For the Safety Harbor Fire Department, giving back to the community is almost as important as protecting it.
Not only does the department contribute manpower to special events, host open houses and teach fire safety, but it is passionate about developing a strong bond with local kids.
So when four lucky Safety Harbor Elementary School art contest winners got a ride to school in a fire engine this morning, it meant nearly as much to the department as it did to the children.
“We like to do things to recognize the kids in the community,” Fire Marshal Richard Brock said. “This is a terrific community, and the children are an important part of it.”
“What’s no big deal to us is a big deal to them.”
The first place winners, one each from grades K-3, were announced last week during 3rd Friday; they met at Station House #52 Tuesday morning to be escorted to school aboard a fire engine.
The winners were Spencer Dayton (kindergarten); Gisella Ibarra (first grade); Andres Bello (second) and Sylvia Kwasny (third).
“When he first learned that he won, he was afraid,” dad Chris Dayton said of 5-year-old Spencer. “He was like, ‘I don’t want to go,’ and I was like, yes, you do!”
“But today when we got here, he was very excited.”
Before leaving, Engineer Holly Warkenthien and Captain Chris Palmieri answered questions and explained the responsibilities of firefighters.
After the Q&A, they hopped aboard Engine 52 and headed to the school a few blocks away.
When they arrived, they were greeted by cheering classmates, teachers and the enthusiastic school principal, Robert Kalach.
“The partnership we have with the fire department is the heart and soul of Safety Harbor,” Kalach admitted. “They not only promote the safety end, but they believe in being involved, and it all starts right here with our children.”
Amazingly, after that, the fire crew pulled around the corner and met a couple of awaiting classes for their weekly walk to the fire house, a tradition that dates back almost 30 years.
“It’s nice for people to know we are doing this,” Marshal Brock said. “But if they know, they know and if they don’t, they don’t. We do it anyway.”