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I never again met the owner, or any of my fire friends who fought it out on that line that night, but I am sure that I then and there learned a lesson which has enabled me to be of some use in the world by preventing fires, and God willing I will hope and strive to do more. From that time I was convinced that it is the duty of every man or woman, boy or girl, to attack and put out fires instantly, when they are small and easily managed, and that when there is a fire and the firemen are not able to defend every exposed place, others should, and often might with the same success which attended our efforts at Charlestown. The fire which I have attempted to describe occurred August 25, 1835.
Since that time, now nearly forty years, I have, with all possible diligence, carefully studied the manner of and the means for extinguishing fires, the careless and reckless manner of erecting buildings, and the danger to towns and cities from spontaneous combustion, inflammable oils, etc.
The result of my observations will be found in the following pages.
OF THE GREAT INCREASE OF FIRES.
THE rapid increase in the number and magnitude of fires in the past few years, seems to many people who have given but little attention to the subject, to be a mystery.
There is something uncanny about it. A gentleman in Chicago, who was at the dreadful fire in that city, told me he had no doubt that its awful magnitude was entirely owing to the electricity with which the air was charged at that time. If well-informed people entertain such ideas, what may not less intelligent minds be led to conceive ?
This subtle element, so useful to mankind when confined within the limits of safety, now so often bursts those bounds, that we may reasonably suppose there is never a moment that there is not somewhere in the United States a fire, more or less destructive in its ravages.
Now, in the city, town, village, hamlet, or on the isolated farm ; on the prairie, in the forest, or at the hut of the lonely settler, ever somewhere may be seen the cloud of smoke by day, or the OF THE GREAT INCREASE OF FIRES. 7 crimsoning sky by night, telling of distress and disaster from this prolific source of evil.
A city has in one of its buildings a tiny fire, which could be hid under a bushel. Neglected, it has burned its way out to the raging gale. Now it rushes on its fiery pathway, through miles of streets, the homes of thousands, to the water's edge, or out to the open country. For weeks we read of the dreadful loss; of the dead, of the sick and wounded, the sufferings of the poor, houseless, and almost starving people; of the startling incidents, the loss of life, the fortunate escapes from fearful peril, the ruin of thousands who, before the fire, were surrounded with comforts; of the calls for aid, the thanks for help received. At length the tale is changed, and we learn of the uprising of new buildings, reared in midwinter, or in a few weeks or days, perhaps more carelessly erected than those so lately destroyed.
A town has been swept out of existence by a little spark lighting upon a roof, out of the reach of those who saw it, and which, fanned by the wind, ran like wild-fire over the dried shingles, which were taken upon a dozen other buildings before the department could be got to work. Another cry for help; another sad account of distress and destitution. Another blessed shower of relief; another outpouring of heartfelt thanksgiving.
The spaces of time between such dreadful disasters are only too well filled up with accounts of the destruction of villages, homesteads, and workshops in every section of the country. Almost all such fires are seen when so small that, with the same coolness and presence of mind with which we attend to other affairs, and with proper implements for extinguishing them, such as we provide for our other work, would be put out in a few minutes, and with so little loss as to hardly be worth telling of to the neighbors.
Thus ever war, and almost every battle is a defeat. A hundred fires of buildings destroyed to one instantly attacked and saved.
Ever reading of disaster, loss of property, often of life, when one occurs we become panic-stricken when we should be more than ever self-possessed.
It should be the duty of some person in every town to give the cause of fires, why they were not at once put out, how large or small they were when first seen, how much they had increased when water was thrown upon them, and if extinguished at once and without loss, the manner and means made known, that other property might be saved in like manner. If such a record was published, we should learn that one cause of fires was the crowding together of wooden buildings, as at Portland and at Chicago, from which sparks flying
A BOY PUTS OUT A FIRE.
from the first building on fire, would set many others on fire before the first engine could be got to work, or even perhaps before the telegraph told the firemen there was a fire. And if it should be. proved that for these little fires the small handengines were more efficient than great steam fireengines, and that such fires, by their use, could have been put out with a loss of a few dollars instead of many millions, they would soon be adopted. Then by the combined force of the steamers and the small engines, conflagrations would become almost obsolete. Many an awful fire, the news of which has been sent over the land, would have been dashed out without loss by some man or woman, boy or girl, if proper and efficient means for doing it were at hand, and it was the custom to publish such instances of self-possession at fires, as it was of the heroic deeds of the soldiers in our
Take, for instance, the following example: A boy, employed in a store near the Old South Church, discovered a fire in the basement of the store, in a very dangerous place, which in a few minutes would have driven the inmates from the store, and resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars worth of property. Springing to the washbowl, the only implement at hand, he filled it with water and throwing it upon the flames, he was in a