Cinema History from the Cold War!

Fight That Fire
Office of Civilian Defense
1942

When viewing films produced in the Cold War era, it often seems as though the writers reached back into the recent memories of the Second World War and dusted off the civil defense techniques which had been perfected in conventional air raids, relying on the assumption that the advice would make a successful transition into the atomic age.  An excellent example of this instructional recycling can be found in the 1942 production Fight That Fire.  Offering a number of scenarios in which a fire may ignite, from a careless match, to an enemy incendiary bomb, the film was created by the Office of Civilian Defense as a means of informing the public of wartime dangers while promoting a safe and alert home front.  Opening with a civil defense officer dutifully watching the skies, Fight That Fire makes clear its position as a wartime defense film, and indeed, the film's content blends nicely into the atmosphere of its creation, where the threat of an enemy attack was much feared.  What makes Fight That Fire particularly interesting, however, is that this content would be utilized nearly scene by scene, a decade later in the F.C.D.A. production Firefighting for Householders.

                    

"Fire, the most ruthless saboteur, is an enemy all America must learn to fight, and learn to fight with speed".  Fight That Fire works hard to establish that even mundane actions can result in a furious blaze which will not only put a strain on manpower and resources, but possibly reduce entire factories to charred rubble, or worse, kill families and maim survivors.  The alternative is to combat fire at its inception.  The first scenario, played out in a factory office where a supervisor has carelessly tossed his pipe match over his shoulder, shows how even this small flame when given the appropriate tinder, will grow into a serious threat.  Fortunately, the factory workers know the correct response, and promptly react to the fire by sounding an alarm, locating the nearest extinguishing devices, and aiming them at the base of the flames.  This three step process is repeated several times over the course of the film.

                     

A curious artistic element which runs through the film is the presence of clocks.  In every fire hazard scenario presented, the camera turns from the recently started fire to provide a close-up of a different type of clock, while an ominous ticking beat accompanies the score.  This tactic not only provides Fight That Fire with an eerie pace, but drives home the narrator's warning that fire must by dealt with as quickly as possible.  Here, a grandfather clock offers an a somber tempo while the smoke from a burgeoning office fire curls across it face.  Of course, the office is not the only place where fires can occur and everyone, from napping bachelors to home alone-housewives, should know how to fight them.


                     

A woman, working on a knitting project with faulty electric curlers opens the next segment of the film.  When yarn meets the kinked cords, the wall outlet sparks and sets the couch aflame like a tinder box.  Reacting in the proper manner, the woman uses a hand-pumped fire extinguisher placed at the ready in her kitchen, to smother the plush cushions and the remnants of her knitting.  Furthering this image of preparedness, another careless match starts a wastebasket blaze in a home office, but the occupant is quick to stop the spread by manning an "Indian pump" style extinguisher.  The first step, the film reiterates, is always to sound an alarm when a greater response is needed.  Another preparatory action involves the creation of a fire map, outlining the hazards of a particular room or office floor, while ensuring an exit free from debris.

Reinforcing the fact that the film was produced during a time of war, servicemen are also depicted putting out fires.  In the closing scenes, a naval corpsman, along with other impromptu firemen in uniform work to extinguish the smoldering engine of a car.  While the narrator gives a rundown of the different types of fire extinguishers which would be most appropriate in each fire situation paying particular attention to electrical fire, Fight That Fire wraps up with a quick review of all its advice,   Presented here in this clip from our YouTube channel is the film's final reminder.  Note the clock ticking ominously in the background during the final seconds as the film fades to black.