The Bayonne School District created the competition last year in partnership with the City of Bayonne, the New Jersey State Fire Department, and TV personality and meteorologist Dr. Frank Field to promote fire-safety education programs.
Bayonne Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan said the program, which was started in the 2005-2006 school year, is an effort to sharpen students' fire-safety knowledge.
McGeehan and New Jersey State Fire Marshal Larry Petrillo created a committee of Bayonne and state fire personnel, local school administrators, and teachers to develop the structure for the competition.
Petrillo said he had always dreamed of finding a way to awaken America to fire prevention, and that the more people know about the nature of fire, the safer they will be.
"Too many people die because they do not know how fires work," he said, "how fires start, how they spread." Dr. Field - who last year unveiled his DVD called "Fire is..." - visited Midtown Community School last year to show the video and kick off the program.
Bayonne team on a hot streak
Held in May each year, the program this year pitted the knowledge of Bayonne students Sarah Sisk, Jeffrey Jerschina, Raymond Diaz, and Natalie Panariello against a team from Toms River. While the Toms River team had missed only one question in preliminary written tests, the Bayonne students dominated the field by scoring again and again in several rounds of questioning and verbal response similar to TV game shows.
"There are no losers in the program, only winners," Petrillo said.
Don't tell that to the Bayonne team, which outscored Toms River 635 to 65 in a competition that added points in various increments depending on time, and subtracted for wrong answers.
Moderator for the contest was Harry Martin of My 9 News, who said he agreed to take part in the program because he was "a very good friend of the fire services," and believes in promoting fire safety.
Questions covered every aspect of firefighting and prevention, as well as causes and attributes of fires, such as the various temperatures at which things ignite, what you should do if caught in a fire, when you should change a battery in a smoke detector, and where most fires start in a house.
"The Bayonne School District considers both fire prevention and fire-safety education a very serious subject," McGeehan said. "In 1975, as a teacher in Lincoln School, one of my students sustained a severe burn injury, and he and his family suffered beyond belief. I was personally devastated. It troubled me immensely."
Since then, McGeehan pondered what she could do to educate students and parents as to the serious potential dangers of fire.
With help from then Bayonne Mayor Dennis Collins, Fire Chief John Brennan, Fire Official George Miller, and others, the district developed a fire education program.
"We visited 11 elementary schools and presented the fire-safety-behaviors [lessons] of the 'Learn Not to Burn' program, not just to classroom teachers but also to the entire facility," McGeehan said.
The FIRE Quiz Bowl is another step in providing the public with education, she said.
Leading up to the championship round in May at the Midtown Community School, students from each elementary school competed for the honor of representing Bayonne.
Each elementary school held their own FIRE Quiz Bowl for seventh- and eighth-grade students. The top three students and one alternate from each school then entered a district-wide competition where they worked collaboratively on a written test. The team from P.S. No. 14 scored best, and went on to beat the winning team from Toms River.