Plan leads to 'promotion'

Ten-year-old Mahta Marefat knows the importance of fire safety so much so that she created a fire plan for her home that outlined potential hazards and easy exits.

The Glendale Adventist Academy fifth-grader doesn’t want her family to be unprepared if they need to escape a house fire, so she went over her plan with her parents and then wrote an essay about it.

“I made sure that in case of a fire that we especially had more than one exit,” Mahta said.

Her essay was so explanatory and informational that the Fire Department named her their honorary fire chief Thursday at the Junior Fire Program Picnic at Verdugo Park, retired firefighter Fred Castro said.

Elementary students, who scored the highest on a fire safety exam, attended the Fire Department’s annual picnic, where they participated in a potato sack race, got free hot dogs and cookies, and won raffle prizes.

Mahta and two other students won bicycles for their essays, which were selected from other student entries from area schools.

Arden Gonta, a Dunmore Elementary School fifth-grader, got the assistant fire chief title, and Savannah Baum, a Fremont Elementary student, was given the deputy chief title.

“I think fire safety is important because it saves people’s lives,” 11-year-old Arden said.

Along with getting official Fire Department titles and new bicycles, the winners are invited to the department’s annual luncheon in October.

The title doesn’t earn the students any official duties, except for the chance to say they were named top junior fire officials, Castro said.

But that’s OK with Mahta, who said being a firefighter has high risks and carries a lot of work.

“I just find it confusing to try to get out of the Fire Department in a fire engine,” she said. “I don’t like wearing heavy-duty clothing. I can’t hold big hoses.”

Castro and other retired firefighters visited fifth-graders from local schools this year to speak to the students about fire safety. The students received a safety manual, which included quizzes, activities and information about fires and disaster preparedness.

Castro said he believes the Junior Fire Program, which was created in 1955, has led fewer fires in the city and foothills. In the program, students learn about not playing with matches and how to handle fireworks.

The program, he said, has made students more responsible and aware of the dangers of fire.

“They take that information with them into adulthood,” Castro said. “It makes the city safer. I think it’s well worth the investment.”

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