How to Act When on Fire

How to Act When on Fire



Now that’s an effective headline for attracting your attention, isn’t it? Let me hasten to add that I did not write it. I borrowed it from an earlier edition of Fire Engineering — 100 years ago, June 16, 1883.

The message of the accompanying article on those old, yellowed pages is familiar to us today, but I finished reading it with a sense of uneasiness.

“In every case,” said the article, “let the person whose clothes or hair has caught fire throw herself flat on the floor and roll upon the flames. If there is anything in the room of thick woolens or carpets . . . snatch these and smother the fire while calling for help . . .

“The rules for putting out fires in burning clothing may not be taught in schools, but every teacher ought to know them, and so thoroughly that even the fright of mounting flames will not drive them out of mind.”

A hundred years have passed; what progress can we observe? The horse-drawn steam engine seen elsewhere in that edition has long been replaced with faster, stronger apparatus. And riveted leather hose has also disappeared. But public fire education is still not a universal part of all school systems.

Other subjects of interest that year also fared better the last century. At the 1883 annual convention of what today is the International Association of Fire Chiefs, 14 topics were up for discussion; among them:

“Should not city authorities approve all buildings to be used for manufacturing purposes, or for accommodations of the public, before being put into service or occupied?”

“Is the telephone a safe and practical medium for transmitting fire alarms?”

“Ought persons to be required to keep at all times some proper means at hand to extinguish fires when first discovered?”

These were new and worthy ideas in those days, and we can note substantial progress in most areas. However, many chiefs and fire fighters still don’t believe in public fire education. Certainly no one cared enough to place it on the program at the recent IAFC conference. That’s too bad.

On the other hand, the consumer is not blamed when a commercial product is not warmly accepted. Rather, two questions are asked: Is it a worthwhile product? Then, how can we better communicate the product’s value to the consumer? Perhaps fire educators will just have to try harder to promote their good ideas.

Even editors sometimes miss at first the importance or strength of an idea, as seen in this same 1883 edition, in which a new-fangled petroleum engine’ was mentioned only as a new hazard. “Petroleum and its products are now accountable for a large number of fires, and fire underwriters will look with distrust upon its introduction.”

That was the wrong attitude. Let’s not be guilty of the same thing with public fire education.

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