Fire Prevention Week: The Beginning

Fire Prevention Week

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Fire Prevention Week or maybe you’re interested in learning more. Fire Prevention Week began to memorialize the Great Chicago Fire which tragically occurred in 1871. It left 100,000 homeless, killed more than 250 people, burned more than 2,000 acres and destroyed more than 17,400 structures. It started on October 8 and burned well through the night into October 9.

There are lot of theories as to how this detrimental fire started. The legend states that a cow knocked over a lamp in the barn of a woman named Mrs. Catherine O’Leary. The lamp then started a fire in the barn and continued through the city. However, this theory has been debunked and other more logical theories have been uncovered.

It is widely believed that the fire did in fact start near the barn where Mrs. O’Leary lived but how did it start if it wasn’t the cow after all? Some historians believe that a neighbor started the fire or even boys who were smoking near the barn were responsible; no one knows for sure.

Though it’s not one of the biggest fires, it has changed the way firefighters and officials view fire safety. The Fire Marshals Association determined that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be a platform to inform the public of fire safety and prevention. It has since grown exponentially.

Fast forward to 1920 when Woodrow Wilson was president. He implemented the first National Fire Prevention Day. However, since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday where October 9 falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration Library Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record. Since 1925, every President of the United States has signed a proclamation claiming a national observance during that week.

This year’s theme is “Don’t wait, check the date!” in an effort to get people to replace their smoke alarms every 10 years, starting from the manufacturing date. It has been a three year effort to educate people about basic and essential elements of smoke alarm safety. Research shows that there are many misconceptions about smoke alarms which increases the risk for fire so it’s especially important to spread the word and educate others on the topic.

Interested in planning ahead for next year? In 2017, Fire Prevention Week will be held October 8-14 and in 2018 it will be held from October 7-13.