Each year since 1922, America emphasizes fire prevention and safety through a campaign called Fire Prevention Week. Its purpose is to provide education to all citizens so that overall fire safety is improved, fewer people are injured or killed by fire, and less property is damaged. Many people participate in Fire Prevention Week activities,
but few know why this tradition started. Spoiler alert…the cow did it…maybe.
According to popular legend, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 broke out after a cow, belonging to Mrs. O’Leary, kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn and then the whole city on fire. The tragic fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned over 2,000 acres.
There have been other theories about the origins of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 including: boys smoking cigarettes, an angry neighbor and even a meteorite. However the fire started (the cow is still the best story), the death and damage it caused made city officials take notice of fire safety issues. Those who survived the fire forced changes in building construction standards, spacing between buildings, safer construction methods and many other advancements that continue to make our communities much fire safer than in the past.
This year’s theme, “Hear the beep where you sleep: every bedroom needs a working smoke alarm,” reflects one of the fire safety improvements that can be traced back to its bovine roots: the smoke detector. Smoke detectors are everywhere now, but should not be taken for granted. They need to be installed correctly, tested and maintained well, and most importantly, listened to. Smoke detectors provide early indication of a fire while residents still have time to escape the flames. Your family’s safety may depend on them.