SYKESVILLE - Terry L. Blaney first became involved in the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Company in 1975, when she was 17 years old.
"I worked the carnival that whole week," she recalled, laughing.
"They stuck me in a ticket booth with 2 inches of water on the floor. I had to wear boots, but I enjoyed it."
Actually, Blaney, now 32, married and the mother of two daughters, became involved that year by running for Fire Prevention Queen for the Sykesville-Freedom station.
She didn't capture the title until 1976, but by that time she was hooked on fire prevention. And when she was crowned Miss Sykesville, she automatically became an honorary member of the station's Ladies Auxiliary.
During 1976-1977, Blaney worked as a waitress in the pancake suppers at the Main Street station.
"About that time, they had the pre-fab built (on Route 32) to quicken response," Blaney said. "But we didn't have a hall to do suppers, weddings and bingos like we do now. I think the girls are more involved now (than I was) in fire prevention."
If anybody should know what today's fire prevention queens do, it is Blaney. Since 1979 she has been in charge of Sykesville's annual contest and also handles the Maryland State Fire Chiefs Association fire prevention contest in November.
She must have done something right, for Miss Sykesville 1979 went on to become the station's first county Fire Prevention Queen, and then in 1980 won the Maryland State Firemen's Association contest.
But finding women to enter the contest, which, Blaney stressed, is not a beauty pageant, is not easy. For a few years, Blaney simply put up posters around Liberty High School and the community, hoping enough women would come forward voluntarily.
When that didn't work, Blaney took matters into her own hands.
"I started going through the school yearbook, looking for girls," she said. "Then I'd go through the phone book, calling till I found the girls.
A lot of them are flattered that somebody would take that much time to try to contact them."
In recent years, she has spent an average of 100 hours on this one project, she added.
"I believe in the girls," she said simply. "I've been through it, and I want it to be a good experience for them."
To help make it a better experience, the fire station changed the contest a few years ago from the week of its carnival to early May.
"This way the queen is already picked and ready to go when the carnival season starts, and they're more used to speaking in front of a large group by the time the county contest rolls around," Blaney said.
The Carroll County Fire Chiefs Association sponsors the county-wide contest, conducted Friday night, for which Blaney was the women's adviser.
She spent the Sunday before the contest coaching the women and going over fire prevention knowledge, which is the main issue in judging. A final dress rehearsal is scheduled the night before the contest, she said.
Why does one person expend so much effort on one project?
"Seeing my kids and knowing our need to work with them and teach them the hazards of fire," Blaney said. "When a fire occurs, it's always the kids who get hurt, who get scared and hide under the bed or in the closet, and I want to help prevent that from happening."
The fire prevention queens, she noted, do much to teach fire prevention in the community. Besides working the carnivals, riding in parades and helping out at dinners and bingos, they go into schools, day-care centers and nursing homes, she said.
Blaney also was instrumental last year in the formation of the Carroll County Fire Prevention Association (CCFPA), made up of the fire queens and anyone in the community interested in fire prevention.
The group's first project was a coloring book, which will be distributed to third-graders in all of the county elementary schools during Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 7 through 13.
A bit of an artist on the side, Blaney also designed CCFPA's emblem of four hands linked together to form a square, which symbolizes "getting everybody together working toward fire prevention," she said.
She is the group's treasurer and adviser as well.
In addition, Blaney has been the auxiliary's historian since 1979, and is responsible for putting out its monthly newsletter. She is also on the Fire Prevention Committee and is an associate member of the Maryland Fire Chiefs Association.
And she has won several community service awards from the Maryland State Ladies Auxiliary for her work.
"She has the stick-to-itiveness to get things done," said auxiliary president Sue Tarrant. "If somebody doesn't want to do something, she'll go ahead and do it."
Blaney manages to juggle her work with a family and full-time job.
She lives in Sykesville with her husband, Thomas J., 38, whom she met through the fire department, and daughters Tammy, 9, and Tracey, 3.
She works in Columbia, Howard County, as a service representative for John Harland Co., the second-largest bank check printer in the country, she said.
Blaney admits she still has one more goal, albeit a selfish one, in her fire prevention work.
"I'm shooting for the state auxiliary's Fire Woman of the Year," she said. "Fire prevention is something I enjoy, where I belong, but it's nice to have the incentives of the awards."