|History of St. Florian
|Saint Florian Patron Saint of Fire Fighters All firefighters are aware that Saint Florian is the patron Saint of firefighters. Many have purchased and are very proud to wear the Saint Florian medallion around their neck. These medallions are usually gold and many are shaped in the form of a Maltese cross with the image of Florian stamped in the center of it. If you ask who Florian was or why he is our Patron Saint, most firefighters don't know. They assume it is because he made some heroic fire rescue or maybe he was a priest who was involved in the fire service. These answers are the typical response but neither is accurate. Florian was a Captain in the Roman army. He was a brave soldier and a tenacious fighter. Rome recognized the danger of fire and was the first to employ a fire department. This first fire department was made up of slaves. They had no real desire to risk their lives battling the flames of their captors. Rome desperately needed fire protection. They called on Captain Florian to organize and train an elite group of soldiers whose sole duty was to fight fires. Captain Florian indeed organized such a group. They were highly trained and very successful at protecting Rome from fires. A brigade of firefighters followed the army and provided fire protection at their encampments. These firefighters were highly respected and easily recognized. They wore the traditional Roman soldier uniform except the skirt was green. The most famous picture of Saint Florian depicts him with a young boy pouring water from a pitcher onto a fire. This picture if seen in color reveals this green skirt. Rome was very impressed by this young Captain and all that he had accomplished. They decided to reward him by making him a general. Generals were often given large tracks of conquered land to govern. The only rules were that they had to enforce the laws of Rome and collect the taxes. Florian's area included almost all of Poland. Rome began to hear some rumors about the way Florian was governing his land. It was reported that he was not enforcing Rome's law forbidding Christianity. Rome did not believe this, but they did sent investigators to check. They reported back that it was true. Rome sent a group of soldiers to confront Florian. They warned and threatened him that he must enforce the laws of Rome and abolish Christianity. Florian not only refused he confessed that he had embraced the faith and become a Christian himself. Rome was furious. They tortured him and demanded he renounce his faith. Florian steadfastly refused. Rome ordered his execution. Florian was to be burned at the stake. Soldiers marched him out and secured him to the post. Villagers gathered around to witness the execution. Florian begged his executioners to build the fire higher. He implored them to light the fire so his soul would rise up to heaven on the smoke from the blaze. The soldiers had never seen this kind of reaction from a person about to be burned alive. They were frightened. What if his soul did rise up, right in from of all the villagers? They could not afford a martyr. The fire was not lit. Florian was taken away by the soldiers who decided to drown him. He was placed in a boat and rowed out into the river. A millstone was tied around his neck and he was pushed over board and drowned. After his death, people who were trapped by fire reported that they invoked Florians name and his spirit delivered them from the flames. These occurrences were reported and documented many times. Florian was confirmed a saint for his commitment to his faith and the documentation of his spirit delivering trapped persons from the flames. It is only fitting, that firefighters, committed to their duty, and instilled with the spirit to dedicate themselves to the protection of life and property, should choose such a man as their patron saint. "Honoring Our Past Makes Us Appreciate Our Future"
|History of the Maltese Cross
History of the Maltese Cross
The Maltese cross is known around the world as a symbol of the fire service. It is often seen painted on fire trucks, on the clothing of firefighters, depicted on firefighters badges, and is quite often the chosen design of firefighter tattoos. So where did the Maltese cross come from, and how did it get to be known as a symbol of the fire service?
The Badge of a Fire Fighter is the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. Its story is hundreds of years old.
When a courageous band of crusaders known as Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possessi on of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but horrible device of war. It wrought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. The Saracens weapon was fire.
As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.
Thus, these men became our first Fire Fighters and the first of a long list of courageous Fire Fighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor-a cross similar to the one fire fighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.
The Maltese Cross is your symbol of protection. It means that the Fire Fighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a Fire Fighter's badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage...a ladder rung away from death.
|History of Fire Safety Week
Commemorating a conflagration
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on October 9, 1871.
According to popular legend, the fire broke out after a cow - belonging to Mrs. Catherine O'Leary - kicked over a lamp, setting first the barn, then the whole city on fire. Chances are you've heard some version of this story yourself; people have been blaming the Great Chicago Fire on the cow and Mrs. O'Leary, for more than 130 years. But recent research by Chicago historian Robert Cromie has helped to debunk this version of events.
The 'Moo' myth
Like any good story, the 'case of the cow' has some truth to it. The great fire almost certainly started near the barn where Mrs. O'Leary kept her five milking cows. But there is no proof that O'Leary was in the barn when the fire broke out - or that a jumpy cow sparked the blaze. Mrs. O'Leary herself swore that she'd been in bed early that night, and that the cows were also tucked in for the evening.
