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Home & Building, Volume 12 Number 6 (June-July 1950)

Fire!: don't let your house burn down through your own carelessness

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Fire!: don't let your house burn down through your own carelessness

U.S. National Board of Fire Underwriters.

U.S. National Board of Fire Underwriters.

Many years ago a large family were leaving church at the close of evening service. The dispersing congregation were treated to the spectacle of flying horses and the sound of fire gongs. With gusto and excitement the children raced after the rushing chariots—only to find that their objective was their own dwelling and shop, which was reduced to ashes before their eyes.

At a time when more thought and care are going to home construction than ever before, the facts about fire hazards make interesting, if somewhat depressing, reading. Like road accidents, there is always the tendency to feel that it can happen to the other fellow, but is not quite so probable for me. Such an attitude is not borne out by the grim record of destruction by fire in industry and the home.

It can happen to you, and too much attention cannot be given to prevention. Even adequate insurance is never enough to compensate a home lover for irretrievable loss.

Statistics prove that in an overwhelming number of cases, and harsh though it may sound, destruction of a home by fire is the fault of the owners themselves. All over the world, fire chiefs can demonstrate that good housekeeping is largely the secret of domestic fire prevention; clean houses seldom burn, dirty ones do. This may provoke a chorus of denial from respectable housewives who sincerely assert that they are the cleanest and tidiest of godly matrons. Possibly! but how many of us stop to think of that pile of discarded magazines in the basement, or perhaps a few rags left around after cleaning the car.

The Fire Brigade was called to save a house in Auckland some years ago and after strenuous efforts kept the outbreak confined to one room which was completely destroyed. A year or so later the same house was set alight again and this set the fire chief thinking. After exhaustive investigation it was found that the afternoon sun was focussed in a mirror set at an unusual angle in the room and the heat thus generated had caused two fires, beginning at precisely the same moment in the afternoon.

—If you like to indulge in that suicidal habit of smoking in bed.

—If you like to indulge in that suicidal habit of smoking in bed.

—Keep on abusing your heating and electrical equipment if you want to increase the population in your local graveyard.

—Keep on abusing your heating and electrical equipment if you want to increase the population in your local graveyard.

—if you're foolish enough to clean clothes yourself with petrol.

—if you're foolish enough to clean clothes yourself with petrol.

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Over the years the ratio of home destruction by fire has not varied very much, although a steady improvement is noticeable considering the number of new homes erected. Fortunately, we cannot emulate the startling figures in America, but, by courtesy of the Fire Superintendent in Auckland we show the local figures:

Classification 1944/5 1945/6 1946/7 1947/8 1948/9
Property 294 384 377 395 343
Grass or Rubbish 179 1042 409 552 422
Chimney 135 131 112 120 127
Electrical Faults 89 79 89 108 91
Justifiable Fire Alarms 211 290 264 382 369
Malicious Fire Alarms 107 122 144 159 119
Out of District 7 4 5

One of the greatest dangers in the ordinary home is the careless handling of petrol or other inflammable agents for cleaning clothes: this has been the cause of innumerable tragedies. It is not generally recognised that petrol fumes can be fatal up to a distance of 60 feet. These fumes in particular do not readily dissipate and are prone to flow with the nearest air current. An open door to a corridor can be the cause of utter destruction.

Children in particular should be thoroughly warned about the risk of fire and the interesting questionaire following is taken from an American source.

1What is the average loss per dwelling fire?
2What is the first rule of fire prevention?
3What year was the Great Fire of London?
4Whose advice would you get before purchasing a fire extinguisher?
5What type of material should you use for roofing?
6What is the most common cause of home fires?
7What fluid should not be used for cleaning purposes or brought into the Home?

In case of fire in your home, what would you do?

Notify a policeman—Ask your neighbour what to do— Call the fire brigade.


If your clothing caught fire, what would you do?

Run for help—Smother it with a rug—Call a doctor.


With what would you replace a blown fuse?

A penny—A piece of wire—Another fuse of the proper size.

11If your dog were trapped in a burning building, what would you do?
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Run into the building to save him—Tell the fireman— Ask someone else to save him.


Before leaving a camp fire, what would you do?

Let it burn—Throw dirt on it and put it out—Put more wood on it.


Where would you look for a fire alarm box near your home?

On a nearby corner—Near a mail box—On a tree.


Where would you burn leaves?

Near the house—Away from buildings—In the gutter.


Most fires result from what?

Human carelessness—Rats and matches—Arson.


If you smelled gas leaking, what would you do? Light a match and look for the leak—Notify the Gas Coy—Call a plumber.


After giving an alarm at the nearest box, what would you do?

Run back and start fighting the fire—Wait to direct the firemen to the fire—Start looking for a hydrant.


2Good housekeeping.
4Your Fire Superintendent.
5Fire resistant materials.
6Careless smoking.
8Call the Fire Brigade.
9Smother it with a rug.
10Another fuse of proper size.
11Tell the fireman.
12Throw dirt on it and put it out.
13On a nearby corner.
14Away from buildings.
15Human carelessness.
16Notify the Gas Coy.
17Wait to direct the fireman to the fire.

All these necessary points lead to the central fact that the householder must keep unceasing vigilance to prevent an outbreak destroying what may represent his life's savings … the cigarette careflessly left on the ledge while the telephone is answered, the rubbish thoughtlessly left lying around, the cigarette smoked in bed, petrol in the home, frayed electric flex or defective flues, all these are potent causes of destruction and easily controlled. Fire resistant materials are always desirable, but the foundation of fire control is ordinary care and common sense—the genius of taking pains in small things—the things which matter to you.

To sum up—train your family to take great care in the use of matches and in smoking and provide plenty of ash trays. Always use a guard before an open fire and have all chimneys swept once a year. Remember to disconnect electric irons, kettles, toasters, etc., after use; see that all flexes are in good condition and have any defective appliance repaired by an electrician. Be certain to use the correct fuse wire for replacements and do not connect too many appliances to one point. Avoid accumulation of rubbish, particularly in basement or attic and do not mix ashes with other rubbish—place them in covered metal containers. Do not use kerosene to start fires. Keep grillers on ovens free of accumulated fat and when deep-fat frying use a pan deep enough to prevent spilling or splattering of hot fat. Make sure that curtains or decorations cannot come, or be blown, into contact with candles, heaters, etc. In old houses it is wise to have electrical installations checked and to make sure that chimneys cannot overheat combustible materials. Finally, if you live in a remote suburban or country district, keep some kind of fire-fighting equipment in the house—garden hose, ladder for rescues buckets for sand or water and a fire extinguisher.

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