Was it the Cow?
In 1871 a great fire consumed the City of Chicago and served as a catalyst for fire prevention week. The bulk of the damage was consumed by the fire on October 9, 1871 and was one of three major fires (Peshtigo Fire and the Great Thumb Fire) that week. The story is typically told about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow who tipped over a lantern and caused the start of the fire. Recently historians have worked to debunk the ethics of Mrs. O’Lery’s milking cows and may lead to careless smoking near the barn or a fiery meteorite which started the Peshtigo fire as well.
Details of the Chicago Fire included
- 250 Died
- 100,000 were left homeless
- 2,000 acres burned
- 17,400 structures were destroyed by fire
Regardless of how the fire started, the event triggered many events that have focus on public education on fires. 40 years after that fiery day, the International Fire Marshal’s Association (Approximately 1910) pushed to have the week set aside as fire prevention day. This included a proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson who issued the first proclamation for Fire Prevention Day in 1920.
By 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week, which was Oct. 4-10, 1925. He noted that in the previous year approximately 15,000 lives had been lost to fire in the United States. President Coolidge’s proclamation stated, “This waste results from conditions that 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 that have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth.”
Today fire damage across the United States reaches $8 billion dollars annually with an average of near 3500 civilian deaths and over 100 fire fighter fatalities. As Inspectors we all work to make sure the public is safe in the built environment. This week as you go in and out of homes and commercial buildings take the extra minute to talk about fire safety. Its as simple as asking the secretary at the front counter to check her smoke alarms when she gets home, or as you perform a plumbing inspection in a home with a remodeled kitchen, ask the home owner if its okay to check the smoke alarms before you leave.
Together all of us can make sure we reduce fire deaths and damage and make our communities a safer place.