By Captain James T. Ghi
In October of last year I provided a bit of history on why Fire Prevention Week is held in October. The point was that it took a tragedy to bring national awareness to fire prevention. Many of today’s fire codes are based on past tragedies and the fire problem in the United States has existed well before there was a United States.
No doubt, you are all familiar with the many advancements made by Benjamin Franklin. While the bifocals, the Franklin stove, his electrical kite experiment, and his political ambitions are well- documented, he is famous for several other items as well. He published Poor Richard’s Almanac, where he coined the phrase, “A penny saved is a penny earned” among others. He also is credited with another famous saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
That quote was actually great firefighting advice. Back in those days, anyone who suffered fire damage to their homes often took on irreversible economic loss and the same still rings true today. Ben Franklin also founded the Philadelphia Contribution for Insurance Against Loss by Fire, among the first fire insurance writers in the New World.
In 1778, Franklin wrote a letter to his sister in Boston, stating, in part, that “I lament the loss your town has suffered this year by fire. I sometimes think men do not act like reasonable creatures when they build for themselves combustible dwellings, in which they are every day obliged to use fire. In my new buildings, I have taken a few precautions not generally used: to wit, none of the wooden work communicates with the wooden work of another room (he speaks of limiting fire spread by compartmentation and design), all the floors and even the steps of the stairs are plastered close to the boarder, besides the plastering on the lathe under the joints (he is talking about sealing off cracks to not allow fire to spread to the rest of the house). There are also trap doors to go out upon the roofs that one may go out and wet the shingles in case of a neighboring fire. But indeed, I think the staircase should be made of stone, and the floors tiled as in Paris, and the roofs either tiled or slated.”
While we don’t have the problem of fire spreading from one structure to the next as they did in Franklin’s days when roofs were made of straw and thatch, his thought of noncombustible roofing materials were well ahead of his time.
Many of us do not build our own homes, and we have to rely on the codes that were in existence at the time helping to limit the fire spread that Franklin referred to. But we can control what is in our homes that may start fires.
Spend a few minutes with your family gathering unused items that you can eliminate to reduce the fire load in your home. Discuss and practice safe cooking practices with everyone who cooks. Point out your home smoke alarms and test them so that you can help create the next generation of smoke alarm testers. Discuss and test your carbon monoxide detectors and why they are an important part of your family safety plan.
By being fire safe in your home, you can reduce your chances of an unwanted fire. And that can keep you from contacting your fire insurance company, compliments of Ben Franklin.
Captain James T. Ghi is a Fire Prevention Specialist, St. Johns Fire and Rescue. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 296-8392. Make sure you check your smoke alarms! If you have questions about your residential smoke alarm, contact the St. Johns Fire Department at 559-9194 for a free smoke alarm check.