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Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2017 Vol. 64 No. 10

Fire Prevention Week 2017

Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. On the night of October 8, 1871 the blaze began as a seemingly small barn fire. However, by the next day the fire had rapidly grown and engulfed a large portion of Chicago, ravaging the city. On October 10 the fire was finally brought under control, but the damage was already done. All told, the fire burned over 2,000 acres, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, left roughly 100,000 individuals homeless, and killed more than 250 people in just two days.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson announced the very first National Fire Prevention Day. Since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls in order to remember the tragic Chicago Fire, and prevent other events like it. Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record according to the National Archives and Records Administration's Library Information Center. Every year since 1925 the President of the United States has signed a proclamation declaring a national observance of Fire Prevention Week.

Accordingly, Texas continues to observe Fire Prevention Week in order to remember the great tragedy of the Chicago Fire.  More importantly however, it is observed to save lives and protect property by keeping the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. Despite all the great technological advances and resources that are now at our disposal, fires still contribute to a significant loss of life and damages in the United States. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that in 2014 there were nearly 1.3 million fires in the United States, which resulted in more than 3,200 deaths and $11.6 billion in damages. The best way these numbers can be reduced is by individual members of the public taking action and preparing themselves. Thus, Fire Prevention Week is one way in which we at the Texas Division of Emergency Management seek to provide you with the tools, resources, and information you need to prepare yourself for a fire.

The 2017 Fire Prevention Week will be taking place October 8-14.  The principal initiative for this year's campaign is "Every Second Counts: Plan Two Ways Out." Creating and practicing an escape plan is a simple yet vital element to fire safety and preparedness that could end up saving your life. Having and maintaining fire alarms and smoke detectors is an important first step in protecting your household, or workplace, but it only serves its intended purpose if you have a plan to get out when it goes off.

In the event of an emergency, especially a fire, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. That is why it is crucial to have a plan of escape already in place for you and all of your family members or co-workers. Not having a plan already in place can lead to panic and chaos. That is why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that you create a plan of escape with at least two ways out and practice that plan at least twice a year with all members of your household or co-workers.

It is not enough to only plan one way of escape. Fires are often unpredictable and quick. You never know if a fire will prevent your primary exit out of a building. Thus, it is recommended that you plan at least two ways out of your home or workplace in the event of an emergency. As you are developing your escape plan, remember that doors are often not the only way out of your home. Window can also serve as an adequate avenue through which to exit a building in an emergency. Additionally, it is crucial that you make sure all routes of escape are clear of obstacles, and that all doors and windows easily open.

Finally, it is important to establish an agreed upon meeting place outside of the building in case of an emergency. This allows you to accurately determine whether or not everyone has safely evacuated the building. This is important because when first responders arrive on the scene, they need to know whether or not every person is accounted for, so they can appropriately handle the situation.

The following is a list of suggestions given by the NFPA on creating your escape plan:

  • Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
  • Practice your home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own in case you can't help them.
  • Make sure the number of your home is clearly marked and easy for the fire department to find.
  • Close doors behind you as you leave – this may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire.
  • Once you get outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.

Ultimately, an escape plan is like a fire extinguisher. You hope that you never have to use it, but you have it and you practice using it because it is something that could end up saving your life, your family's lives, or your co-workers' lives. Buildings, homes, and offices, can be replaced, but lives cannot. You never know when disaster may strike. Be safe, be informed, and be prepared. Don't wait until it's too late, Every Second Counts: Plan Two Ways Out.

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