A swirling grey soup of a sky and wet asphalt couldn’t dampen the turnout Tuesday night at the New Windsor volunteer fire company carnival. Though the clouds would later dump on the carnival grounds, around 6:30 p.m. the blinking lights on the whirling rides flickered on early in the absence of sunshine and food stalls wafted aromas of roast meats, fried dough and sweet-vinegary ketchup on hot potato.

It was, in other words, another night at the carnival, which is so important to the fire company and the work it does, according to fire Chief Tom Coe.


“It is our single largest fundraiser of the year. The fire department uses that money to make all capital purchases,” Coe said. “The mortgage on the fire station, the purchase of new fire engines and ambulances, isn’t funded by the county but in turn is funded by our community support received through the carnival.”

But as fun and important as the festivities outside the fire hall might have been, in was the contest on the inside that was a key part of Tuesday evening: The Miss Fire Prevention Contest was held to find who would be the community ambassador spreading the message of fire prevention at three different age levels, the Little Miss, for ages 8 to 13; Junior miss, 13 to 16; and Miss, from 16-18.

“Every year we do this — we have a really strong ambassador program in New Windsor and we go on to the Carroll County [contest] in the fall and we have a pretty good record of girls winning,” said Sarah Paul, the Maryland Fireman’s Association Miss Fire Prevention for the state, former Miss Fire Prevention New Windsor and the evening’s master of ceremonies. “When you have a parade or open house, you always see the ambassadors there. This contest is a way to keep feeding that tradition at open houses.”

A guide to Carroll County's 2018 fire company carnival season

Your guide to the 2018 Carroll County fire company carnivals.

There were five contestants Tuesday, two at the Miss level, two at the Little Miss level and just one at the Junior Miss level.

“They have an interview portion and an onstage portion, where they are tested on their poise, their speaking ability and the fire prevention knowledge,” Paul said.

It was Sarah Norman, 18, of Manchester — since Manchester does not hold a Miss fire Prevention contest, New Windsor welcomes its contestants — that won the title of Miss Fire Prevention New Windsor.

“This is my very first time competing in anything like this,” she said.

In her offstage interview portion, Norman spoke to the three judges about fire alarms.

“I also brought in a couple of smoke alarms and showed them how to change the battery in their smoke alarm and test the smoke alarm,” she said.

But it was Norman’s poise in speaking about fire safety before the judges and an audience that won her the title, according to Elaina Barry, one of the judges in addition to the being the liaison and recruitment and retention chairperson with the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association.

“Being an ambassador, you are in front of crowds on a consistent basis,” she said. “Either they are out in the public doing programs or they are out in dinner settings; they are always in a crowded situation.”

The other winners were Briannah Gaigalas, 13, in the Junior Miss category and Natalie Coe, Chief Coe’s daughter, in the Little Miss.

“I am very hands off,” he said. “She is very self-motivated about it.”

Barry said that from her point of view, being involved in recruitment, the Miss Fire Prevention contests and the ambassadors they crown are invaluable.


“The fire ambassadors are the first line of recruitment: They’re the ones that catch, for lack of a better word, the spark in a child’s interest,” she said. “I actually utilize them for recruitment and retention. They are the first people that everyone sees.

“It is a big deal. We need people.”

“The interesting thing is, those contests are really a rarity anymore, a lot of fire stations don’t have them,” Coe added. “But we really do feel that’s an important avenue to engage the younger community and get the fire safety word out.”