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Fire Prevention

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Essay title: Fire Prevention

“We have failed as firefighters”. Though very real to many, it still is the last thing on most firefighters minds when they are interrupted from their daily duties by the ringing tones of a structure fire. On December 1, 1958, at the horrific Our Lady of the Angels Fire in Chicago, Illinois, firefighters did fail. However, it was not only the firefighters who failed, it was all of society. Why were they not prepared for this tragedy where 92 children and 3 teachers were burned and suffocated to death in a school, a place that communities send their children thinking they are safe? Many questions are brought about. Why did these innocent people not run out? How did a fire burn undetected for 10 full minutes? Why did it take so long for the fire department to get there and what other problem kept them from saving the classrooms full of kids? After the Our Lady of the Angels fire, many new codes were put into effect. Did they think that was the only problem in that fire? If so, why are hundreds still dying in the same situations today and why are we not doing anything about it? We are setting ourselves up for a bigger and more devastating fire in the days to come. We cannot sit back and watch this happen in our country without attempting to correct the problems.

Society in 1950’s Chicago was very different than that of today. The Catholic neighborhood surrounding the Our Lady of the Angels school was very close-knit and their religious faith was deeply routed. When the fire was first discovered, the nun instructed the children to just sit down in their seats and begin praying. “It was a natural reaction for her, at first, to have her pupils seek divine help.” Should that have been her top priority, in a time where every second counts? The nun could have begun planning a way to get those children out of the burning school instead of waiting for the fire department to arrive. Today, panic in these situations is the largest problem. In countless incidents, panic has caused a large loss of life. Panic is defined as “a sudden overpowering terror, often affecting many people at once.” When put into an emergency situation, we need to know how to react and have a preplanned escape.

Preplanning can be a very useful tool in keeping calm in a fire. This is true for both the fire department and the occupants of the building. When performing inspections, the fire department can also attempt to familiarize themselves with the building locations and floor plans as well as potential dangers. Pre-fire planning programs have saved many firefighters’ lives. The building occupants part in the preplanning process is in quick methods of egress from the building. These exit plans should be posted in every room and visible to all occupants. In the Our Lady of the Angels School fire, the children might have been able to get out if they had alternate ways to get out of the building. Schools should be performing emergency evacuation drills, also known as fire drills, monthly and have the means of egress posted in every room showing the specific hallways and/or rooms they will be using when exiting the building in and emergency. These fire drills have proven very positive since they have encouraged people to act properly in fires in other buildings, as well as schools. These fire drills in schools help people accept fire drills in institutions, industries, and other locations.

Our communities need to be aware of the problems that are in the schools and correct them. In Chicago, the entire community around OLA was involved in the school activities and even members of the Chicago Fire Department sent their children to Our Lady of the Angels school. The head of the school board never thought about bothering the pastor to make sure the fire code violations were being corrected. No one paid much attention to the problems mostly due to the fact that there were hundreds of other schools just like OLA in Chicago with similar violations and life safety issues. A fire inspector had just reviewed the premises in October and nothing was done about the dangerous building. “An effective fire inspection program will reap immediate and future benefits for the community and the fire department.” This obviously did not benefit either. If the inspection was completed properly and all codes that were violated had been fixed, some of these fire victims may have survived. This problem, however, is still occurring in schools today. In recent surveys, some cities found that half of their schools failed to comply with fire regulations. Exits were padlocked shut, hallway doors were malfunctioning, and fire exits were blocked. These hazards could be very life threatening in the case of a fire or emergency. The states where these problems are occurring are correcting the violations, but they should not have existed and went unnoticed in the first place.


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