COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Four elementary schools in Columbus participated in a statewide contest promoting fire safety throughout the community.

These students submitted their artwork for the annual Fire Prevention Poster Contest. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced the theme for this year, “Fire won’t wait, plan your escape.”

Select drawings will be featured in a fire safety calendar that will be distributed to 3rd grade classrooms throughout Georgia next year.

Ava Armstrong, 5th grader from Eagle Ridge Academy, took inspiration from the caption “Firefighters are your friends,” drawing a firefighter holding a little girl’s hand. The anticipation was at an all time high for Ava as she waited for the results, not knowing she’d be named the grand winner for the month of February.

“I have art on Wednesdays and I remember coming home and for hours, I talked to my mom and be like “Mom, I’m so nervous,” said Armstrong. “Like, I don’t even know if I’ll win third or second. So it was very shocking that I won the grand prize.”

Local fire officials opened up the contest to third through fifth graders. The theme highlighted why having a home escape plan is vital in the case of an emergency. Fire Marshall Division Chief, John Shull, mentioned how important it is for children to get involved in fire safety, saying they make the best messengers in the family.

“They go back to the house, they tell their parents the things they should be doing in order to practice good fire safety,” said Chief Shull. “It’s the kids who are always that group of people that we want to to drive the message to.”

Joy Downes, an art teacher at Eagle Ridge Academy for grades K-5, had a huge smile as her students received their certificates. Downes recognizes that fundamental subjects like math and science may not be every child’s strongest subject. She felt like this contest was the perfect opportunity for her students to excel and break out of their shells while using art as a creative medium.

“When the contest was actually presented to me first I was assuming that it was just a local contest,” said Downes. “When I found out later that it was statewide, I was blown away! I’m super proud of my kids. They’re so talented. And just to know that six of them, out of the whole state placed, is just amazing.”

Like Ava, there were two more winners representing Columbus elementary schools including Ava’s classmate Ivan Galapon and 5th grader from MLK Elementary, Jordan Wilson.