Fire Prevention Week - October 7-13 - is a time to reflect on the bravery of our local firefighters who risk, and sometimes sacrifice, their lives to save others. It is also a time to make sure you and your family have an emergency plan and know the steps to take if confronted by a fire or other emergency.
Before joining the FEMA team, I was the Director of the state of Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Executive Director for the city of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management. I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of fires. That is why FEMA Region V has joined with the city of Chicago Fire Commissioner, Jose Santiago, to provide some important information you need to know about fires.
Today, there are drought conditions in many parts of the United States. Chicago was also experiencing a similar situation during a very dry summer in 1871. The ground, wooden buildings and vegetation was extremely parched and left the city in a vulnerable state. On October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in the barn area of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s home on the west side of the Chicago River. The exact cause of the fire remains undetermined, but regardless of the cause, the fire continued to blaze for two-days devastating our great city. Exhausted firefighters were assisted on October 10, when much needed rain helped to extinguish the fire.
While the story of the Great Chicago Fire is one of the major events in our city’s history, fires are devastating events to individuals, families and businesses. Today, most people have very busy lives, but sitting down with your family for 20 minutes to talk about your fire escape plan, like U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell said last week, can have a dramatic impact on your family safely exiting your home during a fire. As you discuss fire safety with your family, remember the different needs you may have. For example, do you have pets? Are there people with disabilities in your home or business? What is the best route for evacuation? Fires can rage out of control and become deadly in seconds. So planning now can save lives. And remember to practice your plan at least twice a year.
Take a moment to visit www.usfa.fema.gov to learn more about how you can prevent fires and keep your family safe.