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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

15th April 1940


A.R.P. and the Citizen.




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


Man has rid himself of many of the perils which surrounded him in earlier times. He no longer has to be ready to fight ferocious wild animals or to go about in dread of murderers and footpads. But through all the ages one peril has persisted ? fire.

Even in peacetime we read almost weekly in our newspapers of people being burnt to death and of now man's enemy, fire, has destroyed buildings and valuable property. In wartime the risk is greater. Everyone ought to know something about fire fighting, and to decide in advance how he would behave if he found himself in a burning building.

Several years ago I used to spend a good deal of time in the company of the fire brigade chief of a big industrial town. We often talked about his experiences as a fire fighter, and once I persuaded him to let me write down the advice which he thought ought to be given to the public.

Here I am going to reproduce it. The subject is fascinating, and the knowledge ought to be possessed by all, particularly A.F.S. workers. It comes indirectly from a man who had spent forty years in watching against fires and subuing them.


In a burning building, trapped people are tempted at once to open doors and windows. The door may however be your best protection.

Few people realise how very long an ordinary door will withstand a fire. A well fitting old oak door is almost fireproof, and an ordinary bedroom door with plywood panels may keep a raging furnace at bay for half an hour.

The thin panels don't burn through: the fire creeps first up the edge of the door and along the top, and that is where the wood is thickest.

If you are inside a room and have to escape it may be necessary to open the door. In this case, stand well back: press against the door with one hand, leaving the other to turn the handle; keep one foot forward so as to stop the door from opening more than a mere slit to begin with: then with the face turned right away from any possible inrush of smoke and gases: try the door.

If pressure is felt, or the incoming air feels like hot breath, the sooner it is shut again the better. It should then be possible to escape from the window in plenty of time without it being necessary to jump to.

There is a definite technique for breathing in dense smoke, and a trained fireman can work for hours in conditions which an untrained person could not bear for many minutes.

Your first instinct is to gasp for air, but if you yield to that temptation you fill your lungs with the scorching smoke. Small, shallow breaths will keep you going a long time even in a dense atmosphere.


The lower you can get the less flame and smoke you will find, and it is often possible to crawl unharmed along the floor of a room in which no man could walk or run upright.

When a fire is blazing fiercely in the room below keep near the walls: the rafters there will support you long after the rest of the floor has collapsed.

Apart from the dangers of which the layman is aware, it is a perilous job to enter a burning building. A fire smouldering for some time in an enclosed building causes a general rise in temperature of the atmosphere and of the materials near by.

Then some well-meaning person, before any fire appliances arrive, opens the door or smashes the window.

In rushes the fresh air, and in an instant that heated air ? impregnated with gases given off by the super-heated materials in the premises, has become a combustible explosive gas.

A deadly peril associated with door opening which, although recognised in the Fire Service as one of the hazards of the calling, is seldom thought of by people who often run equal risk, is the danger of entry causing a “back-blast” or “back-draught” explosion.

Whoever rashly smashes a door or window may be instrumental in causing an accident comparable to the explosion of a charge of dynamite. If you have to enter a building heavily charged with thick smoke, release the catch, stand away to one side of the door, and watch for the smoke to clear

If it billows out for a time and then sucks back through the doorway, this is an infallible signal, so keep clear. Oxygen is rushing into the room, combines with carbon monoxide, and a “back-draught” explosion in imminent.


Where there are known prospects of rapid response with adequate fire escapes it is usually folly to encourage people to jump to the street, or even into sheets or blankets held by an excited crowd.

On many an occasion the man who can get to people on a roof or at an upper window, with the door shut behind them, can do most good by calming and restraining them pending the arrival of the fire brigade, who really knows how to use that difficult and perilous appliance, the jumping sheet.

There are no fewer than twenty-four hand beckets to be held by twelve men on a fire brigade jumping sheet, and this indicates how much more important it is to secure a like or greater number to hold a rapidly-improving “catching apparatus.”

It may be possible, instead, to drive a covered lorry under an upper window, and so to rescue the people.


Should people be found with their clothing alight, they must not be allowed to stand or sit for an instant; should they run, there must be no hesitation about tripping them up. Any harsh measure is preferable to allowing the flames to reach the chest, neck, or head.

Lay them down, with the flames uppermost ? not underneath them as is often done ? and then smother the fire with rugs or coats. In the case of a rescued woman who is unconscious or badly shocked, there is always the danger of underclothing still being alight when flaming outer garments have been successfully dealt with.

For putting water on a fire discovered in its early stages, one instinctively gets a bucket and runs to the nearest tap.

Water in a bucket, however, cannot be thrown very far or very effectively, and much is wasted: the best plan is to get a large mug or jug in addition to the bucket, and use it to throw the water with power and precision.

It is surprising how effectively a threatening fire can be held in check by three or four level-headed persons each armed with a bucket of water and a jug.

Here are some of the things that can be done before the arrival of the fire brigade:

  • Find the nearest hydrant or other water supplies. If possible have the hydrant covers lifted, and stand by them, so that the fire brigade can instantly connect up to them when they arrive.
  • If you rear a ladder, place it on the side of the building from which the wind is blowing. No more than two persons at a time should mount an ordinary ladder.
  • People who are at a fire well in advance of the fire brigade can do untold good by shepherding survivors, and ascertaining what rooms were occupied and by whom. What causes a fire officer the profoundest anxiety on arrival at a fire is whether every person has got clear from the smoke-filled apartments.

The last six years of my career Mid and West Wales started training its firefighters in a new concept pioneered by Fire Fighters in other countries.

The concept was “Back-draught” ? from that point on, I felt, at last I was an accomplished firefighter, now that I knew the science and behaviour of fire.

How ironic that this knowledge was available in the 1940's. How did it get lost in the post war years?

What the reader must bear in mind that this advice was given in 1940. The combustion of today's materials are far more toxic and flammable. For modern, more up to date advice visit your local Fire Station or Community Fire Safety web site of your local Fire Brigade.

However a lot of the advice is still valid, just take extra care when practicing. Better still, heed today's fire service advice ? GET OUT, STAY OUT, CALL THE FIRE BRIGADE OUT.



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