Every October, fire departments across the nation take the time to participate in an event that we call “Fire Prevention Week.”
In 1911, the Fire Marshal’s Association of North America wanted to take notice of the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. That fire occurred October 8-10, 1871, and was absolutely devastating. Three hundred people died. Three point three square miles of Chicago’s business district was destroyed. One hundred thousand people were left homeless. And it did an estimated $200 million in damage. Many people know about this fire, which, legend has it was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. As it turns out, the cow is probably innocent, though we will likely never know the true cause.
Believe it or not, this fire wasn’t the biggest fire in U.S. history. In fact, it wasn’t even the biggest fire those three days in 1871.
On the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, caught fire, ultimately burning 1.5 million acres, and dozens of villages. The fire killed somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 people, and remains, to this day, the deadliest fire in U.S. history.
Because of these two fires, and two others that burned down the towns of Manistee and Holland, Michigan, the fire marshals of the time felt it important to remember the lessons, and tried to bring awareness to the cause of fire prevention, and the protection of the citizens of the United States. They designated Oct. 9 as Fire Prevention Day.
In 1920, Woodrow Wilson issued the first proclamation of National Fire Prevention Day. In 1922, the day was expanded to a week, with President Calvin Coolidge proclaiming the first National Fire Prevention Week in 1925.
Over the years, there have been many messages delivered to the public. Property protection, smoke alarm awareness, kitchen fire prevention, and exit drills in the home are just a few of the many topics covered during Fire Prevention Week.
This year we will bring awareness to the cause of smoke alarms once again. Three thousand, two hundred and eighty people died in fires in 2015, and nearly 16,000 people were injured. The over 1.3 million fires that occurred caused over $10.3 billion in damage. In many cases, there were no smoke alarms present during these fires, which contributed to lives lost, injuries, and unnecessary damage.
Watch for tips on smoke alarms over the coming weeks, and for a very special event toward the end of the month.
Before I close this installment, I wanted to leave you with this. Smoke alarms save lives, without question. If you don’t have any, please go get some. If you really need one, please call our Public Education phone line at (925) 941-3300, ext. 3. And if you know someone who needs one, please get them one. You can’t afford not to.
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District