This Month in History – Fire Prevention Week, October 8 through 14, 1972

Since 1911, national Fire Prevention Day and Week have been observed on and around October 9 of each year. That date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, which swept through the city in 1871. The day became a week in the 1920s, and it remains a week as of 2020. The State of North Carolina also began officially observing Fire Prevention Day in 1911, when the Commissioner of Insurance asked all North Carolinians to “…personally examine their premises and see that all rubbish and debris likely to cause a fire is removed. Let them examine their chimneys, flues, pipes, and furnaces, and see that they are safe for the winter fires.”

During the first part of the 20th century, insurers began to promote fire prevention as a way to try to lower the likelihood of fire loss. This was a good business decision for them – if they could encourage people to be more safety-conscious, they would have to pay out less money for fire damage. As a result, fire prevention education and advice often focused on the role of individuals in fires. In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed, “During this week earnest study should be given to the principles of fire prevention by each individual with a view to applying them at all times to a sense of conserving the nation’s resources in life and property.” When it was his turn to proclaim a Fire Prevention Week in 1972, President Richard Nixon more pithily asserted “Only people can prevent fires.” Locally, observances also pushed messages focused on what each person could do to help prevent fires in the community. During New Hanover County’s 1972 Fire Prevention Week, the head of the Wilmington Fire Prevention Bureau, Captain L. E. Williams, encouraged people to plan a household escape route and stressed that “Most fire deaths in the home are caused by smoking in bed and leaving children alone in the house.”

The county’s prevention activities were spread over the week. The fire stations in the city and county held open houses, and New Hanover County Firemen’s Association sponsored a parade. On Saturday, October 14, the final day of the week, a “Miss Flame” was crowned at Wilmington Fire Department Headquarters. Sparky the Fire Dog and Smokey Bear visited classrooms and shopping centers spreading a safety message. As a part of the week’s events, the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Fire Prevention Committee ran a coloring contest. Kids were asked to color in a page that had Sparky rushing into a house where a young child was reaching for a book of matches.

Forty-two children—three for each of the fourteen fire stations in the county—were picked as contest winners.  Each winner received a certificate, the chance to ride on a fire truck, and the chance to try out some firefighting equipment at a fire station. The children received their prizes on October 21, 1972, on a day when their winning artwork was displayed at the fire stations around town.

In the 1980s, the Chamber of Commerce donated a series of photographs of firefighters and children to the Museum. The photographs show some kids with certificates, some using the equipment, and some riding on fire trucks. They depict the winners of the coloring competition receiving their prizes at several fire stations within the city and in the county.

To see more images related to this column, click here.

Previous Columns

August: Life Around Wilmington, August 30, 1951
The Competition Heats Up June 18, 1884
The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
Women’s History Month, March 8
January 2022:
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone, January 30, 1917
October 3, 1961, the Battleship North Carolina arrives at its final mooring place
September 19, 1906
Exploring New Hanover County’s Green Book sites
A popularity contest, July 1915
The Competition Heats Up June 18, 1884
A New Hospital is dedicated, May 7, 1967
The First Earth Day, 1970
Women and the Wilmington Museum of Art
African Americans Working on the Railroad
January 2021:
January 9, 1861

Seagate Volunteer Fire Department coloring contest winners, October 21, 1972
Gift of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Children with firefighter and Winter Park Volunteer Fire Department truck, October 1972
Gift of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Children with firehose and Myrtle Grove Volunteer Fire Department truck, October 1972
Gift of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382
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