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by Ernest Thompson Seton

Fire: Servant or Master?


 Fire Prevention Condensed from Fire Commissioner Robert Adamson's Pamphlet 

Why should America suffer five times as much fire loss per head as any European country? Chiefly because we are so careless. 

Just think that every year about 2,000 lives are lost in fires, and 6,000 persons injured. The money loss to this country is about $500,000,000, which means that every family of five persons is paying $12.50 a year as their share of this loss $2.50 a piece. 

In Europe the people are so careful about fires that fire loss is only about fifty cents apiece. Taking no account of the suffering and misery, our cash fire loss in America is $600,000 a day, $25,000 an hour, $416 a minute. In other words, we lose each year through fire more than enough to build the Panama Canal. 

During 1913, in New York 'City alone, 588 fires were caused by children playing with matches, with a loss of $32,000. 

It has been calculated that more people have been killed in recent years on the Fourth of July celebration than were killed in the whole original Revolution that it celebrates. Nearly 40,000 were killed or injured in Fourth of July fires in the ten years, 1904 to 1914. This is why sensible people have risen up and demanded a safe and sane Fourth. 

Fireworks and bonfires should be absolutely forbidden. I never yet saw the time or place where a bonfire was not a curse. However safe it may seem, there is sure to be some risk, and it is wasting valuable wood. A true Woodcraft Boy or Girl never makes a bonfire. Let us express our patriotism without ruining our neighbors' property or our own. 

Fires would be practically unknown if we followed the advice of Commissioner Adamson of New York City, and practiced the 

Twenty-Three Don'ts 

bullet Don't allow children to play with matches. 
bullet Don't block the fire escapes. 
bullet Don't fail to inspect your own home, or the place where you work, so as to know where all exits are. 
bullet Don't throw away lighted matches, cigars, or cigarettes. 
bullet Don't go into dark closets, bedrooms, or cellars, with lighted candles or matches. 
bullet Don't use kerosene to light fires with, or use benzene or naphtha near open flames. 
bullet Don't fill kerosene lamps when lighted. 
bullet Don't use a poor quality of kerosene oil. 
bullet Don't put ashes in wood boxes or barrels. Keep ashes away from boards. 
bullet Don't put hot ashes on dumbwaiter, or near wooden partitions. 
bullet Don't have piles of, rubbish in the house, or cellars, or in workshops. 
bullet Don't use candles on Christmas trees. 
bullet Don't keep matches in anything but a closed metal box. 
bullet Don't tie back the dumbwaiter shaft in the cellar. 
bullet Don't store oils, paints, grease, or fats in the house. 
bullet Don't have greasy rags around, they catch fire by themselves. 
bullet Don't have lace curtains near gas brackets. 
bullet Don't use folding gas brackets. 
bullet Don't use gasoline, naphtha, or benzene in the house unless all windows are open and there is no light near. 
bullet Don't pour gasoline or naphtha down the drain. 
bullet Don't use stoves close on table unless there is a metal sheet underneath the burners.
bulletDon't set stoves right up against the wall. They should have a metal sheet behind them.
bulletDon't look for gas leaks with a lighted match or candle.


But suppose that in spite of your doing your share some one else has failed, and a fire has broken out in a house. The first thing is keep cool, act quickly, and send in an alarm.

How. Find the nearest alarm box to your home. If it opens with a key, find out who keeps the key. The ordinary box has no key; you simply turn the handle to the right, open the door, and pull the hook down all the way and let go. Wait until the firemen arrive and direct them to the fire. If you don't know where the nearest alarm box is located, use the phone and ask Central for Fire Headquarters, and tell the Fire Department operator the exact address of the building where fire is.

If the fire is in a crowded building, the first thing is to keep cool and help others to do the same, for PANIC is worse than Fire. It kills far more. A cool man who can get up and address the crowd from the step can often do wonders, for though they cannot hear him the crowd can see that he is cool. This helps them.


Remember that in a house afire there is always good air near the floor, so crawl with head low if the room is full of smoke. If you must open a window, close the door first. Then get out and wave anything you can get, shout and wait. Some fireman will be sure to see and save you if you keep cool. Remember these men are absolutely brave, sure, and quick, they know their business; they are there to help you. The fire that is so serious to you is an everyday thing to them. I might almost say they never fail, unless the victim does not keep cool. We may make jokes about our street cleaners, and write harsh things at times about the police and the aldermen, but we are always proud of our firemen, and whatever they tell you to do is sure to be the best thing possible at the time.

If your clothing is on fire, roll in any woolen blanket, rug, or coat you can find.

If you find an insensible person in a room full of smoke, get him on the floor, tie his hands together loosely with a towel or suspenders; if you have no cord, throw the end of his coat over his face around your neck, and he is on the floor below you; then crawl out on all fours, straddling him as you drag him.

If some one is cut off, up aloft, so he must jump, let half a dozen men hold a canvas blanket or other strong cloth for him to jump on. Hold it as high as you can with its center about twelve feet from the base of the wall, and he can jump safely from a great height. Of course, you can help him to hit it by moving it to fit his jump after he is started.

Keep all doors and windows closed as much as possible to cut off the draft.

But always see that the alarm has gone in.

The Birch Bark Roll






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.