Before Oct. 9, 1871, a farmer living on the outskirts of Chicago, Catherine O'Leary, thought the same thing most Americans believe: "Fire prevention is not my job." Then one of the most tragic fires recorded in American history, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, was pinned on her and one of her cows, which reportedly knocked over a lantern the night of Oct. 8, 1871, and ignited the blaze.
Although O'Leary's name will forever be linked to that tragic incident that killed more than 250 people and burned more than 2,000 acres of land, the National Fire Prevention Association and the firefighters of the 775th Civil Engineering Squadron here want to ensure the families at Hill Air Force Base do not suffer the same misfortune.
Col. Patrick Higby, 75th Air Base Wing commander, signed the proclamation designating Oct. 4-10 as Fire Prevention Week at Hill AFB at a ceremony Sept. 17 at Fire Station No. 1 here.
Fire Prevention Week is a national awareness campaign that commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the Peshtigo Fire that burned 1.2 million forest acres at the same time the Chicago fires were burning. President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which Oct. 9 falls, according to the NFPA Web site.
To generate awareness of this year's Fire Prevention Week theme, "Stay fire smart — Don't get burned," 775th CES Fire Chief Paul Erickson says the group will host a poster and essay contest for elementary school-aged children and provide demonstrations and displays at various children's centers and schools around Hill AFB. The week will kick off with the fourth annual Fire Prevention golf tournament Sept. 25 at the Hubbard Golf Course and the week will end with the eighth annual Fire House Run on Oct. 10, starting at 7 a.m. at Fire Station No. 1.
"We hope a lot of people come out to this family fun run," said 775th CES Commander Lt. Col. (select) James R. Palmer.
Palmer says the main message his fire crew will transmit during Fire Prevention Week will be that "everyone can be a firefighter by preventing fires in their homes." The two easiest, yet most critical, things a homeowner can do to prevent a fire is to have an operational fire extinguisher in the house and to make a habit of checking their smoke alarms once a month.
Erickson noted that more than 2,900 people are killed by house fires each year and that cooking is reported as the No. 1 cause of most house fires. He hopes the week-long awareness campaign will help the Hill AFB firefighters decrease the chances of injuries and fires by empowering others with simple prevention tips.
In his closing comments, Higby praised the Hill AFB fire team for the safety and protection they provide to the Air Force families and to the workers at Hill AFB.
"My family and I appreciate knowing that you are all on call if anything goes wrong for me, other families or for our industrial workers."