When local firefighters stage activities for National Fire Prevention Week this week, they are following a tradition that began with commemorating one of the worst fire disasters of all time.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which hundreds of people were killed and thousands of buildings destroyed, is far removed from the smoke detector alerts and stop-drop-and-roll drills of today’s fire prevention activities, but the focus is the same.
The Great Chicago Fire represents the danger to human life that fire creates. The goal of fire prevention remains an aim at preventing that loss.
Fire Prevention Week each year is proclaimed for the week in which Oct. 9 falls. That acknowledgement serves as a reminder of the Chicago event which did its most damage on that date, even though it began a day earlier and lasted days longer.
The theme of this year’s observance, set by the National Fire Protection Association, is “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month,” offering reminders to keep intact one of the most important safety measures to save lives in the event of a fire.
According to the Fire Prevention Week website, “Having a working smoke alarm cuts the chances of dying in a reported fire in half. Almost 2/3 of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.”
This week is a time not only to teach about fire prevention but also to acknowledge the value and sacrifice of local firefighters, many of whom are volunteers.
Fire companies will be staging displays of equipment, making visits to schools, assisting senior citizens with smoke detector battery replacements and holding information sessions to help children and senior citizens have escape plans in the event of fire.
Fire safety trailers will visit malls and schools to teach children how to use the 911 emergency system and how to stay safe during emergencies.
Fire prevention materials will be distributed and search dog demonstrations will be held during firehouse open house events.
Firefighting equipment will be on display, and firefighters available to answer questions.
Some firehouses will conduct workshops and activities for children, such as “firefighter for a day,” and other fire companies will send firefighters in to school classrooms to conduct demonstrations and teach students how to stay safe in a burning building until help arrives.
In 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to 370,000 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,910 civilian injuries, 2,520 civilian deaths, $6.9 billion in direct damage, the National Fire Prevention Association reports.
On average, seven people die in U.S. home fires per day.
Those numbers prove the continuing need for fire prevention information. This is a week to learn how to prevent fires and how to get help if fire breaks out.
Check your smoke detectors to make sure they are in working order and have fresh batteries.
And, take a moment to thank a firefighter for helping teach prevention and for protecting our property and our lives.