They knew going in that it wasn't going to be an easy decision.

As the five judges from Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department roamed the halls of Arbutus Elementary School, it soon became obvious that all the classrooms had winning doors.

One classroom door had flashing lights complete with the sound of a fire engine siren.

Another featured a ladder with each rung stating an event in the station's history.

On a third was a photo of a class during a field trip to the station on Southwestern Boulevard.

"I can already feel the pressure here," said Tim Tacka, a board member.

"There is so much competition, I about want to e-mail the results," admitted Lt. Norm Simpkins, Jr., who has judged doors in the past for the school.

For the last few years, the school has hosted a contest for decorated classroom doors.

Past themes have included the Ravens and math.

This year, the school on Sulphur Spring Road, which is only a short distance from the department in downtown Arbutus, decided to have a theme involving the fire department in recognition of the department's 75th anniversary.

"The fire department is a big supporter of ours," said Brent Grabill, principal. "We wanted to get the kids to understand a sense of community. It's nice that it sparks the connection."

The students in Susan Duvall's fifth grade classroom put their door together just two days before the judging, she said. It featured poems written by students and detailed illustrations, including a hand-drawn cell phone with 911 a prominent feature.

"My dad was a volunteer firefighter when I was a little girl," Duvall said. "They're [the firefighters] here often to help us with our fire drills."

During the school's yearly inspection last year, Simpkins helped the school devise a more effective evacuation drill. Now, the school's floors have red and white lines to guide students and staff out quickly.

"It cut our fire drill time literally in half," Grabill said.

While Simpkins took photos of each door, Jessie Tacka, treasurer for the department, took four pages of notes.

"It's great to see the building so excited about it (the fire department)," Tacka said. "I'm enjoying it. This is wonderful."

"It's good to get the kids involved," Simpkins said. "This gives them a lesson in our history and what we do."

Several of the department's 265 members have children or grandchildren at the school, said Simpkins, who has been with the department for 14 years.

At the end of the school day, all the classes would get a chance to travel through the halls and see each door and the awards each received including most colorful, most historical, most entertaining, etc.

"Doing the doors was one way to show [the fire department] how much we really appreciate them," said Ali Kahler, 10, a fifth-grader. "It shows how much we care."

"They don't care whether it's raining or hot," said Ray Sutton, 10, a fifth-grader, of fire drills. "When we're running away, they're coming in.

"It was a good way to show how much we appreciate them for a lot of stuff."