But if a cow wasn't to blame for the huge fire, what was? Over the years, journalists and historians have offered plenty of theories. Some blamed the blaze on a couple of neighborhood boys who were near the barn sneaking cigarettes. Others believed that a neighbor of the O'Leary's may have started the fire. Some people have speculated that a fiery meteorite may have fallen to earth on October 8, starting several fires that day - in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.
The biggest blaze that week
While the Great Chicago Fire was the best-known blaze to start during this fiery two-day stretch, it wasn't the biggest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire, which also occurred on October 8th, 1871, and roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres before it ended.
Historical accounts of the fire say that the blaze began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area 'like a tornado,' some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.
Eight decades of fire prevention
Those who survived the Chicago and Peshtigo fires never forgot what they'd been through; both blazes produced countless tales of bravery and heroism. But the fires also changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety. On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (today known as the International Fire Marshals Association), decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should henceforth be observed not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. The commemoration grew incrementally official over the years.
In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration's Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record. The President of the United States has signed a proclamation proclaiming a national observance during that week every year since 1925.
Fire Prevention Week themes over the years
1957 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1958 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1959 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too
1960 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1961 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1962 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too
1963 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1964 Fire Prevention is Your Job…Too
1965 Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
1966 Fight Fire
1967 Fire Hurts
1968 Fire Hurts
1969 Fire Hurts
1970 Fire Hurts
1971 Fire Hurts
1972 Fire Hurts
1973 Help Stop Fire
1974 Things That Burn
1975 Learn Not to Burn
1976 Learn Not to Burn
1977 Where There's Smoke, There Should Be a Smoke Alarm
1978 You Are Not Alone!
1979 Partners in Fire Prevention
1980 Partners in Fire Prevention
1981 EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home)
1982 Learn Not To Burn - Wherever You Are
1983 Learn Not To Burn All Through the Year
1984 Join the Fire Prevention Team
1985 Fire Drills Save Lives at Home at School at Work
1986 Learn Not to Burn: It Really Works!
1987 Play It Safe…Plan Your Escape
1988 A Sound You Can Live With: Test Your Smoke Detector
1989 Big Fires Start Small: Keep Matches and Lighters in the Right Hands
1990 Keep Your Place Firesafe: Hunt for Home Hazards
1991 Fire Won't Wait...Plan Your Escape.
1992 Test Your Detector - It's Sound Advice!
1993 Get Out, Stay Out: Your Fire Safe Response
1994 Test Your Detector For Life
1995 Watch What You Heat: Prevent Home Fires!
1996 Let's Hear It For Fire Safety: Test Your Detectors!
1997 Know When to Go: React Fast to Fire
1998 Fire Drills: The Great Escape!
1999 Fire Drills: The Great Escape!
2000 Fire Drills: The Great Escape!
2001 Cover the Bases & Strike Out Fire
2002 Team Up for Fire Safety
2003 When Fire Strikes: Get Out! Stay Out!
2004 It's Fire Prevention Week! Test Your Smoke Alarms
2005 Use Candles With Care
2006 Prevent Cooking Fires: Watch What You Heat
2007 It's Fire Prevention Week! Practice Your Escape Plan
2008 It's Fire Prevention Week! Prevent Home Fires
|Our Lady of the Angels School Fire 1958
One of the Worst School Fires In U.S. History
On December 1, 1958, a fire broke out in the basement of Our Lady of the Angels catholic school in Chicago, educational home to approximately 1,600 students in Kindergarten through 8th grade. The school was a two story structure built in 1910 but remodeled and added to numerous times in the intervening years. While legally in compliance with the fire safety laws of the time, the school was woefully unprepared for any kind of fire. There was only one fire escape, no sprinklers, no automatic fire alarm, no smoke or heat detectors, no alarm connected to the fire department, no fire-resistant stairwells and no fire-safe doors from the stairwells to the second floor. While the building's exterior was brick, the interior was made almost entirely of combustibles - stairs, walls, floors, doors and roof - all wood. The floors had been coated and re-coated many times with flammable petroleum based waxes. There were NO fire alarm switches in the north wing, and only two in the entire school, both located in the south wing. While there were four fire extinguishers in the north wing, they were mounted 7 feet off the floor, out of reach for many adults and virtually all of the children. The single fire escape was near one end of the north wing but to reach it required passing through the main corridor, which became filled with suffocating smoke and superheated gases. With it's 12-foot ceilings, the school's second floor windows were a daunting 25 feet from the ground, should someone decide to jump. Thus, the scenario for a tragedy was set.
