Raising fire prevention awareness through student art

The Lynn Fire Department is using art from local students on safety awareness billboards around town. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — The fire department and the school administration are a dynamite team that promotes fire prevention through the eyes of the city’s students.

If you saw any of the three billboards spread throughout Lynn during the last month, then you were warned to cook with caution and always stay in the kitchen while making a meal. Art pieces drawn by Lynn students, grades kindergarten through high school, have been part of the fire department’s fire prevention campaign for the last five years. Israel Gonzalez, lieutenant in fire prevention and chief fire inspector for the city for the last decade, believes the kids are the best option in spreading awareness.

“I’ve seen people die from fires and I have always said I think they need someone to talk to our residents and give them the information they need to prevent fires,” said Gonzalez. “We all have the opportunity to make our city better and safer and that’s why our children are the best voices we can have in this project.”

The Poster to Billboard contest was developed five years ago and designed to be a far reaching fire prevention campaign that would educate Lynn students and their families. It was developed with the same ideas behind Student Awareness of Fire Education (S.A.F.E.), which is a state initiative that has provided resources to Massachusetts fire departments to conduct fire and safety education programs for the last 20 years. Lynn Superintendent Catherine Latham was a huge fan of the project proposal and believed it could be an important, lifesaving campaign, according to Gonzalez.

“We have more than 15,000 kids in the school system and they need to understand they can save a life by sharing this information,” said Gonzalez. “If you can prevent one fire from all this then I think it’s worth it.”

Five years ago, the fire department received over $300,000 through a grant to install smoke detectors in homes across the city and they didn’t know what to do with the money that was left over. That is how the Poster to Billboard contest came to fruition. Half a decade later and this year’s contest had over 5,000 submissions from students.

Every year there are three student artists picked for first prize: one from an elementary school, one from a middle school and one from a high school. The winners each have their art depicted on a large billboard for a whole month, or at least until someone else pays to advertise on it.

The second year of the contest, Gonzalez was worried there wouldn’t be enough money to keep it going and that’s when Latham stepped in and offered money from the school administration’s budget. Latham, Gonzalez and principals from all the schools in the city meet once a year to discuss the contest’s fire prevention theme and go over the rules, such as making sure students are creating art that fits the theme.

This year, there were 11 students who were chosen to be honored at the contest’s annual open house. Three were showcased on the billboards, three were named as honorable mentions and the rest all received iPads as prizes. The state fire marshal, the mayor, a number of city officials, and the winners and their families all gather at the fire station at 725 Western Avenue to honor the student’s hard work.

“We all live together as a community and as family,” Gonzalez said. “We can all work together to stop these fires from happening because they are preventable.


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