By Tom Kiurski
The summer of 1871 was a long, hot and dry one for the Chicago area. By the time October rolled around, there still were warm temperatures and dry grounds. On the evening of October 8, a fire broke out near a barn, the evening after one of the worst fires Chicago firefighters had ever faced.
After initially heading to a different part of town, the fire was located and attempts at extinguishment were made. The dry wooden structures, connected with wooden sidewalks to wooden streets, proved too much for the brave firefighters. The fire burned much of the downtown area, killed more than 300 people, left more than 100,000 people homeless and caused more than $200 million in damage.
The Great Chicago Fire is the catalyst for Fire Prevention Week, when fire departments across the country make efforts to educate their citizens about the dangers of unwanted fire. Some fire departments do a lot during this week, while others' efforts are hampered by budgets and personnel.
Whichever is the case for your fire department, there are things you can do. Take a look at the following suggestions on recognizing Fire Prevention Week in your community.
1) Firehouse tours
Invite the citizens to tour your fire station(s) during the week to find out about more their fire department and learn about fire safety. This can be advertised in your local newspaper, city Web site, newsletters, cable television and a variety of other venues. Be prepared with educational and fun materials for all age groups. Take a look at your SOP/SOG on fire station tours and be ready prior to their arrival.
2) School visits
Go out to the schools in your community to teach fire safety to children. They look forward to seeing their heroes, and all kids love to see a fire truck. Bring handout materials and have the trucks ready to show off.
3) Spread the word
Get the message in print for those who you are unable to see in person. Write a short article for your community newsletters, newspapers and Web site. You may be able to arrange an interview with the local newspaper, and they can write the article around your safety messages.
Make short safety pieces for your cable announcements, and make a few short Public Service Announcements that can be played during Fire Prevention Week. The PSAs can promote your station tours as well as give safety tips to residents.
5) Open house
Consider hosting an open house event during the week, where you will have plenty of equipment and personnel on hand. Try to make this special by letting children hold the fire hose (supervised, of course), wear a firefighter’s turnout coat (clean, right?) and get plenty of chances to practice fire safety behaviors, such as "Stop, Drop and Roll" and "Crawl Low Under Smoke." Demonstrations can include fire extinguisher operation, vehicle extrication, cooking fires, a vehicle fire and response to a medical call.
Whatever you do to commemorate Fire Prevention Week, make sure you get some helpers, divide up the duties and get started!