfield, Diego Franklin, Lyndie Robinson, Ezzavia Unique Johnson, Hayden Jackson, Isabel LaGarcia, Lamiya Moorer, Adam Foxx, Stephanie Senhouse, Kaleb Brown; grand prize, Jessica Hancock.

• Fifth grade: Caitlynn McManus, Sydney Laws, Jacob Strickland, Crystal Rollins, Abbey-Grace Reynolds, Noelle Lisee, Annabel Lee, Joan Adams, Elizabeth Walker, Ki'Aira Harris, Katie Gomulinski, Walt Fagan, Braeden Wood, Sarah Eddy, Chrsitopher Bouyer, Kristen Rodifer, Brandon Jones, Breanna Driggers; grand prize, Tiffani Strait.