How One City Teaches Fire Prevention in Schools

How One City Teaches Fire Prevention in Schools

Youngsters of Newark, N. J., Shown the Dangers of Bonfires, Obstructions on Fire Escapes and Other Matters Connected with the Hazard of Fire

Captain C. Albert Gasser

THERE is a policeman in Newark, N. J., named Felix Dunn. He is a great big man and he inspires school children with confidence. He has been for years detailed by the police department to the board of education. Policeman Dunn was a soldier in the Spanish – American war. He is still a soldier. In his police uniform he visits the schools and addresses the children. He tells them all about fire prevention and accident prevention and they listen because he knows what he is talking about. And that means that he is able to interest the little folks.

A safety patrol was organized in each school under the direction of Charles A. MacCall, chief of the attendance bureau of the board of education, and at his request a policeman was detailed by William J. Brennan, director of public safety, to assist in the work. This policeman was Felix Dunn and he has been a splendid mentor. The boys are proud of the shields they wear on their left arms. They stand guard at street intersections near schools and serve as junior traffic cops. They protect the younger children from vehicular dangers. But that is only part of their work.

Taught Dangers of Bonfires

Among the things Dunn talks about is the street bonfire. He tells his audiences that street bonfires are a nuisance. The smoke of burning leaves and rubbish clouds the at mosphere. The pavements are often ruined. Sparks set fire to dwelling houses. But more important is the danger to human life. Children playing at street fires love to kick the embers or to jump over the flames. Their clothing ignites and they are often burned, sometimes fatally.

In the olden days there was an average of one bonfire death in Newark every month or twelve a year. Dunn tells the children all this and admonishes them not to start bonfires nor to play near them, and tells them that as good citizens they must do more than this —they must stop such fires. If they can’t stop the fires they are to telephone to fire headquarters or to police headquarters or tell a policeman or fireman. The boys are armed with cards furnished by the bureau of combustibles and which read as follows:

Newark Public School Safety Patrol Badge

NEWARK FIRE DEPARTMENT Bureau of Combustibles and Fire Risks


The City Ordinances prohibit bonfires in any street or on any private property. The penalty is $25 fine. This law applies to everybody.

In former years many little children have been burned to death at these fires.

Do not build any bonfires yourself. If you see any bonfire please notify a police officer. You may save some child’s life in doing so.

Child Saved from Death by Prompt Action

Recently one of the members of the safety patrol was awarded a gold medal because he saved a little girl from death at a bonfire. He grabbed the child and rolled her on the ground, smothering the flames in her clothing by wrapping his own jacket around her. As a result of these activities in Newark the record of bonfire fatalities has been reduced and in 1920 there was only one child burned to death.

Told of Household Hazards

And then the boys and girls are told about household hazards. In fact, in New Jersey, it is now compulsory to teach children about Fire Prevention, and the little book of “Safeguarding the Home Against Fire” is now a standard text book in New Jersey.

Shown Dangers of Cluttered Fire Escapes

Dunn tells the children about fire escapes. He points out why buildings are decorated with fire escapes and explains what would happen in case of fire if there were no fire escapes on the building or if the fire escapes are obstructed with bedding, boxes, flowers, clothing or signs. The children report to their patrol leader every address where fire escapes are cluttered up and Dunn reports directly to the Fire Prevention people who get quick action.

Here’s the wording on a card which is used in this work:


Bureau of Combustibles and Fire Risks

The City Ordinances prohibit the placing of anything on fire escapes.

Fire escapes are intended for use in time of fire so that people may escape being burned to death.

If you place any encumbrance on a fire escape, you may be fined $25.00. But more important, still, you may be responsible for loss of life.


The other day about 800 boys and girls—all members of the safety patrol—gathered at the City Hall and as guests of Policeman Dunn—their friend—they marched to one of the theatres and saw a Charlie Chaplin picture. That’s how Dunn is keeping them on the job. And it pays big dividends.

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