According to the
National Fire Protection Association, the odds of dying in
a fire and the average property loss per fire are cut by one-half
to two-thirds when fire sprinklers are present. With this
in mind, the American Fire Sprinkler Association in Dallas
sponsors an annual essay contest for high school seniors to
learn more about the fire sprinkler industry and earn scholarships
for college in the process.
After writing her essay, Karen Henspeter
is now aware of fire safety and the benefits of fire
Karen Henspeter, 18, of Copper
City, Alaska, is this year's winner. Henspeter's 1,000-word
essay was unique from the 3,100 other entries the AFSA received
because it told the story of a fire from the perspective of
a fire sprinkler.
Her essay began: "I shifted nervously
from my vantage point on the ceiling, sensing that something
in the air was unsettling. Anticipation tensed every muscle
in my small, steely body as I surveyed my surroundings again."
Henspeter earned the AFSA's top prize and a $4,000 scholarship
for her essay, "An Expert in Success - The Autobiography of
a Hero." She says: "I just wanted to try something unusual."
Henspeter found out about the contest
through an online college scholarship service and pursued
it vigorously. She contacted her state's fire marshal, who
sent her information about state laws and the use of sprinklers.
In the process of researching, she found out that only two
buildings in her community are outfitted with fire sprinklers.
The experience, she says, has made her think more about fire
"I am more curious about what buildings
have fire sprinklers," she says. "When I'm walking in malls
or hotels I look now. In Alaska, we're a little behind. I
worked at an elementary school that did not have fire sprinklers,
which worried me a bit."
That is exactly the desired effect,
says AFSA public relations manager D'Arcy Montalvo, whose
organization has sponsored the essay contest for the past
17 years. In all, AFSA gave out $13,000 in scholarships this
year to contest winners. Henspeter is attending Northwestern
College in St. Paul, Minn., this fall. She plans on pursuing
a major in elementary education "We do a questionnaire at
the end," Montalvo says. "All of them say they never thought
about sprinklers before the contest. Now they look up when
they're at the mall. We're trying to increase their awareness."