Every second counts when escaping a fire Featured

First of Three

This week people across the country are observing Fire Prevention Week, which is on record as the longest running public health observance, according to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center.

Cleveland Fire Inspector Greg Jackson said he really looks forward to this week every year because he gets to visit with students in school.

Jackson will visit the elementary schools in the city throughout the week and promote the Fire Prevention Week theme, “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!”

Jackson said though some may say the message doesn’t change much each year, it’s important for kids to hear it because every second “does” count.

“Young people listen. You’d be surprised what sticks in their minds.

“I’ll be sending the kids home with a check list and they need to take it to their parents, go through it and check it off,” he said.

He said it’s very important that families develop a plan in case of a fire.

“The entire family needs to know, develop and practice the plan. Everyone needs to know where to meet outside, whether it is at the mailbox, a tree or a neighbor’s porch,” said Jackson.

He added this step could help save lives and time in getting a fire under control.

Jackson said it is not only important to have a plan but also to practice the plan.

He said the sound of a smoke alarm can be startling and practicing an escape plan can help you stay calm in an emergency.

“Time is of the essence. You need to have a quick response time. Be an example. Kids do what they see and everyone needs to be trained to be clam,” said Jackson. “Staying calm saves lives.”

The National Fire Protection Association has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since 1922, when the commemoration began.

President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 4-10, 1925, beginning a tradition of the president of the United States signing a proclamation recognizing the occasion.

It is observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which Oct. 9 falls, in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began Oct. 8, 1871, and did most of its damage Oct. 9.

The horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

According to popular legend, the fire broke out after a cow, belonging to Mrs. Catherine O'Leary, kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn then the whole city on fire.

Recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.

The great fire almost certainly started near the barn where Mrs. O'Leary kept her five milking cows. But there is no proof that O'Leary was in the barn when the fire broke out - or that a jumpy cow sparked the blaze. Mrs. O'Leary herself swore that she'd been in bed early that night, and that the cows were also tucked in for the evening.

After the Great Fire, Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Ahern published a report that the fire had started when a cow kicked over a lantern while it was being milked. The woman was not named, but Catherine O'Leary was identified.

In 1893, however, Ahern admitted he had made the story up.

Over the years, journalists and historians have offered plenty of theories. Some blamed the blaze on a couple of neighborhood boys who were near the barn sneaking cigarettes. Others believed that a neighbor of the O'Leary's may have started the fire.

Some people have speculated that a fiery meteorite may have fallen to earth on Oct. 8, starting several fires that day - in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.

The Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in American history, was the biggest blaze that week, but drew little note outside of the region–in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin?– because of the attention drawn by the Great Chicago Fire.

The Peshtigo Fire, which also occurred on Oct. 8, 1871, roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres before it ended.

Historical accounts of the fire say that the blaze began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire.

Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area 'like a tornado,' some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.

Those who survived the Chicago and Peshtigo fires never forgot what they'd been through; both blazes produced countless tales of bravery and heroism. 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 (today known as the International Fire Marshals Association), decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should henceforth be observed not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.

back to top