Accidents by Fire: A Comedy of Errors

Ah, the age-old dance with fire, where the tango of chaos and destruction meets the graceful waltz of safety and survival. It's a performance that often involves a cast of characters who, quite frankly, should've pursued a career in slapstick comedy instead. Today, the hilarity that ensues when accidents by fire strike and how noble humans manage to make a comedy out of what should be a tragedy will be explored through the eyes of the past.

Nothing is more obvious, than that experience purchased by the sacrifice of independence is bought at too dear a rate. Yet this is the only consolation which remains to many females, while sitting on the ashes of a ruined fortune, and piercing themselves with the recollection of the numerous imprudencies into which they have been led, simply for the want of better information.

Much mischief frequently arises from the want of a little presence of mind on such occasions, (who wants presence of mind when you can have a good laugh?), when it is well known that a small quantity of water speedily and properly applied, would obviate great danger. The moment an alarm of fire is given in a house, some blankets should be wetted in a tub of water, and spread on the floor of the room where the fire is, and the flames beaten out with a wet blanket. Two or three pails of water thus applied, will be more effectual than a larger quantity poured on in the usual way, and at a later period. If a chimney be on fire, the readiest way is to cover the whole front of the fire-place with a wet blanket, or thrust it into the throat of the chimney, or make a complete inclosure with the chimney-board. By whatever means the current of air can be stopped below, the burning soot will be put out as rapidly as a candle is by an extinguisher, and upon the same principle. A quantity of salt thrown into water will increase its power in quenching the flames, and muddy water is better for this purpose than clear water.

Water is life and, as such, it would be remiss to not take a water break here. You see, it's well-known that water, speedily and properly applied, can obviate great danger, Will Robinson. But the real question is: can humans apply it speedily and properly? Imagine: The moment an alarm of fire is given in a house, some brave soul springs into action, determined to douse the flames. They rush to the nearest source of water, perhaps a pristine tub filled with crisp, clear liquid. But, alas, in their haste, they trip over a rogue chair and find themselves submerged in the very tub they intended to use to quench the flames. In this slapstick scenario, even the fire is left wondering what just happened.

Now, for the wet blanket solution – both metaphorically and literally. Shit happens, flames are dancing around the room, and the fearless firefighter grabs a blanket, fully soaked with water, and charges at the inferno. The flames laugh heartily, flickering and prancing like mischievous jesters. Brave Hero wields the wet blanket, but instead of extinguishing the fire, they inadvertently perform a sort of aquatic burlesque routine, flinging water in all directions. It's a performance that could put Cirque du Soleil to shame, and the fire remains unimpressed.

In the case of a chimney fire, the advice is to cover the front of the fireplace with a wet blanket or thrust it into the chimney's throat. Picture this: someone standing there, holding a dripping wet blanket, attempting to suffocate the fire within. The chimney, however, has other ideas. It turns into a vocal, opinionated character, spewing smoke and flames while providing a fiery stand-up comedy routine, roasting both them and the blanket. The audience – the house – applauds, and the chimney remains unscathed.

But wait, there's more wisdom to dispense! A quantity of salt thrown into water will increase its power in quenching the flames, and muddy water is better for this purpose than clear water. It's almost as if the fire has developed a culinary sense, demanding a dash of salt to enhance its flavor. And who knew that muddy water, the delight of children playing in puddles, would be the secret sauce to tame a fire's voracious appetite? Let's continue.

Children, and especially females, should be informed, that as flame tends upward, it is extremely improper for them to stand upright, in case their clothes take fire; and as the accident generally begins with the lower part of the dress, the flames meeting additional fuel as they rise, become more fatal, and the upper part of the body necessarily sustains the greatest injury. If there be no assistance at hand in a case of this kind, the sufferer should instantly throw herself down, and roll or lie upon her clothes. A carpet, hearth rug, or green baize table cloth, quickly wrapped round the head and body, will be an effectual preservative; but where these are not at hand, the other method may easily be adopted. The most obvious means of preventing the female dress from catching fire, is that of wire fenders of sufficient height to hinder the coals and sparks from flying into the room; and nurseries in particular should never be without them. Destructive fires often happen from the thoughtlessness of persons leaving a poker in the grate, which afterward falls out and rolls on the floor or carpet. This evil may in a great measure be prevented by having a small cross of iron welded on the poker, immediately above the square part, about an inch and a half each way. Then if the poker slip out of the fire, it will probably catch at the edge of the fender; or if not, it cannot endanger the floor, as the hot end of the poker will be kept from it by resting on the cross. In cases of extreme danger, where the fire is raging in the lower part of the house, a Fire Escape is of great importance. But where this article is too expensive, or happens not to be provided, a strong rope should be fastened to something in an upper apartment, having knots or resting places for the hands and feet, that in case of alarm it may be thrown out of the window; or if children and infirm persons were secured by a noose at the end of it, they might be lowered down in safety. No family occupying lofty houses in confined situations ought to be without some contrivance of this sort, and which may be provided at a very trifling expense.

Now, on to the matter of attire, particularly for females. The reader is informed flame tends to travel upward (!), making it extremely improper for them to stand upright if their clothes catch fire. So, instead of gracefully twirling in a ball gown, they are encouraged to do the Worm or stop, drop and roll on the ground, resembling a breakdance champion from the 1980s. A carpet, hearth rug, or green baize tablecloth becomes their impromptu dance partner, saving the day as they twist and turn in their fiery display of Rhythmic Gymnastics.

To prevent such wardrobe malfunctions, wire fenders are recommended, resembling a bizarre fashion accessory for fire-savvy individuals. Oops, wrong fenders: fireplace fenders, not dress fenders, and decidedly not rubber baby buggy bumpers. The poker in the grate, too, requires a makeover – enter the poker with a cross of iron welded above its square part. Now, the poker can dance on the edge of the fender without dropping to the floor, showcasing its newfound acrobatic skills. The room is set, and the fashion forward poker is the star of the show. (Sleeping in the nude is so much easier, no?) Be thankful for today's fire retardant apparel technology.

And now, for the pièce de résistance – the Fire {esape room|Escape]. It's an elegant exit strategy that turns into a whimsical adventure. Picture a family, frantically ascending the escape ladder, only to realize they've left the cat behind. The feline, an aspiring trapeze artist, swings from one floor to another, creating an impromptu circus performance. All the while, the family members cheer from above, unknowingly clapping along to the cat's precarious routine.

Horses are often so intimidated by fire, that they have perished before they could be removed from the spot; but if a bridle or a halter be put upon them, they might be led out of the stable as easily as on common occasions. Or if the harness be thrown over a draught horse, or the saddle placed on the back of a saddle horse, the same object may be accomplished.

Horses, our unsung heroes, also play a part in this fire fighting extravaganza. Equipped with bridles and saddles, they become the stars of an incendiary race. Imagine jockeys galloping through the fiery streets, as the flames cheer them on, hoping for a photo finish.

In the end, accidents by fire are like a slapstick comedy, filled with quirky characters and unexpected twists. It's a circus of chaos, a symphony of silliness, where water-soaked heroes and fire-breathing chimneys take center stage. In this grand spectacle, humanity may not always prevail, but it sure knows how to put on a show!

excerpts are from the introduction and page 2 of
The Cook and Housekeeper's Complete and Universal Dictionary
by Mrs. Mary Eaton

iron noder

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