Rubbish, Fire Safety, and a Gimlet Eye
A brochure from 60 years ago urges good housekeeping as a fire deterrent.
NFPA Journal®, March/April 2009
By Kathleen Robinson
“We are a nation of string-savers and trivia collectors.”
So said NFPA in 1949, when the Association released Clear the Way for Fire Safety, a brochure that reminded Americans that “spring clean-up time is here.” The brochure notes that, while rubbish may not be a cause of fire in itself, it provides fuel for a “carelessly discarded match, cigarette, or stray spark.” Good housekeeping is “key to fire safety,” because a “regular check-up keeps a gimlet eye out for any fire threat.” “Rubbish and preventable fire go hand in hand,” so get rid of everything you no longer use!
While NFPA no longer publishes such a brochure, the problem of clutter remains. It is particularly dangerous when it turns into hoarding, which can endanger the lives of occupants and firefighters in the event of a fire. In March 2005, for example, clutter hampered Fremont, Nebraska, firefighters in their efforts to extinguish an electrical fire that killed three people.
The Omaha World-Herald quoted Captain Jamie Meyer of the Fremont Fire Department as saying that the front door “couldn’t swing open.”
In another instance, Portland, Oregon, firefighters responding to a fatal residential fire on February 2, 2009, found a “significantly heavy fire load” that resulted from the number of items the 70-year-old resident “collected,” according to a news report on KATU.COM, a local radio station’s website. The situation made it difficult not only to control the fire, but to perform search and rescue operations. Firefighters finally found the man’s body in the kitchen about 20 minutes into the search.