Fire Prevention Month

A couple historic disasters happened in the United States during October, just before the turn of the 20th century. The first, you probably know about: The Great Chicago Fire.

Starting on October 8, 1871 by an oil lamp kicked by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, this devastating fire destroyed thousands of buildings in one of the largest cities in the United States and took the lives of close to 300 people in the process.

However, this wasn’t the only catastrophic event that happened that October. Another lesser-known fire happened the very same night. 250 miles away in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, a fire started in the small town – similarly ignited in the same way that wildfires currently rage in California and other western states. Over the next day, approximately 1,200 people were killed and 2 billion trees were destroyed within the 1.2 million acres consumed by the firestorm. This remains as the most deadly forest fire in U.S. history.

Although far more devastating, The Great Chicago Fire typically is talked about and remembered more frequently because it occurred in a major city.

Even though the majority of our municipal buildings no longer have wooden exteriors (a main factor in the fire’s spread and destruction), both of these horrible events serve as strong reminders of the damage and chaos fires can bring. That is why in 1925 President Calvin Coolidge, with these events in mind, proclaimed the week of October 9 to be Fire Prevention Week. Fire Prevention Week is on record as the longest-running public health observance, according to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center.

In honor of fire prevention week, former firefighter Scott Burkart says now is the best time to review and update fire safety plans – not only for residences but for business structures too.

With 30 years dedicated to fighting fires and saving lives, Scott puts tremendous emphasis on fire safety and prevention.

Now retired from duty, Scott serves as a Senior Safety Consultant for Pearl Engineering and teaches safety and fire prevention classes.

“I believe fire prevention is key,” he said. “Once a fire starts, fires are a hard thing to stop and impossible to reverse. Prevention is the only way to avoid horrendous damage and save lives.”

What You Can Do

Fire prevention and life safety codes are in place to protect businesses, and more importantly the people in the buildings, and are very reasonable to comply with. Complying with these codes are not only required but also crucial for the safety of everyone, as Scott puts it.

Measures to keep up to code include: an active and current fire prevention and emergency action plan (a plan outlining and directing action of employees in the event of an emergency), proper documentation, monthly fire extinguisher inspections (as well as the proper training by employees on how they should be used) and clearly marked and operational fire exits. In addition, emergency action plans should be updated annually or following any significant changes within the building.

However, many businesses still do not follow through. Scott cites the primary reasoning for this being that many businesses believe they can’t afford to do them, whether it’s the additional financial expenses or the time it takes to follow through on them.

Sure, fines can be levied for not staying up to code. But, consider this: the cost of maintenance and upkeep is insignificant compared to the potential tragedy of a fire.

Studies show 40% of businesses never reopen their doors after a fire. If they do, 25% fail within one year after reopening. 90% don’t make it past two.

Fires impact more than just the business as well. Employees lose their jobs or are out of work for an extended period, which can trickle down to a negative impact on communities and local economies. Fires affect everyone.

For businesses, following codes is obviously key. However, the most important thing businesses can do to prevent fires, Scott says, is just to be proactive and stay on top of general maintenance and cleanliness.

All small fires have the potential to grow into bigger ones, and an easy way for them to do that is to consume clutter, dust and scrap – especially in warehouses and manufacturing sites.

Proper exits are another common issue Scott sees. Often times, fire exits are not properly indicated or lit. When they are, equipment or debris blockages often make them difficult for someone to exit the building. In addition, snow and ice build-up in the winter time can render these doors inaccessible as well.

At home, monthly testing and replacing the batteries twice a year (change your clocks, change your batteries) in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are the most important thing you can do to prepare, given the fact that these devices can alert occupants of an emergency while they sleep – an issue you don’t have in an office, manufacturing or warehouse setting.

Scott Burkart is dedicated and passionate about the safety and security of homes, businesses and the people in them. His services are available as a consultant, inspector and educator of a number of safety, prevention and construction courses.

For questions or inquiries, contact Scott at