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Don’t Wait: Check the Date

In my three (or so) decades in the emergency services, I never heard anyone complain that their smoke detectors worked properly. Well, okay, once—but that guy was an arsonist.

Fire Prevention Week this year is October 9-15, mostly because nothing else goes on in mid-October. No, actually it was because the Great Chicago Fire happened on October 9, 1871. That fire destroyed more than 17,400 structures and killed at least 250 people, and might have been prevented if Mrs. O’Leary had installed a smoke detector in her barn. Have you ever seen a cow remove a smoke detector battery? Me neither.

Nobody really knows what started the Great Chicago Fire, so the dairy industry has a real beef with blaming the cow, which legend says knocked over a lamp. Does the lamp industry ever get the blame? Noooooo….

We do know that at about the same time the Peshtigo Fire burned across Wisconsin, killing 1,152 people and burning 16 entire towns. In fact, several fires burned across Michigan and Wisconsin at the time, causing some to speculate that a meteor shower might have caused
the conflagration. There may have been shooting stars elsewhere, but Chicago got all the press.


This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Don’t wait, check the date!” So ask your date: Does she have a working smoke detector? If not, you’d better go back to your place.

Just as you should change your smoke detector batteries every fall and spring, you should replace your smoke alarm every ten years. I’d add that doing the same to your carbon monoxide detector is a great idea, so it can make a sound to warn about the gas that never makes a sound.

This is great advice, and as I hadn’t given much thought to the age of my smoke detectors, I took it. The one in the basement stairway said: “Manufactured 1888 by the Tesla Fire Alarm Co.”

Not a good sign.

The one in the kitchen hallway said simply: “Smoke alarm. Patent pending.”

Oh boy.

So don’t wait—check the date. Do it right now, because otherwise you’d be waiting. I know it doesn’t have quite the pizzazz of the 1942 Fire Prevention Week theme: “Today Every Fire Helps Hitler”.

But hey … you can’t blame the Nazis for everything.


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