Starting this year, the winner of the Harford County Miss Fire Prevention title will get more than just a crown, flowers and a sash - she'll also get a $2,000 college scholarship.
"We wanted to make it [the contest] something the girls would be attracted to," said Walter Kerr, president of the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association. Previous winners have done a lot of public speaking but haven't always gotten a lot in return for their efforts, he said.
Kerr said he got the idea after his daughter, Jennifer, won the title for 2001-2002. But the association didn't have the money to set up the scholarship on its own at the time.
A few months ago, the accounting firm KAWG&F; approached the association about helping the firefighting community, said Michael Gentry, a manager with the company. KAWG&F;, which is based in Towson and has a Bel Air office, had considered creating a scholarship. Kerr pointed the company toward the contest, and the two groups began working out the details.
The company will put up $1,000 a year (matched by the fire and EMS association) for a five-year run of the scholarship. After five years, the company will assess the program and decide whether to continue, Gentry said.
Rhonda Polk, who runs the contest, said she hopes the money draws more contestants.
Last year, two girls competed for the crown after seven or eight applied the year before. "It's hit or miss," said Polk, chair of the Fire and Injury Prevention Committee for Harford County.
Ideally, she said, she would like to see one contestant from each of the 12 volunteer fire companies in the county. "If we could get 12 girls, I would be tickled to death," she said.
The Miss Fire Prevention contest begins accepting applications in September. The winner is crowned after a November competition during which the candidates are scored on interviews, public speaking, fire prevention knowledge and appearance, although Polk stressed that the competition is "not a beauty contest."
There are Junior Miss and Little Miss categories for younger participants, and a Little Fire Chief contest for boys.
Winners of the Harford contest compete in the state contest, sponsored by the Maryland State Firemen's Association.