By Tom Kiurski
It's time to start planning your Fire Prevention Week strategies for 2004. This year's Fire Prevention Week is began on October 3 and runs through the October 9. The official theme is, "Test Your Smoke Alarms," a message that still eludes citizens in every area of the country.
Fire Prevention Week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which burned more than 17,000 buildings, more than 2,000 acres, and killed more than 250 people. The fire burned for several days before going out as an autumn rain, favorable winds, and the boundary of Lake Michigan assisted the efforts of the brave firefighters.
In an effort to help us focus our attention on fire prevention and fire safety, the first official Fire Prevention Day was recognized in 1920. It was changed to a weeklong event, called Fire Prevention Week, in 1922. Fire departments across the country will gear up to celebrate Fire Prevention Week in many innovative and traditional ways. Let's take a look at some of the most popular ways to help get your creative juices flowing.
Perhaps the most popular event is the Open House, during which the public is invited to see the firefighters and their equipment in a non-emergency setting. Some fire departments have people visit the fire stations during the week at predetermined times, giving the visitors a tour and handing out educational material. Some firefighters make appearances at local venues (shopping malls, schools, etc.) for scheduled stops and talks. There are also some fire departments that schedule a one-day celebration that includes the station tour and handouts with several demonstrations for the public to view. Vehicle extrication demonstrations, mocked-up kitchen fires with fire extinguisher demonstrations, and rappelling are examples of some common events.
We have to be sure we are making an effort to educate visitors of all ages. Have plenty of hands-on props and games the kids can take part in. Shooting the fire hose with firefighter assistance shows how heavy a hose can be, and simple "Stop, Drop and Roll" practice areas can help teach an important lesson. For more examples of educational ideas, see the article "Props to Punctuate Your Fire Safety Education Programs" in the April 2001 issue of "Fire Engineering" magazine, or look it up on the website.
Fire safety reminders can be delivered to your citizens through the use of Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Contact your local television stations and cable departments for information on how to air your messages of fire safety, especially during Fire Prevention Week. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires these agencies to broadcast messages for the common good during their programming schedule, so check with them to see how to go about this. Some may read a short script, others will use a voice over with a safety message playing footage of a fire, and others may wish to videotape the PSA at your fire station.
Don't forget to check with the newspapers about printing articles about fire safety. It may be an ad-type reminder, an article with some quotes from firefighters, or the newspaper may take a composed article and print it, giving the firefighter and fire department credit.
Any way you slice it, Fire Prevention Week will be upon us very soon. I know we are all doing extra work during the cutbacks most departments are facing, but we still must do our best to try to prevent fires from occurring by educating our citizens.
Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.