One hundred and thirty one years ago, in October 1871, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over that lantern in Chicago and started one of the largest conflagrations in American history.
But it took another 51 years for the nation to seriously promote fire prevention. In October 1922, the first Fire Prevention Week was proclaimed by the National Fire Prevention Association.
This Sunday, Alexandria will mark the 80th anniversary of that proclamation as it initiates Fire Prevention Week 2002, with an open house at Station 202 located at 213 Windsor Ave. That will be followed by a special event each day culminating on Saturday, Oct. 12.
"This year we are concentrating on three elements of fire prevention," said Richard Sisler, public education officer, Alexandria Fire Department. "We will be attempting to educate people about electrical and candle hazards and on the necessity to have smoke detectors."
Alexandria Fire Chief Thomas M. Hawkins acknowledged, "Maybe since 9/11 there is a higher degree of awareness about fire prevention. Also, many people are more knowledgeable about the job of the firefighter."
Sisler noted, "There is a city ordinance requiring every home to have operating smoke detectors. On Saturday, Oct. 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., we are going door-to-door in the Upper Potomac West area offering to replace the batteries in their detectors or install free detectors were there are none."
"Residents can welcome us or not. If no one is home we will leave a reminder on the door handle and will be glad to come back if they just call us," he explained. All detectors to be distributed are strictly battery operated.
SISLER POINTED out that on October 27, clocks go back to standard time. "That is also the time to replace batteries in smoke detectors so you are sure they are operative," he emphasized.
As an honor to all those firefighters nationwide who lost their lives in the line of duty during 2001, the flag of state which experienced a loss will line the street from Mount Vernon Ave. to the week-long staging area at Station 202, where the newest apparatus will be on display. The "SAFE House" and Sparky, the fire safety dog, will be a part of "Art on the Avenue" from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. next Saturday.
In addition to the week-long recognition, two other events are scheduled for October. "On Oct. 24, we are having a senior citizen event entitled, 'Fire Fighting - Then and Now.' We are doing this in conjunction with the City Recreation Department," Sisler said.
The two hour program will be held at Station 204, 900 Second St., from 10 a.m. to noon that day. "The senior centers will transport the people to the station where we will give them a tour of the station and the administrative offices. It is also a good way to educate them on the needs for fire safety," he pointed out.
On October 21, 23, and 26 the department will hold its Citizen Fire Academy at the Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson St., and at the "burn building," 800 S. Payne St. "This is an opportunity for citizens to actually participate in the firefighter training program," Sisler emphasized. Registration is required for this event.
Other locations offering information and instruction on fire prevention between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. from October 5 to 12 include: . Fox Chase Shopping Center at Zig's, 4531 Duke St., Monday, October 7,
. Van Dorn Plaza, 249 S.Van Dorn St., Tuesday, Oct. 8,
. Bradlee Shopping Center, 3610 King St., Wednesday, Oct. 9,
. Barnes and Noble Book Store, Potomac Yards, 3651 Jefferson Davis Highway, Thursday, Oct. 10, and
. Market Square in front of City Hall, 301 King St., Friday, Oct. 11.
"We really encourage people to come out and meet members of the fire department," Hawkins said. "It's also a good opportunity for them to learn what they can do to prevent fires in their homes and to prepare for emergencies."