Fire chief for a day
Student wins contest for great escape

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Oct 18/99) - Mary Pillaktuaq has big plans for her future.

Decked out in a fire-resistant jacket and protective head gear, the 13-year-old Iqaluit resident wants to fight fires and help spread the word about fire prevention and safety.

The seed for her newfound sense of direction was planted last Saturday afternoon when Pillaktuaq made her big debut as deputy fire chief for a day with the Iqaluit Fire Department.

"I'm having a lot of fun," said Pillaktuaq, amid the screams and laughter of dozens of excited children whipped into a frenzy by never-ending hotdogs and soda pop.

Sponsored by local businesses and the fire department, the open house officially wrapped up Iqaluit's annual Fire Prevention Week activities.

This year's events ran from Oct. 3-9 and the blitz of events included school visits, fire drills and community contests, one of which Pillaktuaq won for the excellent job she did in illustrating her family's fire- escape route from their home.

"The kids were supposed to draw a floor plan of their house and show two ways out of every room. It had to show the smoke alarm, the fire department's phone number and their meeting place outside," said Lieut. Skipper Bent, an Iqaluit firefighter.

Pillaktuaq beat out her Aqsarniit middle school peers and won the honour of getting a ride in the firetruck because, as Bent put it, she rose head and shoulders above her classmates in the contest.

"She had all the criteria and it appeared to be the best plan."

The open house and the other activities were all part of a larger North American program designed to reduce the number of fires and fire-related deaths in both Canada and the United States.

Bent said that it had been extremely successful to date and that by targeting children and their families, the number of deaths had actually been reduced.

"If you make it fun, it gives the kids incentive. If it's given out as homework, it won't have the same effect," said Bent.