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Directions for Preventing Calamities by FIRE

The following was published in the Old Farmer’s Almanac for 1799 at the request of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society. The author is unknown but was thought to be Benjamin Dearborn (1745-1838) a long-time member of the Boston Volunteer Fire Brigade.

  1. Keep your chimneys and stove-pipes clean, by sweeping them at least once a month.
  2. Never remove hot ashes in a wooden vessel of any kind, and look well to your ash-hole.
  3. After sweeping a hearth, see that the brush does not retain any particles of fire, before you hang it up in its usual place.
  4. Oblige all your servants to go to bed before you, every night, and inspect all your fire-places, before you retire to rest.—For fear of accidents, let a bucket of water be left in your kitchen every night. The writer of these directions once saved his house from being consumed by fire by this precaution.
  5. Do not permit a servant to carry a candle to his bed-room, if he sleeps in an unplastered garret.
  6. Cover up your fire carefully every night in ashes. Let the unburnt parts of the billets of chunks of wood, be placed next to the hearth, but not set upright in the corners, by which means no sparks will be emitted from the wood. Pour a little water upon the burning ends of the wood which are not completely covered by the ashes. Place before the fire a fender made of sheet iron. This contrivance was well known in England many years ago, by the name of Coverfeu. It has lately received (from a top being added to it) the name of Hood.
  7. Remove papers and linen from near the fire to a remote part of the room.
  8. Shut the doors of all the rooms in which you leave fire at night. By thus excluding the supply of fresh air, you will prevent a flame from being kindled, should a coal or spark fall upon the floor, or upon any of the combustible matter in the room. The smoke which issues from this smothered fire, will find its way into every part of the house, and by waking the family, may save it from destruction.
  9. If sickness or any other cause should oblige you to leave a candle burning all night, place it in such a situation as to be out of the way or rats. A house was once destroyed by a rat running away with a lighted candle for the sake of the tallow, and conveying it into a hole filled with rags and inflammable [sic] matter.
  10. Never read in bed by candle light, especially if your bed be surrounded by curtains.
  11. Strictly forbid the use of segars in your family at all times, but especially after night. May not the greater frequency of fire in the United States than in former years, be ascribed in part to the more general use of segars by careless servants and children? — There is a good reason to believe a house was lately set on fire by a half consumed segar, which a woman suddenly threw away to prevent being detected in the unhealthy and offensive practice of smoaking.

In Case of Fire Attend to the Following Directions, to Prevent or Restrain its Terrible Consequences

  1. Do not open the room or closet door where you suspect the fire to be, until you have secured your family, and your most valuable effects, nor until you have collected a quantity of water to throw on the fire, the moment a fresh supply of air excites it to a flame. Where water cannot conveniently be had, try to smother the fire by throwing two or three blankets over it. A British sea captain once save a king’s ship by throwing himself with a spread blanket in his arms, upon a fire which had broke our near the powder room. He was pensioned for life, for this wise and meritorious act.
  2. In case it be impossible to escape by a stair-case from a house on fire, shut the door of your bed chamber, and wait until help can be brought to secure your escape from a window.
  3. If safety does not appear probable in this way, wrap yourselves up in a blanket, hold your breath, and rush through the flames. If water be at hand, first wet the blanket.
  4. To prevent fire descending from the roof, or ascending from the first story, form by means of blankets or carpets, a kind of dam on each of the intermediate stories, near their stair-care, that shall confine the water that is thrown upon the roof, or into the windows. It will effectually check the progress of the fire downwards or upwards in brick or stone houses.
  5. To prevent fire spreading to adjoining houses, cover them with wet blankets or carpets, or old sails.
  6. To extinguish fire in a chimney, shut the door and windows of the room. Throwing a quart or more of common salt into the fire. Hold, or nail a wet blanket before the fire place. If these means fail, throw a wet blanket down the chimney from the roof of the house.

There is a method used in some counties of glazing chimneys when they are built, by burning common salt in them, which renders them so smooth that no soot can adhere to them. Chimneys so constructed can never take fire.

Ladders are commonly used as the means of conveying persons from the windows of houses on fire. Would not a long and stiff pole, with a rope on its upper end, be more portable, and convenient for this purpose?

The famous Mr. John Wesley when a child, was taken out of a window in his father’s house whilst in flames by one man standing upon the shoulders of another. This practice may be used to rescue persons from the first story of a house on fire, when other means cannot be had with sufficient convenience or expedition.

Fire Engine at Work ca. 1760
Fire Engine at Work ca. 1760