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Do you know what the longest running public health observance in the United States is?

It’s National Fire Prevention Week. This year it runs from October 3 to 9. It was originally chosen to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871.

That horrific fire resulted in the deaths of 250 people and left 100,000 homeless. It destroyed more than 17,400 structures. And burned more than 2,000 acres of land.

Observance of this week began 99 years ago (1922). That’s when the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) began sponsoring it. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance.

Western Wildfires Raging

We’re much better equipped to control and put out fires than we used to be. But that hasn’t stopped wildfires from raging out of control year after year. Especially in the West.

The National Interagency Fire Center recently reported that 44,647 wildfires have burned more than 5.6 million acres in the U.S. in 2021.

States bearing the brunt of it have been California, Oregon and Washington. Plus Montana, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona.

Much of it has been due to drought conditions in 75 percent of the West. As well as high temperatures and high winds.

Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety

During Fire Prevention Week, children, adults and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to decrease casualties caused by fires.

The 2021 campaign is called “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety.” The emphasis is on educating everyone about the different sounds smoke and carbon monoxide alarms make.

Knowing what to do when an alarm sounds can keep you and your family safe. When an alarm makes noises, such as a beeping or chirping sound, you must take action.

And if you or someone in your home is deaf or hard of hearing, you could acquire a device that includes strobe lights that flash when the alarm sounds. Pillow or bed shakers are also available.

Electrical Appliances Cause Fires

The type of fire most concerning to the average person is a house fire. Even after becoming aware of a house fire, people can be trapped by flames and smoke. Those fortunate enough to escape may still suffer smoke inhalation.

Forty-seven percent of home fires begin with the usage of appliances. Including stoves, toasters, microwave ovens, radiators and other heating systems. Open flames from candles and fireplaces cause 32 percent of these fires.

According to the NFPA, U.S. fire departments respond to more than 350,000 home structure fires per year. These fires result in about 14,000 civilian injuries and 2,500 deaths. And cause about $7 billion in direct property damage.

Having an emergency response plan will increase the chances of survival for you and your family members. You should also keep a 72-hour survival kit and bug-out bag ready to grab. Important documents should be organized.

Preparation is Key

There’s more to a house fire than scorching flames. Although those are intimidating enough on their own. There are also smoke, toxic gases, the lack of oxygen and a lack of light. House fires are usually preventable. But once they start, there’s often little time to react.

Before a House Fire

Following are a few things you can do now to prepare for a potential fire in your home:

  • Practice an evacuation plan with your family, both by sight and feel. It’s possible the smoke will be too thick for you to see your way around.
  • Make sure all doors, windows, screens and security bars can be easily opened by everyone in your home.
  • Install smoke alarms and change the batteries regularly. The most reliable types of alarms are dual-sensor smoke detectors. Use a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Have a couple of fire extinguishers handy in order to keep small fires from spreading.

During a House Fire

You may find yourself in a house fire that’s beyond the scope of your fire extinguisher. The best thing to do is get yourself and other family members out of the residence. Here are four actions steps to take:

  • Move to the nearest exit quickly. You may have to get down low if there is smoke in the air.
  • If you need to open an interior door, do it slowly. The fire on the other side of the door could be worse than on your side.
  • As soon as you’re out of the house, call 911. Don’t try to do this until you’re sure you and other family members are safe.
  • Do not go back into a burning building, other than to rescue a family member.

After a House Fire

Below are four things to do following a house fire:

  • Even after a house fire has been extinguished, charred beams and other items can fall. Don’t go back in until you’ve been given the OK by the fire department.
  • Contact your insurance agent and the landlord or mortgage company to report the fire.
  • Assess the damage to your valuables and make a comprehensive list.
  • If you leave your residence for a day or longer to stay at a hotel or a friend’s residence, notify the police. Your house could become a target of thieves while you’re gone.

Spend some time during Fire Prevention Week to get prepared for a potential fire. It could be a life-saving decision.

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