Cinema History from the Cold War!

Fire Fighting for Householders


Federal Civil Defense Administration

Teletran, Inc.

1951


"Fire is a constant enemy to man in peace time.  In war, entire cities have been destroyed by fire from the skies.  Now, the threat of atomic attack has increased the threat of fire.  The first effect of an atomic blast is an intense flash of heat which can set aflame exposed materials."  The crucial difference between conventional incendiary devices, which could raze entire cities while leaving their suburbs unscathed, and the atomic bomb, which was capable of sparking tinder several miles from its blast center, is the underlying point of this film.  Beginning in 1951, the newly formed Federal Civil Defense Administration sought to dispel the myths surrounding atomic weaponry, and to do so, announced the release of nine films, each addressing a different danger posed by an enemy attack.  While the films would be created by private companies, they would have the full backing of the F.C.D.A.  Fire Fighting for Householders was introduced as part of this information campaign, supplemented by a mass-produced pamphlet of the same name.
                             
Fire Fighting for Householders shares a number of characteristics with the other early F.C.D.A. sponsored releases.  Sticking close to the pamphlets their content is gleaned from, they lack theatrics, strictly providing information through the use of unnamed actors and authoritative narration.  Due to the strain on manpower and resources which an enemy atomic attack would present, Fire Fighting for Householders demonstrates fire suppressing techniques which can be carried out by civilians with minimal training.  These include the use of pump extinguishers, chemical extinguishers, and non-specific objects like couch cushions and blankets to smother flames.  Before an attack occurs, however, houses should be kept clean and free of debris which can give fire a path to engulf entire rooms.  Simply removing excess flammable object, such as drapes, overflowing trash cans, and paper, can halt most small fires in their tracks.  Water should be kept stored on hand of course, because drawing too much from the kitchen sink can drain city supplies and hamper the fire department's efforts to fight larger fires at ground zero.  Each of these scenes, along with the advice offered by the narrator is nearly a scene by scene mirror of an early safety film titled Fight That Fire.  Produced by the Office of Civilian Defense in 1942, Fight That Fire explains, in a similar manner, how to put out fires which are sparked by enemy bombs, albeit during a conventional air raid.
                                                               
As much screen time as the film devotes to putting out fires which have already started, its primary goal is for the viewing audience is to take preemptive measures to minimize the risk of small fires erupting out of control in the first place.  The last moments of Fire Fighting for House Holders unfold as a call to action, to tidy up any loose flammable material around private property.  While the pamphlet off which the film is based illustrates the importance of this technique by showing several cartoon houses ablaze all because of a small fire, the film instead walks through several steps of fireproofing.  Organizing the attic, clearing work benches of oily rags and paint, and cleaning the yard of brush and leaves all halt the spread of fire.  If, as the film hoped, this message was received by audiences and in turn put into practice, professional fire departments would be left open to fight fires in metropolitan centers closer to ground zero all the while encouraging the privatized, familial centered civil defense policies which would dominate the 1950's.  By the end of the decade, however, more emphasis was being placed on protection from fallout radiation, as opposed to the fires started by an atomic bomb.  Citing advances in warfare and changing methods of protection, the F.C.D.A declared Firefighting for House Holders obsolete in 1957, arguing its advice was no longer valid.