This week (October 3-9, 2010) marks Fire Prevention Week, a designation intended to promote the importance of fire safety and awareness as well as to pay tribute to the nation’s firefighters. Dating back almost a full century, the observance began in October 1911 when eight states issued proclamations formally setting aside October 9th as “Fire Prevention Day.” Organized in part by the National Fire Marshals Association, the day was chosen to commemorate the 40th anniversaries of the Great Chicago Fire and Wisconsin’s Peshtigo Fire, which both began on October 8, 1871, and burned into the next day. Officials hoped to “bring home to the people the great calamities that might happen from such terrible disasters.” (Other fires in different parts of Michigan and Illinois on October 9, 1911, also destroyed towns and claimed lives. All told, more than 1.5 million acres burned in two days and claimed thousands of lives in the Midwest. By coincidence, the same week of the first Fire Prevention Day the commission investigating the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, which killed 146 factory workers who were trapped in a burning building, was holding its hearings. This March 1911 fire made clear the danger of fire in modern urbanized areas and led to the establishment of building fire codes and other reforms.)
Nine years after this first observance, the day became an official national designation when President Woodrow Wilson issued a 1920 proclamation officially naming October 9 as National Fire Prevention Day. By this time the day’s events were already growing into a week-long observance in various states and locales around the country. The mayors of New York City and Chicago both promoted a week of activities and events relating to fire prevention in 1919. Nationwide the day coincided with educational activities in public schools, public lectures, the cleaning of debris and fire hazards from homes and property, fire drills, the distribution of fact sheets about fire damage, slides in movie theaters showing images of the loss of life and property, and fire prevention displays and placards in stores. Rules for preventing fires were even printed on restaurant menus.
In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge issued the first national proclamation for Fire Prevention Week, designating it as the seven days from Sunday to Saturday encompassing October 9th. Every president since has followed suit, with President Obama issuing the latest proclamation on October 1st, 2010. Currently the week is promoted by the National Fire Protection Association, the world’s leading advocate for fire prevention. This year’s version of Fire Prevention Week also marks the return of public service announcements featuring Bambi alongside Smokey Bear. This is a throwback of sorts to the first U.S. Forest Service fire PSAs of 1944 which featured Disney’s Bambi character prior to the debut of Smokey.
In honor of this year’s Fire Prevention Week, we bring you a few images of historic fire prevention efforts from the FHS Photograph Collection. Click on any of the below images to enlarge: