Each year, the Penticton Fire Department puts together a schedule of activities for Fire Prevention Week, which is designed to heighten awareness about what everyday people can do to reduce their fire risk hazard. Each community across North America does similar things as part of this long-standing tradition.
But when did the tradition begin?
Fire Prevention Week was established to mark the Great Chicago Fire, which began on Oct. 8, 1871, and continued through to Oct. 9, when it did most of its damage. More than 17,400 structures were destroyed and the fire burned more than 2,000 acres.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, the fire broke out after a cow belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary kicked over a lamp, setting the barn on fire, which then spread to the whole city. There are a lot of myths surrounding what actually happened — if Mrs. O’Leary was even in the barn at the time of the fire, and whether a jumpy cow knocked over the lamp or rebellious neighbourhood children sneaking cigarettes sparked the blaze.
Like any good story, the “case of the cow” has some truth to it. The great fire almost certainly started near the barn where Mrs. O’Leary kept her five milking cows. Regardless of how it started, the devastating fire scarred the community of Chicago: more than 250 people were killed and 100,000 were left homeless.
Those who survived the Chicago fire never forgot what they’d been through, and tales of bravery and heroism were recounted for years after. But the fires also changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.
On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. This has grown into a worldwide education campaign.
From Oct. 7 to 13, the Penticton Fire Department is marking Fire Prevention Week by educating the younger generation about the importance of fire safety. We’re talking to them about not only the importance of having a smoke alarm, but maintaining it regularly. We are encouraging families to involve their children in developing home escape plans, and considering two safe ways out of every room in the event of a fire.
This week we hope everyone plays an active role in fire prevention, because fire impacts our entire community.
For information about Fire Prevention Week, visit www.penticton.ca.
Penticton fire chief