Contact: Linda Topoleski, 412-389-0410
Or: Island Trees Middle School
Teacher Eileen Anderson, 516-520-2157


Levittown, NY Students Win Top Award:
The $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant in
National Science/Community Service Competition Held at Walt Disney World

Island Trees Middle-School Students Equip Fire Extinguisher with Special Alarm
to Reduce Evacuation Times, Prevent Deaths During Fires

ORLANDO, FL—June 1, 2006—By devising a new approach to fire safety in the home, a group of eighth-grade students from Levittown, NY, won the top prize at the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. Eighth-graders Robert Pulido, Joseph Gombar, Chris Pizzo, Greg Karbuczky, and their science teacher, Eileen Anderson, were awarded the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant.

Through their research, the students found that every year, more than 5,000 people in the U.S. are killed by house fires, a number that has not changed in the past 50 years. The students conducted a survey of teachers, families and other residents near their school and found that nearly half do not have an evacuation plan for their homes in case of fire, other than to yell, 'Fire!' A third do not own a fire extinguisher, and of those that do, many do not know how to properly use it.

Team Photo

$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant Award Winners, "Fire Escape" — Levittown, NY.
Left to right: Robert Pulido, Chris Pizzi, Coach Eileen Anderson, Greg Karbuczky and Joseph Gombar.

To develop a solution, the students equipped a special fire extinguisher with an alarm that sounds as soon as the extinguisher is picked up and deployed. The alarm would alert residents as soon as a fire breaks out; possibly even prior to a home's smoke alarm. To test their invention, the students role-played typical scenes in a home such as a teenager sleeping in a bedroom and kids playing loud video games in another room. They tested the alarm vs. shouting 'fire,' in four different homes. Subjects in the experiment either did not hear the shouts or did not realize the severity of the situation. With the alarm, the subjects reacted almost immediately since it was a unique, high-pitched sound not normally heard in the home.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education judged this as the top idea in the U.S. Over 1,200 students and coaches participated nationwide.

Team Wins a Trip to Walt Disney World®

The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards' National Championship Week, and participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of Epcot® and the Magic Kingdom

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology. The program is now in its tenth year and has attracted nearly 14,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( with support from the National Science Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association. Past winners have included: a group of students from IS 164 in the Washington Heights section of New York who won a special Judges' Award for their portable, inflatable backpack seat which would enable students of all sizes to see the blackboard; a group of Native American girls who built a study hall out of straw on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana; and a group of students from Pennsylvania who developed a video/motion sensor device for school buses that deters motorists from trying to pass illegally.

Strong Participation from Girls, Minorities

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and more than a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students to enter.

About the Sponsor

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent Federal government agency created by Congress in 1992 to encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. The Foundation has established Frontiers of Discovery—Work in Progress and Discover the Future, programs that recognize "cutting edge" innovations, innovative ideas of America's youth, and honor teachers. These programs include the Homeland Security Award, Christopher Columbus Awards, National Gallery for America's Young Inventors and the $10,000 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award.

For more information on the Christopher Columbus Awards, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit