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How we can defeat the Fire Attack.
When the Enemy Plane throw Fire.
Ammanford Appliances.
When the Crowd Panic.
Trapped by Fire.
If the House Catches Fire.

Retirement of Captain David Davies.
Is Poison Gas a Weapon.
Former Auxiliary fire hero George medal

8th January 1940


A.R.P. and the Citizen.




Editor A.R.P. News, National Journal of Civil Defence


The Germans, before the present war began, had coined a picturesque name for the air menace: they called it “The Sword of the Skies.”

This sword, as I was explaining in my last article, can strike as terribly with fire as with steel or explosives.

But if ever a fire attack took place on a big scale, the private citizen could give great service in defeating it.

One man, resolute and properly equipped, can stop an incendiary bomb from causing a big fire. He must know how to go about this task, however because incendiary bombs have queer qualities. For example, water can have the opposite effect from the one expected.

A pailful of water thrown over a bomb makes it burn still more fiercely than before.

What would you do your self if an incendiary bomb hit your house? The bomb would probably have dropped about a mile through the air, down from the enemy plane. It would crash through the roof and start burning in an attic or bedroom.


The bomb most likely to be used is filled with thermite, which burns itself out in about a minute but which, during this time, creates such intense heat that it ignites the bomb's magnesium casing.

The casing mormally goes on burning about fifteen minutes. And it is this that does the damage. There are tow good methods of dealing with it, and the equipment needed is as follows:

•  With water, which is effective if properly applied. A small hand-pump is needed; one specially for the job with a capacity of two gallons a minute has been put on the market.

•  With sand. The standard equipment consists of the Redhill container and scoop, designed by the Home Office. (Anyone got a picture?)

In either case the bomb will be too hot to approach while the thermite is burning. Later it creates a powerful glare, and one ought to wear tinted glasses, made of non-inflammable material.


Why does the bomb burn more fiercely when water is thrown on it? (Actually if a sheet of water is poured on to it the bomb not only burns faster: it spatters incandescent magnesium as well). To explain this question I shall have to venture into chemistry a little.

As you know, fire cannot take place unless oxygen is present. When a substance is burning, the elements of which it is composed are all the time combining with oxygen, which is usually supplied from the air.

Now, water also contains oxygen ? it is composed of two elements, oxygen and hydrogen ? but in water the oxygen is so firmly united with the partner element that very few forces can separate them. Magnesium, however, possesses this power, and as it burns it snatches oxygen from water near it, and with this extra supply burns brighter still, just as burning wood does when one blows more air on to it.

To attack a bomb with water, therefore, one must be very careful to direct the jet in the form of spray. You might ask why water should be used at all. There are two reasons.

•  The water cools the bomb's surroundings, and makes the bomb itself burn away more rapidly ? which gives it less chance to ignite material near.

•  Sprayed with a fireman's jet an incendiary bomb burns itself out in about two minutes compared with fifteen minutes in normal circumstances.


The task of quelling a bomb is not as dangerous as it might seem. An alarming feature which would frighten anyone not expecting it is the roaring noise produced when the magnesium casing is sprayed with water.

If you have mo apparatus for spraying, then the water available ought to be kept carefully away from the bomb itself, and used to damp and cool the surroundings.

The standard equipment for smothering a bomb with sand comprises

•  A scoop with a long handle,

•  A bucket or other container, on the bottom of which two or three inches of sand has been spread,

•  A rake. The scoop is used to pour sand over the bomb, then as soon as maybe the rake is employed to get the bomb and the sand into the scoop, from which they are transferred to the container and carried out of doors.


If every incendiary bomb were tackled as soon as it scored a hit, very little damage could result from a raid. The attackers hope that the bombs will fall on premises without equipment or on unoccupied buildings, that the small fires started by the bombs will grow into big ones, and that the blaze will spread from building to building.

It is true that many of the bombs dropped will be wasted. Even allowing for those that fall on open spaces, however, it has been estimated that over the average town a single plane, if it were not interfered with, could start a fire in each 70 yards of its flight and could do this while travelling a distance of over a mile.

Obviously in an intensive raid a great many fires would be started, and some of them would get a hold on the buildings hit. The Auxiliary Fire Service would then come into action.

The need for such a service was clear. The ordinary fire brigade in a town could deal with one or two fires, out it would be helpless if faced, say, with a dozen or twenty fires all burning at the same time in different parts of the district.

The Auxiliary Fire Service in each town and district now has posts placed at strategic points in its area. In each post is a complete and separate fire fighting unit ? trained men and equipment. Each unit is responsible for its own little area.

Either during or immediately after a raid, the men, with their vehicle and trailer pump, patrol the streets. It is their job to detect fire in their early stages and to extinguish them gefore they get a firm hold. In a raid, the duties of the A.F.S. are both dangerous and arduous. The regulations state that only fit and comparatively young men can be recruited.

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