Hope you had a happy Fire Prevention Week. As we all know, the only good fire is the one that's prevented.
Gov. Martin O'Malley proclaimed Oct. 7-13 as Fire Prevention Week. According to State Fire Marshall William Barnard, the National Fire Protection Association estimated that during 2011, "U.S. fire departments responded to 484,500 reported home structure fires. These fires caused 2,640 civilian deaths, 15,635 civilian injuries and an estimated $9.7 billion in direct property damage.
Over that period, Barnard said, "Maryland experienced 67 civilian deaths, resulting from 56 fatal fires. Twenty-seven of those fatal fires occurred between the hours of 10 p.m. (and) 6 a.m. ... Cooking related fires remain the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries both in Maryland and nationwide."
The history of National Fire Prevention Week has its roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred Oct. 9, 1871. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week in October 1925
Fortunately, Westminster has a rich firefighting heritage. The first mention of a fire department in the city of Westminster was in 1808, when the Maryland General Assembly passed an act authorizing a lottery in Westminster to raise money to pay for a fire engine.
The Union Fire Company of the Town of Westminster formed in 1823. In 1851, the Westminster Burgess and Commissioners became so annoyed with the Union Fire Company that it ordered the company to be disbanded and the equipment sold. The fire company balked and the dispute raged until 1857, when Westminster City Government prevailed and the equipment was sold for scrap.
After a series of particularly disastrous fires between 1868 and 1879, the newly formed Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1, was incorporated in February 1879.
Throughout the history of Westminster, there have been horrible fires — from the fire in 1834 on Goose Pond Lane (now Liberty Street), to the disastrous blaze of April 9, 1883, when an entire square block of the city, from John Street to Carroll Street, was destroyed. In that incident, fire companies from as far away as Baltimore responded.
Then, on April 6, 1906, the Palace Livery stable, right next to the firehouse (which was then on Main Street), burned to the ground. And on April 12, 1924, a fire at the Farmers Fertilizer and Feed Company Warehouse, at the intersection of Main and Liberty streets and the railroad, threatened the rest of the block.
But as bad as those fires have been, the city has been blessed with generations of extraordinary citizens who step up to the plate to lessen their impact. These men and women undertake the hours of training, and volunteer their time to the community in a selfless dedication and commitment to safety.
Firefighters are among our greatest heroes. Perhaps, now that Fire Prevention Week has run its course, we should call today, Sunday, Oct. 14, Thank A Firefighter Day. Hugging is optional. I'm just saying.
When he is not practicing stop, drop and roll, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.