Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on August 1, 2022.

A Century of FPW

As Fire Prevention Week marks its centennial, the home fire problem takes on a new urgency


Most of us are familiar with the Great Chicago Fire, the conflagration that occurred October 8–9, 1871, and burned a large portion of the city. Experts still aren’t sure if it was really started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but we do know that this horrendous event killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 17,400 structures. While the blaze holds a place in the record books for the devastation it wrought, it also plays a role in the tremendous ongoing work to prevent fires.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week (FPW), which since 1922 has been observed annually during the week of October 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire. Every U.S. president since 1925 has signed a proclamation for FPW, making it the nation’s longest-running public health observance on record. That means 100 years of communities rallying around a specific fire-safety theme; 100 years of concerted effort to provide actionable information to the public aimed at preventing loss from fire; and 100 years of rising to the challenges of the times to save lives.

Although the fire safety issues we face today are different in many ways from those of a century ago, one similarity is that today’s challenges are just as threatening if we choose to ignore them. A scan through the themes over the last century reveals connections to world events: “Now War on Fire” in 1934, during the period preceding World War II; “Defend Against Fire” in 1941, and a variation of it in 1951; and “Fire is the Silent Partner of Inflation” in 1947. There were also multiyear themes chosen as a way to bring consistency to FPW messaging over a longer timeframe. “Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start” was used several times in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by “Fire Hurts” for seven years in row. “Learn Not to Burn” appeared in the 1970s and was repeated regularly. There were slogans around personal responsibility, such as “Partners in Fire Prevention,” and the very direct “YOU Caused 1,700,000 Fires Last Year!” Themes focusing on smoke alarms, cooking safety, and escape planning were chosen often, just as they have in more recent history.

The theme for the 100th anniversary of FPW—“Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape.”—is a resurgence of a theme used more than three decades ago. But its significance today is even more vital for preventing loss of life from fire. Although we have seen a significant decrease in home fires and fire deaths over the past three decades, the fire problem today is actually much graver. Statistics show that if you have a reported fire in your home, you are more likely to die in that fire than you were in 1980. The way homes are built and the makeup of their contents create hotter, faster-moving fires, leaving occupants as little as two minutes to escape from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Three decades ago, when the “Fire Won’t Wait…” theme first appeared, occupants’ escape time in the event of a home fire was closer to seven to 10 minutes.

This year’s theme is all-encompassing, and the message of escape planning extends to wildfires—an enormous and growing threat in many areas of the country. For millions of Americans, knowing how and when to evacuate in advance of a wildfire are essential. Regardless of where you live and who you live with, knowing what to do if fire strikes can mean the difference between life and death.

As we have every year since 1922, we rely on all of you—fire and life safety educators, teachers, safety advocates, and the public—to use FPW as your bullhorn to bring a strong, united voice to this effort. The result will save lives.

For more on this year’s FPW, visit

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler