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Community Focus
by Tom Kiurski

November's historical fires offer 'teachable moments'

The Great Boston Fire and the MGM Grand Hotel tragedy offer many discussion points

By Tom Kiurski

The month of November offers us many opportunities to present "teachable moments" for our audiences. We may normally think of a teachable moment right after a fire, when neighbors have a heightened awareness about fire and life safety, and that is correct.

But we can also draw our audience's attention to fire safety by referring to historical fires that have occurred during this particular month.

We can start with the Great Boston Fire of 1872, which can bring to light some nice comparisons and contrasts with the fire service issues of today. In this case, issues included:

  • Boston's building codes and regulations were not being enforced. While our codes today are much stronger, a loss of fire prevention inspectors can lead to this very same problem nowadays.
  • Arson was common as many buildings were insured at full value or overinsured. With foreclosures at such a high rate, we have an increased problem with arson today.
  • Fire alarm boxes were locked due to the high number of false pulls. While we have very few of these historical items around now, it is a good speaking point to highlight how our cell phones are useful in calling in fire alarms, and that we should program in our emergency contacts under the listing of "ICE," which stands for "In Case of Emergency."

Also in November, back in 1980 this time, a fire in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas killed 85 people. Some of the issues that led to the devastation there that we can learn from include:

  • When staying in a hotel, make sure you know where the exits are from your room. In fire emergencies, the elevators will not operate for occupant movement.
  • Take your room key with you when you are evacuating. If you find your way blocked by heat and/or smoke, the safest action may be to go back into your room and stay there.

Whether you plan on talking to adults this month, taping an educational piece for your local television or cable stations or writing an article for your local newspaper or website, you can include the lessons from these historical fires to help illustrate your safety points.

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at Tom.Kiurski@firerescue1.com.



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