Fire Prevention Week occurs nationwide every October. It was born out of the desire to save lives and prevent tragedy. After the devastating Great Chicago and the Great Peshtigo fires of 1871, which ironically both began on the evening of October 8, momentum built within the Fire Marshal’s Association of North America to do everything it could to do to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
The Great Chicago fire, which reportedly began at or near Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, quickly spread throughout the city. The wind-whipped fire burned out of control through Chicago neighborhoods for 27 hours. The final tally was staggering: More than 250 people dead, 100,000 homeless, 17,400 structures destroyed, and $168 million in damage.
The Great Peshtigo fire burned through Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, killing thousands, destroying 17 towns and consuming more than 1.5 million acres. It is the conflagration that caused the most fire deaths in U.S. history, killing 1,200-2,500 people. It is known as the most devastating fire in American history.
The Fire Marshal’s Association of North America declared the first Fire prevention day on October 9th, 1911. In 1920 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed October 9th as National Fire Prevention Day. In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge declared October 4-10 to be National Fire Prevention Week. He noted that in the previous year some 15,000 lives were lost to fire in the United States. Calling the loss "startling", Coolidge's proclamation stated:
"This waste results from the conditions which justify a sense of shame and horror; for the greater part of it could and ought to be prevented... It is highly desirable that every effort be made to reform the conditions which have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth"
Great fire prevention strides have been made throughout the decades. Fire-caused fatalities have dropped from an average of 15,000 deaths per year a century ago to an average of 2,500 deaths per year during the last several decades. This decrease can be attributed to the advent and promotion of smoke alarms, life-safety improvements in the building and fire codes including fire protection systems, and other fire prevention messages and measures. We are doing better, but we have not arrived. Too many people are still getting injured or killed within their homes.The United States Fire Administration (U.S.F.A.) reports the following statistics:
Click here to watch the side-by-side fire sprinkler/flashover demonstration.