Fire Prevention Week begins Sunday and continues through Saturday, Oct. 13. This annual observance, now sponsored by the National Fire Prevention Association, has been presented every year since 1911, when it was launched to mark the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. Because that conflagration in the Windy City occurred Oct. 8, 9 and 10, 1871, Fire Prevention Week is always held at this time of year. Since 1922, it has been scheduled to include the date Oct. 9, when the Chicago fire roared its loudest, eventually ravaging 3 square miles of the city and taking an estimated 200 to 300 lives while leaving 100,000 homeless.
The purpose of the observance today is the same as it was in 1911: to promote fire safety and save lives. In 1920, the first presidential proclamation was issued in support of the week, and in 1927 the observance was given a theme, a tradition which still continues. That first year, the theme was “Why This Mad Sacrifice to Fire?” which seems appropriate for the era of silent films, the Charleston dance craze and Art Deco design. This year, the theme is “Have Two Ways Out,” which presents a more hands-on, goal-oriented approach to fire safety.
“Have Two Ways Out” addresses a nightmare situation for all families: The smoke alarm is sounding, and family members find their normal exit route from the house blocked by flames or heavy smoke. At that moment, what ideally should happen is the family members will remain calm and quickly redirect themselves to an alternative pathway out of the house. They should then all meet at a prearranged site in the front yard, count noses, and make sure everybody is OK.
This “two ways out” approach to fire safety takes planning and practice, but seems the right way to go for families, or anyone else, for that matter.
We suggest that families use the occasion of Fire Prevention Week to have a serious family discussion about fire safety. Most children in elementary school will be receiving a visit from the local fire department next week as part of its outreach effort, and parents could use that visit as a springboard for the family talk. And know this: When little children are frightened, as in a house fire, they tend to hide. Speaking with them now could avert a future tragedy.
If a family needs professional assistance in structuring an escape plan for their home, contact the fire department. They are deadly serious about fire safety and saving lives.