Commemorating a conflagration
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on October 9, 1871.
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. Chances are you’ve heard some version of this story yourself; people have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O’Leary, for more than 130 years. But recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.
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. 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.
But if a cow wasn’t to blame for the huge fire, what was? 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 October 8, starting several fires that day – in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.
In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record. The President of the United States has signed a proclamation proclaiming a national observance during that week every year since 1925.
Stay Fire Smart! Don’t Get Burned
During National Fire Prevention Week, attention is focused on promoting fire safety and prevention, however we should practice fire safety all year long. Many potential fire hazards go undetected because people simply do not take steps to fireproof their home.
Fire’s can happen anywhere at any time.
It’s human nature to think bad things only happen to “the other person,” but the fact is that bad things can happen to good people. Everyone thinks they’ll never have a fire, but the figures tell a different story. In fact, the chances are that you will experience at least one home fire in your lifetime – a fire serious enough to call 911.
Simple things like testing the water before putting a child in the bath may sound like common sense. Wearing short or close-fitting sleeves when cooking on the stovetop may show foresight. This and other simple actions may be all it takes to prevent devastating burns. Many bedroom fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, careless use of candles, smoking in bed, and children playing with matches and lighters.
Most potential hazards can be addressed with a little common sense. For example, be sure to keep flammable items like bedding, clothes and curtains at least three feet away from portable heaters or lit candles, and never smoke in bed. Also, items like appliances or electric blankets should not be operated if they have frayed power cords, and electrical outlets should never be overloaded.
Each year more than 3,600 Americans die in fires – the worst fire record in the modern, industrialized world. About two-thirds of these fire-related deaths happen at home, and many of them during the night while victims sleep. Those statistics are sobering and ENMR•Plateau wants all employees to know they can help protect themselves and their loved ones from fire with 10 easy steps.
- Make sure everyone in the family understands the dangers of fire. Remember to stay low below door knob level when getting out of the smoke. If you have a towel/washcloth to cover your face and breath through it should help with some smoke inhalation. Additionally, Use the back of your hand to feel if the door knobs are hot indicating fire burning on the other side.
- DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES! Teach kids that matches, lighters, lighter fluid, gasoline and candles are tools, not toys. If you suspect that a child is playing with fire, check under beds and in closets for telltale signs like burned matches. Matches and lighters should be stored in a secure drawer.
- Limit the use of extension cords; make sure the cord can carry the power load it is being used with.
- Develop a home fire escape plan; let your kids help to identify two ways to escape from each room.
- Practice your fire escape plan; a good time is when you test your smoke detectors monthly.
- Change those smoke detector/CO2 batteries, remember “Change your clocks, change your batteries” (Nov 6th, 2011 Daylight Savings Ends).
- Avoid clutter in the home or office, keep fire escape exits clear. You don’t want to have to navigate through cluttered halls when trying to escape an emergency.
- Portable heaters should be kept away from all combustible items and have a minimum 3 feet clearance when in use.
- Never store combustibles near hot water heaters or in a furnace room.
- Have an ABC type fire extinguisher charged, serviceable and in an easy access area (preferably the kitchen).
Fire extinguishers are divided into four categories, based on different types of fires. Each fire extinguisher also has a numerical rating that serves as a guide for the amount of fire the extinguisher can handle. The higher the number, the more fire-fighting power. The following is a quick guide to help choose the right type of extinguisher.
* Class A extinguishers are for ordinary combustible materials such as paper, wood, cardboard, and most plastics. The numerical rating on these types of extinguishers indicates the amount of water it holds and the amount of fire it can extinguish.
These are the symbols seen on a Class A extinguisher.
* Class B fires involve flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, grease and oil. The numerical rating for class B extinguishers indicates the approximate number of square feet of fire it can extinguish.
* Class C fires involve electrical equipment, such as appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets. Never use water to extinguish class C fires – the risk of electrical shock is far too great! Class C extinguishers do not have a numerical rating. The C classification means the extinguishing agent is non-conductive.
* Class D fire extinguishers are commonly found in a chemical laboratory. They are for fires that involve combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, potassium and sodium. These types of extinguishers also have no numerical rating, nor are they given a multi-purpose rating – they are designed for class D fires only.
Some fires may involve a combination of these classifications. Your fire extinguishers should have ABC ratings on them.
*Class K (kitchen) fires, was added to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers in 1998.
Here are the most common types of fire extinguishers:
* Water extinguishers or APW extinguishers (air-pressurized water) are suitable for class A fires only. Never use a water extinguisher on grease fires, electrical fires or class D fires – the flames will spread and make the fire bigger! Water extinguishers are filled with water and pressurized with oxygen. Again – water extinguishers can be very dangerous in the wrong type of situation. Only fight the fire if you’re certain it contains ordinary combustible materials only.
* Dry chemical extinguishers come in a variety of types and are suitable for a combination of class A, B and C fires. These are filled with foam or powder and pressurized with nitrogen.
o BC – This is the regular type of dry chemical extinguisher. It is filled with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The BC variety leaves a mildly corrosive residue which must be cleaned immediately to prevent any damage to materials.
o ABC- This is the multipurpose dry chemical extinguisher. The ABC type is filled with monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances such as a computer
Dry chemical extinguishers have an advantage over CO2 extinguishers since they leave a non-flammable substance on the extinguished material, reducing the likelihood of re-ignition.
How To Use A Portable Fire Extinguisher
Remember the term PASS when you go to use a portable fire extinguisher.
Pull the pin.
Aim extinguisher nozzle at the base of the flames.
S = Squeeze trigger while holding the extinguisher upright.
Sweep the extinguisher from side to side, covering the area of the fire with extinguisher contents.
In Case Of Fire
Report It! – Report the fire
immediately no matter what size of the fire. CALL 911.
Fight It! – If a fire is small, and you have a safe exit, you may try to fight it after you report it.
Escape It! – If the fire is large escape is your best choice.
Many fires start in the kitchen, usually due to distraction. Stove top cooking is a serious activity and requires full attention. Don’t put something on the stove and leave to watch television. Keep dish towels, pot holders and decorations at least a foot away from the stovetop. Even though they may not be on the burner, radiated heat can cause them to ignite. Keep an oversized pot lid available. Should a fire occur in the cooking pot, place the lid over the pot, turn off the heat, and don’t remove the lid for at least 15 minutes.
If a fire does occur and your clothing happens to catch fire, you should remember the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” technique. This could prevent serious burns to you or a family member.
Fire safety is not difficult. It only requires awareness and common sense to keep families and homes safe from fire. Please remember to make sure your cigarettes are fully extinguished before leaving the area. By taking preventive measures can keep a family from becoming a fire statistic.
Today’s blog post is courtesy of
Safety and Security Manager for ENMR·Plateau