Back in Time: Fire chief sounds alarm about things that could wreck a family’s Christmas

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Capital Region on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1936.

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Capital Region on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1936.

August Derra wanted to make sure people were not reminded of the Fourth of July instead. Schenectady’s fire chief offered tips to prevent sparks, flames and a sizzling holiday season.

His list appeared in the pages of the Schenectady Gazette.

“If you must have a candle in the window Christmas Eve,” Derra said, “make it an electric one. That is safe.”

Paper clippings and cotton were too flammable for use as snowflakes. Metal tinsel and asbestos flakes were Derra’s 1936 choice for fake flakes.

Firefighters today would have a problem with asbestos, as inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers has been linked to lung cancer.

Thoughts still practical

Derra had other ideas that made sense in both 1936 and 2008.

“Do not illuminate the tree with candles,” he warned.

“Colored electric light assemblies are more ornamental and are safer. A spotlight focused upon the tree is, however, the safest method of all.”

Smokers were asked to be careful with matches, cigars and cigarettes, especially when they were standing next to the family Christmas tree, paper bells and strings of garland.

“Toys requiring alcohol, gasoline or kerosene should be avoided, as should flimsy toy motion picture machines using inflammable film,” Derra said.

Keeping Santa safe

The chief also considered the presence of Santa Claus in the house. Some families featured a visit from the yule benefactor as part of their December celebrations.

“If Santa Claus is present, he should be persuaded to avoid a long beard and should keep away from open lights and fires,” said Derra, who wanted to prevent the man in red from becoming a man in orange. “His costume should be made partially fireproof by spraying upon it a solution of water glass.”

A bucket or two of water and a fire extinguisher were extra holiday accessories. Derra hoped fire dangers would fade Dec. 26.

“A most important safeguard is to remove all evergreens immediately after Christmas,” he said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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