Sunday kicks off the start of Fire Prevention Week, our nation’s longest running public health and safety observance on record. It has been observed each October since 1920, when it was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson.

Fire Prevention week was first established in remembrance of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, where more than 250 people were killed, over 17,000 structures were burned, and more than 2,000 acres destroyed. Throughout the years, there has been speculation about how the fire got started, including a story of a cow kicking over a lamp, which started a barn on fire, followed by igniting the “rest of Chicago”. Other theories include neighborhood boys accidentally setting a barn on fire while they were sneaking cigarettes. There’s even another theory about a fallen meteorite that sparked the tragedy.

Whatever the true cause of the Great Chicago, Fire Prevention Week was established nearly 50 years later to help keep the public informed about the importance of fire safety and prevention. Each year, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) announces a theme and provides safety resources to support that theme. This year’s theme is, “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month!”

NFPA reports three out of every five home fire deaths occurs in homes without smoke alarms or without properly working smoke alarms. NFPA also reports that having a properly working smoke alarm installed in your home can cut the chances of dying in a fire in half.

“Smoke alarms can make a life-saving difference in a fire, but they need to be working,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Unfortunately, many home fire deaths result from fires where a smoke alarm is present but does not operate. This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme focuses on motivating people to test their smoke alarms each month to make sure they’re working properly.”

What are some ways you can make sure you have properly working smoke alarms? As this year’s theme suggests, one way is to test smoke alarms every month. In addition, you should replace smoke alarm batteries every six months.

Smoke alarms have a shelf life of 10 years. So, if your smoke alarm is 10 years old (or older), it needs to be replaced. You also want to have enough smoke alarms – one should be installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of your home.

For more information about staying safe with smoke alarms, visit the NFPA website.