What is the history of National Fire Prevention Week?
What have been the themes to Fire Prevention Week over the years?
Who was St. Florian?
Why is the Maltese Cross the symbol for the fire service?
What are the words to the Firefighter’s Prayer?
Frequently Asked Firsts
What is The Fire Triangle?

What is the history of National Fire Prevention Week?

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The history of National Fire Prevention Week has its roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 9, 1871. This tragic conflagration killed some 300 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 17,000 structures. The origin of the fire has generated speculation since its occurrence, with fact and fiction becoming blurred over the years. One popular legend has it that Mrs. Catherine O’Leary was milking her cow when the animal kicked over a lamp, setting the O’Leary’s barn on fire and starting the spectacular blaze. However the massive fire began, it swiftly took its toll, burning more than 2000 acres in 27 hours. The City of Chicago quickly rebuilt, however, and within a couple of years residents began celebrating their successful restoration by memorializing the anniversary of the fire with festivities. 

Intending to observe the fire’s anniversary with a more serious commemoration, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (FMANA), the oldest membership section of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), decided that the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. So on October 9, 1911, FMANA sponsored the first National Fire Prevention Day. 

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first national Fire Prevention Day proclamation. For more than 70 years, the nonprofit NFPA has officially sponsored and selected the theme for the national commemoration of Fire Prevention Week, honoring the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire and using the event to increase awareness of the dangers of fire. And every year since 1925, the President of the United States has signed a proclamation pronouncing the Sunday-through-Saturday period in which October 9 falls a national observance. 

When President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week, October 4-10, 1925, he noted that in the previous year some 15,000 lives were lost to fire in the United States. Calling the loss “startling,” President Coolidge’s proclamation stated, “This waste results from conditions which justify a sense of shame and horror; for the greater part of it could and ought to be prevented… It is highly desirable that every effort be made to reform the conditions which have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth.” 

NFPA continues today to make National Fire Prevention Week a priority and counts on the participation and effort of tens of thousands of fire and safety professionals, American Red Cross volunteers, and individuals working to reduce the risk of fire and the toll its takes on our society.


What have been the themes to Fire Prevention Week over the years?

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  • 1957 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1958 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1959 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too 
  • 1960 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1961 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1962 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too 
  • 1963 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1964 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too 
  • 1965 Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start 
  • 1966 Fight Fire 
  • 1967 Fire Hurts 
  • 1968 Fire Hurts 
  • 1969 Fire Hurts 
  • 1970 Fire Hurts 
  • 1971 Fire Hurts 
  • 1972 Fire Hurts 
  • 1973 Help Stop Fire 
  • 1974 Things That Burn 
  • 1975 Learn Not to Burn 
  • 1976 Learn Not to Burn 
  • 1977 Where There’s Smoke, There Should Be a Smoke Alarm 
  • 1978 You Are Not Alone! 
  • 1979 Partners in Fire Prevention 
  • 1980 Partners in Fire Prevention 
  • 1981 EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home) 
  • 1982 Learn Not To Burn – Wherever You Are 
  • 1983 Learn Not To Burn All Through the Year 
  • 1984 Join the Fire Prevention Team 
  • 1985 Fire Drills Save Lives at Home at School at Work 
  • 1986 Learn Not to Burn: It Really Works! 
  • 1987 Play It Safe…Plan Your Escape 
  • 1988 A Sound You Can Live With: Test Your Smoke Detector 
  • 1989 Big Fires Start Small: Keep Matches and Lighters in the Right Hands 
  • 1990 Keep Your Place Fire safe: Hunt for Home Hazards 
  • 1991 Fire Won’t Wait…Plan Your Escape! 
  • 1992 Test Your Detector – It’s Sound Advice! 
  • 1993 Get Out, Stay Out: Your Fire Safe Response 
  • 1994 Test Your Detector For Life 
  • 1995 Watch What You Heat: Prevent Home Fires! 
  • 1996 Let’s Hear It For Fire Safety: Test Your Detectors!

Who was St. Florian?

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Florian was born about 250 A.D. in Cetium (now in Austria). He joined the Roman army and advanced in the ranks. However, the Emperor Diocletian was shocked to learn that Florian did not carry out his orders to persecute all Christians in the area, and, thus, was sentenced to death by fire. Standing on the funeral pyre, Florian is reputed to have challenged the Roman soldiers to light the fire, saying “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.”

Apprehensive to his words, instead of burning Florian, they drowned him. His body was recovered and buried. 

About 600 years later, sometime between 900-955, a monastery was erected near Florian’s tomb, and subsequently the village of St. Florian grew up around it. 

St. Florian was adopted as patron saint of Poland after Pope Lucius III consented to the request of King Casimir to send relics of Florian to that country. Soon after, a person was saved from a fire by invoking St. Florian’s name. Since then, Florian has been invoked against fire and has generally been regarded in most countries as the patron saint of the fire service.

Why is the Maltese Cross the symbol for the fire service?

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The insignia of the fire service is the Cross Pattee-Nowy, otherwise known as the Maltese Cross. The cross represents the fire service ideals of saving lives and extinguishing fires. 

The fire service borrows the emblem of the cross from the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers), a charitable, non-military organization that existed during the 11th and 12th centuries that helped the sick and poor in setting up hospices and hospitals. Later, they assisted the Knights of the Crusades through their goodwill and also through military assistance in an effort to the Island of Malta, the island for which the Maltese Cross was named. 

The need for an identifiable emblem for the knights had become crucial. Because of the extensive armor which covered their entire bodies and faces, the knights were unable to distinguish friend from foe in battle. They chose the cross of Calvery as their symbol, since they fought their battles as a holy cause. The cross was later called the “Maltese Cross” and represented the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, protection of the weak, and dexterity in service. 

During the Crusades, many knights became fire fighters out of necessity. Their enemies had resorted to throwing glass bombs containing naptha and sailing their war vessels containing naptha, rosin, sulphur, and flaming oil into the vessels of the knights. Many knights were called to perform heroic deeds by rescuing fellow knights and extinguishing fires. In acknowledgement of these feats, the cross worn by these knights was decorated and inscribed. This was considered a most honorable acclaim.

What are the words to the Firefighter’s Prayer?

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When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect their property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my spouse.

Author Unknown

Frequently Asked Firsts

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First Volunteer Fire Company in America
In 1736 in Philadelphia, PA, Benjamin Franklin formed the first volunteer fire company, called the Union Fire Company. Franklin served on it as America’s first volunteer fire chief.

First Paid Fire Department in America
A large fire in Boston in 1679, led to the organization of the first paid fire department in North America, if not the world. Boston selectman imported a fire engine from England and employed a fire chief, Thomas Atkins, and 12 fire fighters to operate it.

First Firehouse Pole
David B. Kenyon, Captain of Engine Company No. 21 of the Chicago Fire Department, was the inventor of the sliding pole in 1878. Information from: A Synoptical History of the Chicago Fire Department…, published by the Benevolent Association of the Paid Fire Department of Chicago, Chicago, 1908.

First Automatic Sprinkler
The idea of automatic sprinkler protection dates back to about 1860. Philip W. Pratt developed the first automatic sprinkler system patented in the United States in 1872 in Abington, MA. From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used extensively in textile mills throughout New England, and from 1874 to 1878 Henry S. Parmalee of New Haven, Connecticut, continued design improvements on his invention: the first practical automatic sprinkler head.

First Fire Alarm Telegraph
The fire alarm telegraph was invented by William F. Channing of Boston, MA, and Moses G. Farmer of Salem, MA, in 1847. After many attempts, Channing was successful in getting the city of Boston to agree to test the device. Channing, working with Farmer, tested the system, solved the problems, and installed the first municipal fire alarm system using a telegraph in Boston, MA, in 1852.

What is The Fire Triangle?

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In order to have a fire, there must be three elements: 

  • Fuel — something which will burn 
  • Heat — enough to make the fuel burn 
  • Air — more specifically, oxygen 

Usually these three elements are expressed as a triangle, called The Fire Triangle.
All three elements must be present at the same time to have a fire. Fire will burn until one or more of the elements is removed, then will go out.