Fire Prevention Week a reminder that smoke alarms save lives

Fire Prevention Week will be held the week of Oct. 5-12, a reminder that a fire can affect your life in many ways.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, one of the worst fires in history, the Great Chicago Fire, started on Oct. 8 1871, and killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

The Hiawatha  Fire Dept. held a demonstration Sept. 27 to show how quickly a fire can spread. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The Hiawatha Fire Dept. held a demonstration Sept. 27 to show how quickly a fire can spread. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

A popular legend refers to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow as the culprit for starting the fire, but historians now believe it could have been a group of neighborhood boys sneaking a cigarette. Other theories include meteorites falling to earth, because other fires in the area started that same day in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Peshtigo Fire, is said to be the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire, which also occurred on October 8th, 1871, roared through Northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and scorching 1.2 million acres.

“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.”

The fires changed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety. It was decided on the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire by the International Fire Marshals Association that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed “not with festivities, but in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.”

President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation in 1920 and Fire Prevention Week has been observed around the same time every Oct. since 1922.

Fire Prevention Week has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is, ” Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month.”

This photo shows the devastation a fire can cause in just a few minutes. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

This photo shows the devastation a fire can cause in just a few minutes. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

“Why this Mad Sacrifice to Fire?” was the theme for the year 1927, and “Don’t Let Fire Lick You,” was the theme for 1950. has a list of themes through the years.

Local fire departments are conducting activities that included a public  demonstration by the Hiawatha Fire Department, in which they set up two pods; one with a fire sprinkler system, and one without. According to firefighter, Rob Archibald, it took only four minutes for the fire to engulf the first pod full of furniture, but in the pod with the sprinkler system, it took only 45 minutes to extinguish the flames.

Schools are also participating in fire safety week, teaching their students fire safety and prevention, and encouraging families to develop an escape plan.  According to an NFPA survey, only one-third of Americans have both developed and practiced a home fire escape plan and almost three-quarters of Americans do have an escape plan; however, more than half never practiced it.







(My) Office Space

For the first time in my life, I have an office. With a real door.

My new office, which is also my first.

My new office, which is also my first.

And not just one in my house, either. This is an actually office with a desk that takes up half the dimensions and a couple of chairs and shelves. True, it doesn’t have my name on the door yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

I have been going back and forth with the whole “owning a business” thing. I have it in my blood. My grandpa owned a grocery store for years in Cedar Rapids, where I grew up. And as a kid, I was the one who wanted to play “store” or “restaurant” when others wanted to play “house.”

But I have a lot of fears, as I’m sure most  entrepreneurs have. (If they don’t they should have some, anyway). As I have found out, there is a lot of comfort in going to a 9 to 5 job and being able to leave your work there.

And I could do that, if I could get one, but as it is, I have had countless rejections in as many months and I’m getting tired of it.

It’s not a lack of skills,but I think employers look at my resume and see that I have only been out of college two years. It doesn’t matter f I started my own newspaper or if I have published a book. I am 51 years old with two years experience, but a lifetime of street-smarts.  Doesn’t that count for something?

So I decided to run with my online marketing idea, MarkIt CR. My niche is that I help small businesses get online at an affordable price. I am a small business owner. I know how tight money is. And I know how valuable my time is. If I were the owner of a small shop and was the only employee, I would love it if I could hire someone to do the dirty work (who happens to like doing it.)

It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

But then I realized that I needed my own space, a place where I could work and NO ONE would bother me. I needed an office.

The building where my new office is belongs to a friend of mine. I asked him if he knew someone who wanted to share office space and said, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Can two friends share the same office space without driving each other crazy?”

I think in this case, we can. He and I are both advisors for Venture Crew, an organization that is associated with the Boy Scouts of America. Our group is specifically for special needs boys and girls, and he and I both have sons who are challenged.  The other person who is sharing the office is on the committee for the group.

It’s so nice having my own space, and I couldn’t ask for better office mates.








Being human

My dad taught me a lot of things. He taught me the Golden Rule; he taught me not to litter; and he taught me to be kind to others (because you have no idea what they might be going through).

The Meis clan, around 1940. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Dad is on the far left (he's about 15)

The Meis clan, around 1940. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Dad is on the far left (he’s about 15)

And though he passed away 6 years ago, he recently bestowed upon me another valuable lesson; he taught me that no one is perfect.

That sounds kind of silly because I should have known that by now. I’ve heard it countless times throughout my life. I just didn’t think it applied to everyone.

Let me say that again: No one is perfect.

Some people think they are. And some, like me, strive to be. And Christians will tell you that the last perfect person died on the cross. But I wonder if Jesus was even perfect. He was a man, after all.

I read a passage last night that put it in better perspective.

“We are here to learn. We came from perfection. But we are not perfection. The purpose of life is to experience every aspect of it; the messy, the painful, the joyful, the frustrating, the disappointments, and glory. All of it.”

We all suffer from the same disease. It’s called “Being Human.”

We hate making mistakes because it is painful. When we make a mistake, many of us are shamed because we did not do it right the first time. But if we did, what would be the point of life?

My dad was far from perfect, and to be honest, I never really thought much about it. But in my heart, I thought he should be. He was my dad, after all. He was my hero.

I put him on a pedestal and when he fell off, I condemned him for it. But that wasn’t his fault. It was mine for ever putting him there in the first place.

I think everyone goes through that with their parents. If we are lucky, we see that they are like everyone else. They make mistakes. They don’t always do what we think they should do. And though they might make us angry or frustrated or sad, we need to find a way to forgive them.

There is another thing my dad taught me: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

But how can you forgive, when you don’t always know that’s the problem?





Summer’s end

It’s been a long summer.

We spent Labor Day at the park; one last hurrah before it turns colder. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

We spent Labor Day at the park; one last hurrah before it turns colder. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

For someone who doesn’t have a full-time job, I’ve been staying very busy.  Between my kids and grandkids, my mother, my boyfriend, and a couple of part-time jobs, I think I’m busier now than when I was a part of the normal workforce.

My search for work has not been in vain. After being laid off from Hibu at the end of April, I thought about doing freelance work and being my own boss. It didn’t take me long to see that while I am very good at what I do, there are parts of owning a business that I don’t particularly like.

I am not an organized person. I can be organized if I have to, but my personality is such that I can’t keep scheduled hours on my own. I am easily distracted by more important things like driving my son to the store, or stopping what I’m doing so I can help my mom.

My lack of organization was driving me crazy because I couldn’t get anything done. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stick to my work hours. There was always something “more important” to do.

I’m helping Jim Ecker (a former CR Gazette sports writer, now owner of Metro Sports Report) with his website a couple of nights a week, uploading stories and photos, as they come in. I still write for the Marion Times, and now I’m the news coordinator/writer for the Hiawatha Today, a new monthly publication. Times editor, Corey Munson, asked me to help them out. Of course I said yes. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a new experience.

I like the flexibility the part-time jobs give me, but I miss the benefits and routine of a full-time job. And though, I’ve had several interviews, it seems they are always looking for someone with more experience or more time in the workforce.

I went to college, not only to fulfill a dream, but I also figured that once I had a degree, employers would be clamoring to hire me. However, getting a degree at 46 is different from getting a degree at 22. Technically, I only have two years work experience as a professional writer/editor, but a lifetime of experience in other areas. Doesn’t that count?

So I keep searching.

But really, I can’t complain. I can pay my bills and I’m doing what I need to do. I get to spend more time with my family and volunteer with several different groups. Maybe that was the plan all along.