Was It Arson?
Although the cause has never been officially determined, all indications point to arson. A boy (age 10 at the time, and a fifth grader in room 206) later confessed to setting the blaze, but subsequently recanted his confession. He was more afraid of confessing to his mother and step-father than to the police.
The boy confessed to setting numerous other fires in the neighborhood, mostly in apartment buildings. In his confession, he related details of the fire's origin that had not been made public and that he should therefore not have known. While there was strong evidence that he was indeed the culprit, neither he nor anyone else was ever prosecuted, at least in part because the catholic judge in the case felt he should protect the Church.
Officially, the cause of the fire remains unknown.
The fire started in the basement sometime between 2:00 and 2:20 that cold December afternoon, in a cardboard trash barrel at the foot of the northeast stairwell. The fire burned undetected for an estimated 15 to 30 minutes, gradually filling the stairwell with super hot gases and smoke. In the intense heat, a window at the foot of the stairwell shattered, giving the smoldering fire a new supply of oxygen. The wooden staircase itself burst into flames and, acting like a chimney, sent super hot gases, fire and smoke swirling up the stairwell. The first floor landing was equipped with a heavy wooden door which effectively blocked the fire and heat from entering the first floor hallway. But the second floor landing had no doors - the fire, smoke and heat were free to roam the second floor halls at will. As the fire was climbing (consuming) the stairway, a pipe chase running from the basement to the cockloft above the second floor false ceiling gave the superheated gases a direct route to the attic, where the temperature rapidly rose higher and higher until it finally reached ignition temperature. Almost as though planning a coordinated attack, the fire swept through the halls of the second floor in the north wing of the school, and flashed through the cockloft above the classrooms. By the time the students and their teachers in the second floor classrooms realized there was a fire, their sole escape route (the center hallway) was all but impassable. For 329 children and 5 teaching nuns, the only remaining means of escape was to jump from their second floor windows to the concrete and crushed rock 25 feet below, or to pray for the fire department to arrive and rescue them before it was too late. Recognizing the trap they were in, some of the nuns encouraged the children to sit at their desks or gather in a semi-circle and pray. And they did - until the smoke, heat and flames forced them to the windows. But there were no firemen to rescue them. Some began jumping - others fell or were pushed.
Finally, firemen arrived and began rescuing children from the second floor windows, but the hellish conditions in some of the classrooms had become unbearable, and children were stumbling, crawling, clawing and fighting their way to the windows, trying to breathe and escape. Many jumped, fell or were pushed out before firemen could get to them. Some were killed in the fall, and scores more were injured. Many of the smaller children were trapped behind the frantic crowds at the windows, blocking any chance to escape through a window. Many of the little ones who managed to secure a spot at a window were then unable to climb over the three-foot-high window sills, or were pulled back by others frantically trying to scramble their way out. Helplessly, firemen watched in horror as classrooms still filled with frightened children exploded in flames, instantly killing those who remained.
The first fire department units had arrived within four minutes of being called, but by then the fire had burned unchecked for as long as 30 minutes and was raging out of control. Also, they were delayed upon arrival because they had been incorrectly directed to the Rectory around the corner, and lost valuable minutes repositioning their trucks and hose lines after realizing the true location of the fire. The south windows of the north wing overlooked a small courtyard surrounded by the school on three sides, and a seven foot iron picket fence on the fourth side. The gate in the fence was locked. Firemen could not get to the children at the south windows without first breaking through the gate. They spent a valuable minute or two battering the iron gate with sledge hammers and a ladder, before it finally gave way. Between the delayed discovery and reporting of the blaze, the fire-friendly school and the misdirection of the fire units, the firemen arrived too late. Although they rescued more than 160 children from the burning inferno, many of the children they eventually carried out of the school that day were dead. Some of the bodies were so badly burned that they literally broke into pieces when firemen attempted to pick them up.
Eighty-seven children and three nuns died on December 1, 1958 as a result of the Our Lady of the Angels fire. Three more critically injured children died before Christmas followed by two more in 1959, the last one on August 9. In the end, 92 children and 3 nuns perished, bring the ghastly death toll to a staggering 95.
Our Lady of the Angels school passed a fire department safety inspection only weeks before the fire, because the school did not have to comply with all fire safety guidelines due to a grandfathering clause in the 1949 standards. Existing schools were not required to retrofit the safety devices that were required in all newly constructed schools. In the only positive outcome of the tragedy, sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations were enacted nationwide, no doubt saving countless lives in subsequent years.
But for the innocent victims of Our Lady of the Angels, it was too late.
Page Last Updated: Nov 22, 2008 (19:32:10)