Michelle Bethanie Gallion, appropriately dressed in a fire-engine red satin gown, held her breath as Richard Brooks, the emcee for the night announced the 2004 Harford County Miss Fire Prevention at the Level Fire Company.
When he called out her name, the 16-year-old John Carroll School junior beamed. Her mother, Sandi Gallion, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, let out a scream as she jumped to her feet, clapping.
Gallion was crowned Harford's 21st Miss Fire Prevention on Nov. 15 in an evening that honored former winners and introduced a new scholarship for the Harford County victor. Organizers say the $2,000 scholarship, to be awarded at the end of the term, is the only one of its kind in the state given to a county Miss Fire Prevention.
Gallion will compete in the state's Miss Fire Prevention contest in May.
The Towson-based accounting firm KAHG&F, which has a Bel Air branch, has pledged $1,000 each year for the next five years to give a scholarship for Miss Fire Prevention if she fulfills her duties, which include informing Harford residents of fire prevention and making appearances at county events. The Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association matched KAHG&F's donation to bring the scholarship to $2,000.
Mark Kelly of KAHG&F said he approached Walter Kerr, the former president of the association, this year with an idea of establishing a scholarship. Kerr, who was concerned about the waning interest in the Miss Fire Prevention contest after only two girls entered last year, suggested starting the fund.
Seven young women entered this year.
Kerr said it was too early to see whether the scholarship has made an impact on the quality or quantity of applicants, but he hopes that soon there will be representatives from the entire county.
"A couple of years down the road, I'd like to see girls from the 12 fire companies in Harford," said Kerr, whose daughter was Miss Fire Prevention in 2001.
Kerr made it clear that the scholarship would only be awarded after the winner has completed her tenure, and the money will be sent directly to the winner's school.
Gallion, who had served as Harford's Little Miss Fire Prevention in 1994 and Junior Miss Fire Prevention in 2001, told the more than 175 people in the audience that she looks forward to educating people about fire prevention thanking the six other contestants.
"I just want to teach people about fire safety, and it's cool that I get to compete for Miss Fire Safety in Ocean City, too," she said.
The first runner-up was Amanda Frampton, a Havre de Grace High School junior, also representing the Level Fire Company.
"I didn't know about the scholarship. I just care about the fire prevention part," Frampton said.
The annual contest for girls ages 16 to 24 began accepting applicants in September. All applicants compete in the November contest that consists of a private interview with the three judges and two questions asked in front of the audience at Level Fire Company. The contestants are judged on their knowledge of fire safety, public speaking ability, poise and appearance.
However, the application states: "This is not a beauty contest or talent show."
The evening also paid tribute to the winners of the other Fire Prevention contests, which were held Nov. 2. Christina Lipscomb is the 2004 Junior Miss Fire Prevention, and Abby Gustaitis is the first runner-up. Hailey Miller is the new Little Miss Fire Prevention, and Brandon Standiford is the 2004 Little Fire Chief.