Fire won’t wait - plan your escape!
By Chief Sam DiGiovanna
And don’t wait any longer, get the message out to your community. It’s a couple weeks away, so start planning now or you’ll be too late!
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week. This annual observance represents a great opportunity for your department to connect with your community, so like fighting a fire, let’s go big and hit it hard and early to maximize your department’s efforts. You can leverage Fire Prevention Week to bring heightened awareness to saving lives, preventing injuries and protecting property. In addition, opening up your facilities to the public — or taking your people and message directly to schools and community organizations — can help put a human face on firefighting and firefighters.
Fire Prevention Week will take place October 9–15, 2022. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has announced its theme for this year: “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape.” This theme reinforces the critical importance of developing a home escape plan with all members of the household and practicing it regularly. Without public outreach, though, it’s likely the theme and related messaging will go unnoticed by the people you serve.
Fire Prevention Background
National Fire Prevention Week is celebrated each year during the week of October 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The incident began the night of October 8 of that year in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. Though historians are uncertain how the blaze actually began, local legend says it was sparked when a cow kicked over a lantern. Regardless of the actual cause, the result was devastating damage. This horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed over 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres of land.
Ironically, the fire cleared the way for a newer, much improved Chicago. Ten years after the fire, the city population had nearly doubled. Twenty years later, the Windy City was home to over 1 million people and featured the world’s first true skyscrapers. The site where the O’Leary barn once stood now hosts the training academy of the Chicago Fire Department.
With all this in mind, it’s up to you and your organization to promote the message of fire safety. Fortunately, National Fire Prevention Week gives you a good excuse to pull out all the stops as you spread the word.
The Importance of Prevention
Anyone who’s worked in the fire service for any length of time knows the important role prevention plays in helping to avoid injury and death in the event of a fire. Here are a few handy facts to use in your messaging around National Fire Prevention Week:
- Every year, almost 4,000 people die and 2,000 are seriously injured in U.S. house fires.
- Around 80% of all civilian fire deaths happen in the home.
- Adults aged 65 and up are over twice as likely to die in fires than younger people.
- Having functional smoke detectors more than doubles a person’s chances of surviving a house fire.
- It takes just 3-1/2 minutes for the heat from a house fire to top 1,100 F.
- In a house fire, rooms that are not actively burning can still reach temperatures of over 300 F, which can result in fatalities.
- Improperly extinguished cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths in America.
Planning Your Outreach
Fire Prevention Week begins on Sunday, October 9, which is known as Fire Prevention Day. Here are some ideas for activities and events you might want to plan to take advantage of this important week:
Host an Open House. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, you may feel like you’ve lost that in-person, face-to-face contact with members within your community. Why not have an open house and invite community members in for fire prevention and education displays? You can provide demonstrations while giving a “show and tell” of your equipment. Make sure you have plenty of fire safety handouts for people to take home!
Feed the Public. Firefighters are famous for being good cooks, and firehouse cuisine is legendary. One way to connect with members of your community is to have a food-centered event such as a pancake breakfast or a chili cook-off. You can hold the event at the fire station, at a local park or in another location central to your community. Be sure to plan displays and demonstrations to underscore the central message of fire prevention.
Visit Local Schools. Kids are fascinated by firefighting — the gear, the equipment and the apparatus — and the timing is right, since the school year has just begun. Contact your school district to arrange school visits. You can give demonstrations, answer questions and provide educational materials and supplies. Don’t forget to bring your department’s therapy dog, if you have one!
Involve Political and Community Leaders. Consider arranging with your mayor or city council to have the week of October 9 officially proclaimed Fire Prevention Week in your city or town. You can also involve leaders from such service organizations as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Elks clubs. A press event held at your department’s facility can provide great optics to announce the proclamation.
Hold a Fun Run. There’s nothing like a 5K fun run to bring a community together. These events also help promote physical fitness, which is sorely needed these days. You can involve your local Boys and Girls Clubs and the Boy and Girl Scouts. In addition, little league or youth soccer teams may also want to participate with fund raisers for burn wards, smoke detectors for the underserved, and more.
Contact the Media. Reach out to your local news media — print, television, and online — to help spread the message. You can send out a press release highlighting your outreach efforts, invite reporters to events or volunteer your time for interviews.
Senior Citizen Outreach. You likely have several clubs in your community catering to the needs of older citizens. Make sure you include them in educational activities related to fire prevention, slip and fall and other EMS-related incidents. Another idea is to pair younger volunteers with older homeowners to help change smoke detector batteries.
Spotlight on Pets. Though National Pet Fire Safety Month is in April, don’t forget to include pets in your awareness campaigns. This includes providing advice on how to prevent pets from starting fires as well as making sure pets are evacuated if a fire occurs. According to the National Fire Protection Association, around 1,000 home fires are caused each year by homeowners’ pets, and about 40,000 pets die in house fires.
Local Businesses. Any event or campaign will come with costs, and agency budgets are limited. Because of this, don’t hesitate to reach out to local businesses that might want to help sponsor your efforts, either with direct funds or in-kind donations.
Fire Prevention Week will take place October 9–15, 2022. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has announced its theme for this year: “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape.”
Stay on Message
National Fire Prevention Week is a great time to team up with schools, businesses, and community organizations to help educate people of all ages — from kids and teenagers to adults and the elderly — on the importance of fire prevention. Here are some key messages behind this year’s “Fire Won’t Wait; Plan Your Escape” theme:
- The most important thing you can do is create a home escape plan that will work for everyone in your household. Make sure it meets the needs of all your family members, including those with sensory or physical disabilities.
- Smoke alarms should be installed inside every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of your home. Smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one sounds, all of them sound.
- When possible, make sure your plan allows for at least two ways out of every room. Check to ensure all windows and doors are easy to access and open.
- Agree on an outside meeting place a safe distance from your home to use in the event of a house fire.
- Put your escape plan into action by conducting home fire drills at least twice a year with everyone in the household, including guests. Alternate between daytime and nighttime drills. For simplicity, you can do these drills at the same time you change the batteries in your smoke alarms.
Sam DiGiovanna is a 40-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.