On Oct. 9, 1871, hundreds of persons died and many thousands were injured in the great Chicago Fire.
Now, more than 125 years later, thousands of firefighters join forces to annually commemorate that tragedy with positive educational programs during Fire Prevention Week, held nationally this year from today to next Saturday.
"It is always held during the week that incorporates the Oct. 9 date of the original blaze," said Capt. Raymond Krantz, fire prevention officer for the North Tonawanda Fire Co.
This year's national theme is "Know When to Go: React Fast to Fire."
During fire prevention week, elementary-school children in communities throughout Niagara County will be visited by local firefighters and given demonstrations on how to react in case of a fire and how to best protect themselves against harm.
Paul Gerlach, principal of St. Paul's School in North Tonawanda, said he jumped the gun this year and had the fire prevention program at his school early.
"The program is so popular that we decided to have the program early here so that our students wouldn't miss out," Gerlach said.
He said some 135 students in preschool classes through eighth grade participated in the program that demonstrated how to "Stop, Drop and Roll" if their clothing should ever catch fire, and listened to lessons in how to get out of their home or other locations in case of a fire.
They were also given demonstrations of how firefighters deal with a blaze.
Gerlach said, "The day after the demonstration we had here, I stopped in one classroom and the teacher was training the children to stop, drop and roll to make sure the message was clear. It's very important that young children not only hear the lesson, but that they practice it. Once the kids have gone through the motions and have actually done it, they'll remember how to do it in the future."
Krantz said, "This year the national theme is how to react fast to fire. We also stress what we call E.D.I.T.H., which means Exit Drills In The Home. Every family should have a carefully thought-out plan on how they would get out of the home in case of a fire.
"In fact, you should know how to find a second way out of any building you happen to be in, whether it's a school, an office building or a restaurant. A second exit is not just a second chance in case of a fire, it may be your only chance."
For the month of October, North Tonawanda firefighters will visit 22 schools and hold an additional 16 open house demonstrations at North Tonawanda firehouses.
Krantz said there will be an open house from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday at fire headquarters at 495 Zimmerman St., which will include the Akron Fire Co.'s "Safe House," a small model home with artificial smoke inside in which children can practice crawling to safety.
He said the open house will also feature the Niagara County Arson Task Force and its trained dog, used to sniff out flammable material in investigating suspected arson cases. Area contractors and insurance companies will show the best ways to prevent fires in the home with smoke detectors and residential sprinkler systems and how to train children to use the 911 system.
Also on Saturday, the Upper Mountain Fire Co. will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its station, 839 Moyer Road, Lewiston. The day's events include fire truck rides from 10 to 11 a.m. and from noon to 2 p.m.; a car fire from 11:15 to 11:30 a.m., a demonstration of an infrared device that allows firefighters to see people through thick smoke from noon to 12:15 p.m.; ladder operation demonstrations from 1 to 1:15 p.m.; and rappelling demonstrations from 1:30 to 1:45 p.m.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Pendleton's Wendelville Volunteer Fire Co. will sponsor a multimedia program titled "Lives are Precious" presented by Medina Firefighter Marty Phelps. The program, suitable for all ages, deals with increasing safety awareness. It will be held at the main fire hall, 7340 Campbell Blvd. at Tonawanda Creek Road.
Similar programs will be held this week in communities across the country.