Hot escape plan sends 8-year-old to Disney World

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

It took more than a Mickey Mouse plan for a Petersburg kid to win a $10,000 family vacation at Disney World.

Third grader Roderick Vasquez - who has never been out of Southeast Alaska - leaves Saturday for Orlando, Fla., thanks to a hot escape plan he entered in a contest sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association.

Vasquez found out just before Christmas that he won the grand prize in a contest called The Great Escape. The seven-day vacation includes plane fares, hotel accommodations and entertainment for his mother Lucia, grandmother Berta and younger brother Anthony, who attends kindergarten.

"We couldn't believe it," said his mother, who has lived in Petersburg for 15 years. "(Roderick) has never been out of state. He's been to Juneau and Ketchikan, and that's it."

The 8-year-old prepared the fire escape plan as part of a class project at Stedman Elementary School. He had to design two escape routes for every room in his house, including the bathroom, identify a meeting place outside, list the local fire department's phone number and sign a form saying the family practiced the fire drill.

His name was then added to a pool of 17,268 qualified entries from across the United States and Canada for a random drawing.

"You look at a contest like this and say, 'not a chance,' " said the boy's teacher, Kathy Bracken. "But this was my carrot for the kids. If they did the work and filled out the forms, I'd send them in."

Most of her 19 students entered the contest, including the daughter of Petersburg volunteer firefighter Sandy Dixson.

Dixson, who is in charge of fire prevention education for the community, visits the elementary school each year to talk about escape plans.

"They save lives," she said. "We tell the children about escape routes, getting out and staying out, and not going back for pets or favorite toys."

Alaska often leads the nation per capita in terms of property and lives lost to fire, said Jerry Gentile, a deputy state fire marshal in Juneau.

"Planning an escape route is critically important to survival," said Gentile, whose division is a member of the association that sponsors The Great Escape contest. "I'm glad to see the project is working and getting to the children and parents in smaller communities, particularly in Alaska."

The NFPA, based out of Massachusetts, has about 80,000 members around the world. It has a Web site,

Mike Sica can be reached at

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