On Oct. 9, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire started. This tragic fire killed about 300 people, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed more than 17,000 structures.
One popular legend claims that Mrs. Catherine O’Leary was milking her cow when the animal kicked over a lamp, set O’Leary’s barn on fire and started the fiery conflagration. The city of Chicago was fast to rebuild and soon began to remember the event with festivities. The Fire Marshals Association of North America (FMANA) believed the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed in a way that would keep the public aware of the importance of fire prevention.
On Oct. 9, 1911, FMANA sponsored the first National Prevention Day. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first national Fire Prevention Day proclamation. By 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week. National Fire Prevention Week is always the week in which Oct. 9 falls. Each year, a specific theme is chosen and is commemorated throughout the United States.
As a member of the fire service for almost 28 years, I have seen all too many times the devastation fire can incur on people and their homes. Watching a household endure the loss of their most valued possessions is simply heartbreaking. Each year, nearly 3,000 people die in home fires; many of those deaths could be avoided with the proper smoke alarm protection.
The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics show that while working smoke alarms cut the chance of dying in a fire nearly in half, roughly two-thirds of all home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
New fire codes require a smoke alarm installed in all bedrooms, and at least one on every level of the home (including the basement), and outside all sleeping areas. It is also recommended that smoke alarms be interconnected, so that when one sounds, they all do.
People have grown so accustomed to seeing smoke alarms in their homes that they feel adequately protected by them. However, the public must be ever vigilant toward smoke alarms and fire safety in general.
With a greater understanding and respect for fire’s potentially devastating impact, people can take the steps necessary to better protect themselves and their families.
Deputy Chief Gordie Olson, South King Fire and Rescue