Saturday, June 2, 2018

1951 civil-defense pamphlet: Be prepared for fire after atomic blast

If the threat of atomic annihilation wasn't terrifying enough in the early years of the Cold War, this 1951 Federal Civil Defense Administration pamphlet wanted to make it clear that you were hardly out of the woods if you and your nuclear family happened to survive the initial fury of human-engineered atom violence.

Because after the Earth-rattling, house-leveling, radiation-showering atomic blast comes ... fire.

And the FCDA, under the direction of Millard Fillmore Caldwell (1897-1984) — whose life spanned Sergei Rachmaninoff and Duran Duran — wanted civilians to be prepared to fight those fires.

Here are some excerpts from this somber bit of literature from 67 years ago, which somewhat doubles as an anti-hoarding missive and, quite awkwardly to our modern views, a sexist call for housewives to perform their patriotic duty of regular house-cleaning...

  • Closets, attics, and cellars are the main source of home fires, and plain ordinary good housekeeping is a strong line of defense against them. Fire hazards in peacetime become doubly dangerous in wartime. Check your closets, attic, and basement for cast-off articles that would burn. Clean out your storage places. You will be surprised at how many burnable odds and ends are really useless to you. Don't let them make your home a fire hazard. Get rid of them.
  • Don't stop when you've cleared out the inside of your house. Go after rubbish in the your back yard, in alleys and in vacant lots near your home. Collect the rubbish and burn it. Don't leave it around to burn if an enemy bombs your city.
  • You can buy fire-resistant drapery and furniture-covering materials. Or you can mix a fire-resistant solution for rayons and cotton yourself. It's cheap and easy to use. Dissolve 9 ounces of borax and 4 ounces of boric acid in a gallon of water. Dip your curtains, drapes, and slipcovers in it. This solution won't hurt anything that water won't hurt. You'll have to use it again each time you wash the fabric, however.
  • After an atomic bomb explodes, the resulting fires could cause more loss of life and property than the blast itself. An atomic bomb would cause great fires in the area where it fell. It would also start hundreds of small fires in surrounding areas. These smaller fires must be fought by people on the spot, because the regular fire-fighting companies won't be able to reach them. Teaching of householders to fight fires will be carried out by local civil defense instructors.
  • At least one member of your family must be trained in the use of basic fire-fighting tools and methods. Women are at home much of the time. It is particularly important that they know how to fight fires.

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