What’s the real history of National Fire Prevention Week?
What event does National Fire Prevention Week commemorate? See if you know; what’s your guess about National Fire Prevention Week history?
a) The week during which the original Smokey the Bear’s birthday fell.
b) The week during which the Great Fire of London occurred.
c) The week during which the Great Chicago Fire occurred.
If you went for answer C, you were correct!
National Fire Prevention Week commemorates the Great Chicago fire of October 8-9, 1871. The fire took 250 lives, left 100,000 people homeless, destroyed 17,400 structures, and burned 2000 acres.
Contrary to myth, Mrs. O’Leary’s cows did not start the fire, although researchers are not sure who did. Mrs. O’Leary was not in the barn that night with a lantern, she was asleep in her bed. However, there is evidence that the fire did, in fact, start quite near her barn.
On that same day, October 8, 1871, a wildfire raced through the Peshtigo area in Northeast Wisconsin burning 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and charring 1.2 million acres. The Peshtigo fire probably started when railroad workers burning brush pile allowed the flames to get away from them.
The two fires left a scar on the American consciousness. The combined death toll of 1,402 almost equals the number of lives (1,500) lost when the Titanic sank.
In 1911, forty years after the two fires the Fire Marshalls Association of North America decided to make the anniversary of the two fires an occasion to raise public awareness of fire safety. The movement grew until 1920 when President Wilson proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Day.
Every year since 1922 National Fire Prevention Week has been observed during the week that contains October 9. There has been a Presidential proclamation of National Fire Prevention Week every year since 1925.
National Fire Prevention Week History of Themes That Reflect the Times
Each year National Fire Prevention Week has a short, catchy theme. The themes reflect the historical context and culture of their times.
- During World War II, the themes included Today Every Fire Helps Hitler, Fight Fires for the Axis, and To Speed Victory, Defeat Fire.
- The Cold War brought themes such as Defend America from Fire and Be Free from the Fear of Fire.
- When the Baby Boomers entered school, the themes reflected the nation’s attention to children: Let’s Grow Up – Not Burn Up and Make Sure of Their Tomorrows – Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start.
- As technological advances drastically reduced the cost of smoke detectors and alarms to the point average households could afford them, the themes encouraged their adoption (Where There’s Smoke, There Should Be a Smoke Alarm) and testing (A Sound You Can Live With: Test Your Smoke Detector and Test Your Detector for Life).
- Remember when scented candles started appearing in virtually very store ? You won’t be surprised they also brought an increase in candle-related fires and thus the theme Use Candles with Care.
Want to know this year’s theme? Check the National Fire Protection Association’s website.