According to legend, on a late Chicago night in October 1871, a cow in Catherine O’Leary’s barn kicked over a lamp, igniting a historically tragic fire that would burn for almost two days.
The fire killed about 300 people, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed more than 3 square miles of the Windy City.
The Great Chicago Fire has dozens of lasting effects today, including serving as the foundation of the modern-day National Fire Prevention Week, a nationwide effort to educate Americans on the importance of fire prevention.
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Local events this year included firefighters reaching out to the county’s youngest audience — elementary-age children.
“We want them to see us in our uniforms and hear us, touch our outfits and find out that we’re not scary,” Brownstown Volunteer Fire Department Chief Eric Browalski said.
Browalski and several of his department’s firefighters took their Engine 10 to Brownstown Elementary School, where children got to explore the truck and interact with its crew.
Seymour Fire Department Inspector Brad Knight delivered a similar message during a program at the Seymour department’s headquarters.
“The information can be overwhelming to kids, so we try to keep it simple for them,” Knight said.
Both programs aimed to instill a few key points:
Firefighters are there to help, so children shouldn’t hide when they see one
Everyone should be ready at the first signs of a fire to escape the area
All families should have a plan, including where the home’s exits are and where family members should meet after escaping the home
Every home should have at least one working fire alarm, and families should test them regularly
“I know (alarms are) loud and go off sometimes when they’re not supposed to, but they could save your life and your family’s lives,” Browalski said.
Both departments have programs to provide fire alarms for free.
“We can make arrangements to get them to anyone that doesn’t have one,” Browalski said.
Many of children present for the programs were most impressed with the equipment.
“I thought it was interesting because I liked learning about all the gear and how they use it,” said Landon Disque, a second-grader at Brownstown Elementary School.
Fellow second-grader Loralie West agreed.
“I liked seeing the inside of the firetrucks the best,” she said.
Though neither child said they really wanted to be a firefighter, both said they learned a lot about how to behave if they are ever in a house fire.
“I think it’s important that they see firefighters dressed up and learn about what to do,” said Julie Rueger, a kindergarten teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School. “It’s one thing to have us tell them but another to have a hero-like figure tell them the same thing.”
Rueger said she feels the kids, including kindergartner Lilly Charlton, learned a lot and believes the information will stick with them.
“I learned a lot about fire safety I didn’t know,” Lilly said.
The event at Seymour ended with each child receiving information about fire safety, hats, badges and apples, while Brownstown gave packets of information and posters for the children to take home after getting a word from Sparky, the fire prevention’s mascot fire dog.