Fire Education naturally started with a disaster. In the fire service we always try to do things twice as good, so there were actually TWO disasters. 1871 was an unusually dry summer and fall. In those days, there weren't many fire departments even formed, even Amherst didn't have an organized fire department until 1901.
On October 8, 1871 , two separate fires started and would burn for days becoming two of the nation's deadliest fires to this day. The most famous of the two started in Chicago when, as the story goes, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern and started her barn on fire. Because of the unusually dry season and high winds, the fire burned for days doing most of its damage on October 9 th . The Great Chicago fire, as it later became to be known, left more than 250 people dead, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.
Although the Great Chicago Fire is the most famous fire to start on this date, it wasn't the biggest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire also started on October 8, 1871 , and roared through Northeast Wisconsin , burning down 16 towns, killing 1152 people and scorching 1.2 million acres before it ended. The fire has been said to have been started unintentionally by several railroad workers who were clearing brush for tracks.
In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation to be for 1921, the 50th anniversary of the two famous fires. Since 1922, National Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9th falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration's Library Information Center , Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record. The President of the United States has signed a proclamation for a national observance during that week every year since 1925.
Since this time, there have been other historical fires that cause us to rewrite the rules and regulations to work toward a goal of no lives lost. For example, have you ever wondered why we have exit lights and capacity ratings for public buildings? Ever wonder why the fire inspectors visit every public building twice a year? They are all reactions to disasters that happen in American history. In 1942, The Coconut Grove was a very popular nightclub in Boston . There was a fire and 492 lives were lost mainly because the people in the overcrowded nightclub could not find there way out of the smoke.
It's disasters like these that the Amherst Fire District Public Education Team is trying to help prevent. For us, October is the busiest time of the year for fire prevention, but certainly not the only time.
The programs that we currently offer include the Kindergarten through second grade level at Amherst Elementary School . The first and second grade students visit the fire station and are taught what to do in the event of a fire in their home. To encourage that these messages are taken home and shared with the rest of the family, the students are tested on their work in the following week at school. All the students are also asked to enter our Great Smoke Detector Contest. The students are given a contract to take home to have there parents sign with the student stating that they will check the smoke detectors in their home and remember to replace the batteries at least once per year. Two winners are drawn from the returned contracts and they receive prizes that are donated to the fire district.
The Kindergarten class gets a visit from a fire fighter and by Sparky the Firedog. Many of the students also participate in the Ask Sparky column in the Our Community Spirit . Sparky and the fire fighter also bring messages about fire safety to the Kindergarten classes.
Public Education of fire safety is not limited to children. The Amherst Fire District Pub-Ed team also has programs designed for early childhood groups all the way up to senior citizen groups.
Please contact us if you are interested in setting up a time when we can meet with your group