Bethlehem Press

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Fire Prevention Week

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 by The Press in Opinion

Observance began in 1925

Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 7 to 13, was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began Oct. 8, but continued into and did most of its damage Oct. 9, 1871.

According to popular legend, the fire broke out after a cow - belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary - kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, then the whole city on fire. Chances are you’ve heard some version of this story yourself; people have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O’Leary, for more than 130 years. But recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.

Like any good story, the ‘case of the cow’ has some truth to it. The great fire almost certainly started near the barn where Mrs. O’Leary kept her five milking cows. But there is no proof that O’Leary was in the barn when the fire broke out - or that a jumpy cow sparked the blaze. Mrs. O’Leary herself swore that she’d been in bed early that night, and that the cows were also tucked in for the evening.

But if a cow wasn’t to blame for the huge fire, what was? Over the years, journalists and historians have offered plenty of theories. Some blamed the blaze on a couple of neighborhood boys who were near the barn sneaking cigarettes. Others believed that a neighbor of the O’Learys may have started the fire. Some people have speculated that a fiery meteorite may have fallen to earth Oct. 8, starting several fires that day - in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.

While the Great Chicago Fire was the best-known blaze to start during this fiery two-day stretch, it wasn’t the biggest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire also occurred Oct. 8, 1871, and roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres before it ended.

Historical accounts of the fire say that the blaze began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area ‘like a tornado,’ some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.

Those who survived the Chicago and Peshtigo fires never forgot what they’d been through; both blazes produced countless tales of bravery and heroism. But the fires also changed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.

On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (today known as the International Fire Marshals Association), decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should henceforth be observed not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. The commemoration grew incrementally official over the years.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which Oct. 9 falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record. The president of the United States has signed a proclamation proclaiming a national observance during that week every year since 1925.

Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission.

Keep your family safe with a working smoke alarm in every bedroom.

Source: NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week website, www.firepreventionweek.org.

Roughly half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are asleep?

One quarter of home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom. Another quarter resulted from fires in the living room, family room or den.

Three out of five home fire deaths happen from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fire injuries, followed by heating equipment.

Smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths.

Smoke alarms save lives. If there is a fire in your home, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out. In fact, having a working smoke alarm cuts the chances of dying in a reported fire in half!

When it comes to smoke alarms, it’s about “location, location, location.” Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of your home, including the basement. Larger homes may need more alarms.

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half.

In fires considered large enough to activate the smoke alarm, hardwired alarms operated 93 percent of the time, while battery powered alarms operated only 79 percent of the time.

When smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead.

An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, or where extra time is needed, to awaken or assist others, both types of alarms, or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms are recommended.

According to an NFPA survey, only one-third of Americans have both developed and practiced a home fire escape plan.

Almost three-quarters of Americans do have an escape plan; however, more than half never practiced it.

Source: NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week site www.firepreventionweek.org