-submitted by Sarah Peterson, communications volunteer
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was responsible for setting up the first fire company in Philadelphia? On a visit to see his family Boston, he observed that Bostonians were much better equipped to fight fires and save lives than the people of Philadelphia. According to the website, ushistory.org, after consulting with civic leaders in Philadelphia, he gathered 30 young men together to form the Union Fire Company on December 7, 1736. These men had special equipment provided by the community, and they began meeting regularly to practice their techniques and discuss successful firefighting procedures.
In order to raise public awareness, Franklin began writing about fire safety in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. In one article, written in 1735, he cautions his fellow citizens against moving hot coals from room to room on an open shovel, in case one ember is lost under the stairs and results in a middle-of-the-night,“when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”
Fire safety awareness has improved since the 1700s. No doubt Franklin would have been thrilled by the efficacy of smoke detectors, but we still struggle to make sure fire safety measures are protecting everyone. On October 3rd, 2014, the White House released a proclamation by President Obama to mark Fire Prevention Week and to remind all Americans of the danger of fire. He urged all of us to practice evacuations plans from our homes, schools and places of business. He urged Americans who live near woodlands to practice caution and clear flammable vegetation from around buildings. He reminded all of us that, “During Fire Prevention Week, we recognize our duty to be vigilant and take action to avert fires, and we remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives so others might live.”
That’s why the Pennsylvania State House also took some time this week to recognize National Fire Prevention Week. According to State Senator Rob Teplitz, the week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and was first designated in 1920. It is still unclear how the devastating fire in Chicago got started, but it burned for two days, destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city’s central business district, killed up to 300 people and left more than 100,000 residents homeless. In 1920, officials decided that such a massive disaster deserved the be remembered in a way that could help everyone learn more about fire safety and prevention and President Woodrow Wilson released the first National Fire Prevention Week Proclamation.
Appropriately, this year’s theme is “Smoke alarms save lives: Test yours every month.” As Franklin surely knew when warning about embers in an open shovel, home fire deaths are preventable but require residents to take care. We no longer worry about lost embers, but we must test our smoke alarms regularly and change the batteries twice a year.
As Franklin writes in 1735, “In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure” we must all be vigilant against the dangers of fire. We remember terrible disasters like the Chicago fire by taking the time to remind ourselves of this basic truth. Check your batteries, everyone! Take the time to practice an escape route from your home. And don’t carry those embers in an open shovel.