Fire Prevention — A National Call

Fire Prevention — A National Call

Both Alexandria and Fairfax County kicked off Fire Prevention Month last Saturday with special displays and activities geared to both adults and children.

As part of "Art on the Avenue," Alexandria Fire Department had some of its latest equipment on display at Station 202 on East Windsor Avenue. It was comprised of the latest long-ladder bucket truck, emergency preparedness vehicles, and a display by the Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Placing particular emphasis on teaching children the need to observe fire prevention safety, the department conducted tours of its "Safe House" throughout the day. "Sparky" the national fire safety dog, entertained children both at the station and Safe House, set up on Mount Vernon Avenue.

All 35 stations of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will hold open houses throughout the day Oct. 9 to highlight burn prevention and fire safety. Each station will have displays and activities geared toward educating the public on a variety of safety initiatives including seasonal fire safety, according to Daniel L. Schmidt, public information officer, FCF&R Department.

"Test Your Smoke Alarms" is this year's National Fire Protection Association's theme for the month-long observance. Firefighters and paramedics throughout the region are providing information on such subjects as:

* Ensuring homes are equipped with working smoke alarms.

* Properly caring for and maintaining smoke alarms.

* Educating the community about "what to do" when the alarm sounds.

ON FRIDAY, OCT. 8, commencing at 11 a.m., Alexandria Fire Department will hold its Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony and Memorial Service at Ivy Hill Cemetery's Circle of Honor, 2823 King St. The Circle of Honor, "a memorial to those who have fallen in service," is located immediately inside the cemetery gate.

The ceremony is a tribute to the history and sacrifice by members of the City's Fire Department. It is held each year during Fire Prevention Week at the beginning of the month as a reminder of the tragic cost of fire, according to Jane Malik, public information officer, Alexandria Fire Department.

Fire Prevention observance was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed more than 250 people and left over 100,000 homeless. It destroyed more than 17,500 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres in the city. The fire began on Oct. 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on Oct. 9, according to NFPA.

Popular legend has always maintained the fire broke out after a cow, belonging to Mrs. Catherine O'Leary, kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, then the entire city on fire. But, recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk that version of events, NFPA reported.

Although, it has some truth to it, "The Moo Myth," as it has been dubbed, only applies to the great fire by the fact that Mrs. O'Leary did have a barn where she kept her five milking cows near where the conflagration started. But, there is no proof that O'Leary's was the barn where the fire started, according to Cromie.

Other theories run the gamut from boys dropping some matches while sneaking a smoke, to a neighbor of O'Leary's starting it for some unknown reason, to a fiery meteorite falling to earth on Oct. 8. The later theory is cited as the cause of fires in Michigan and Wisconsin that same day.

While the Chicago fire is the best know blaze to start during that two day stretch, it wasn't the largest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in U.S. history, according to NFPA.

It roared through northeast Wisconsin, also on Oct. 8 and 9, 1871, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres. Historical accounts place the blame for the fire on several railroad workers clearing land when they unintentionally started a brush fire.

The small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, suffered the worst damage. Within one hour it was no more than charred ashes. These two incidents changed how fire and public officials thought about fire safety and prevention.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation. Beginning in 1922 Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday in which Oct. 9 falls. Each president since Wilson has followed suit with a national proclamation. It is now the longest running public health and safety observance on record.