Fire On Shabbos: What Do You Do?

Emergencies in HalachaWe all hear it all too often. The wailing of the fire trucks sirens and the roar of their engines. When a fire occurs on Shabbos (as it has for a local resident last Shabbos, as reported here on TLS) just as is the case of all other emergencies, people panic as they begin contemplating what to do. While we all know that pikuach nefesh takes precedence over all of the Torah at times of emergency and desperation, this clarity can become blurred. TLS got permission from The Israel Book Shop to reprint a section of their newly published Sefer Emergencies in Halacha which deals with the halachic issues of fires.  
Mechabeh (extinguishing a fire) is one of the avos melachos that one is forbidden to perform on Shabbos. Thus, performing a melachah to extinguish a fire is permissible only under certain conditions. Obviously, if the fire poses a threat to the inhabitants of the home/building or nearby inhabitants, one must do whatever is necessary to extinguish the fire. Being that our homes are often in close proximity of each other, a fire in one yard is considered a sakanah for the other surrounding areas.
It may be very difficult to decide at which point a fire presents a risk to surrounding homes. Factors such as electrical wires, gas lines, wind, and other items are unknown to the average person. Therefore, when in doubt, one should always take immediate necessary action.
It is permissible in such situations to do everything necessary to contain the fire, such as alerting the authorities, shutting off the electricity, and even carrying water through a reshus harabbim. The Acharonim state that it is a mitzvah to publicize this ruling. The Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasah adds that if, as a result of this ruling, ten people end up alerting the authorities, they all receive special reward for their valiant efforts and intention to do the right thing.
Many poskim rule that nowadays, even if there’s a fire that poses no threat to any lives, one should nonetheless contact the fire department immediately. (This is because there is always the risk of fire fighters getting injured as a result of the fire, as well as other bystanders.) Obviously, whenever possible, and when there won’t be a delay, one should rather have a non-Jew call, or he should call with a shinui.
If it’s possible to remove the fire and take it outside where it poses no sakanah, such as when the fire is a contained flame (like a candle that fell out of the leichter), one should do so (even though it is normally muktzah).
A contained fire that poses no physical danger to anyone, no melachah – whether d’Oraisa or d’Rabbanan – may be done to secure or save material items.
Downed Power Lines:
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l states that if one sees a downed power line on Shabbos (which poses a danger), he doesn’t have to stand guard all Shabbos to prevent a sakanah; he may call the authorities right away. Obviously, if he can get a non-Jew to call or he can do so with a shinui without increasing the chance of sakanah, he should do so.

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  1. “…Obviously, whenever possible, and when there won’t be a delay, one should rather have a non-Jew call…”
    “…Obviously, if he can get a non-Jew to call…”

    I hate to say it but in the near future it will probably be impossible to get a non-Jew to do anything in Lakewood – there won’t be any non-Jews living there.

  2. I’m half way through the sefer AMAZING!!! (And by the way “old timer” you obviously did not read the Sefer because you have no idea what you’re talking about)

  3. Thank you so much TLS for this vital info. It is very important that everyone learns and understands these halachos. Is it possible for the author or publisher to provide the sources regarding these halochos? thank you and i hope TLS will do many posts like this one in the future !

  4. TLS thank you so much for this information. I just got that sefer and i think it is a must for everyone to read it. Many people dont realize these halachos.If the author or publisher can respond – is there always a cheshbon of kisvei kodesh burning in the home as well which would allow one to do a derabunun?

  5. I know this post wasnt supposed to be an advertisement but this sefer is really something special. Its practical easy to read and is important for every household. Thanks TLS for this important info and i hope lots more is forthcoming !

  6. I’m looking high and low for this sefer I have heard such great things about it but the stores I went to where sold out.
    I will be in Lakewood next week, will try to get my hands on it.
    I have also heard about the author and his talents B’H he as allowed us take a glance at some of his talents.

  7. It is truly SCARY how man basic halachos the public does not know. I found this post to be very telling of that fact and IYH i will go buy Emergencies in Halacha motzei shabbos. I truly believe that there are very few people who would not find this sefer to be as informative as it is crucial. TLS you really impressed me with this post !

  8. If your house catches on fire you have bigger problems if you have to consider your religion over the safety of you or your family. It sounds like a cult more than a religion to me. If the religion cannot accept the fact that we live in 2009 and life is alot different then when the book was written. You know we have electric and running water now. things we have to use everyday.

  9. Bmechilas TLS
    biglal zeh lo tazrich lfarsem es hakol.
    yesh anashim she’yochil liros mah shekatuv b’TLS.
    V’zeh mussar haskel al kul eilu she’kotvim shtuyut. (not in regard to this article– but in general. Kulam (afeelu eileh sheyno meeshelanu ba’im lepoh lirot mah ho’lech etzleinu).
    IMHO Hilchos Shabbos should be learned by anash B’beis medrash.
    Just my opinion. Let the debate begin.

  10. Actually Our Religion Is Crystal Clear That In Any Case Of Safety, Or Any Even Remote Threat To Your Life Or That Of Your Family Then Safety Comes First Before Any Religous Obligation.


  11. the mechaber himelf said that you should not pasken from the bbok but rather ask a shyla. so honestly im not quite sure what this article is yrying to relay? do we pasken hilchos nida from a sefer? please shed some light here

  12. If someone doesnt know anything he wont even know theres a shayla to be asked! And for those who didnt ask a shayla they will know the facts before hand and not make a reckless decision! That is why it is very important for everyone to know these halachos and not just rely on asking shaylos!

  13. Even if the book says that he is not a posek thus you shouldnt paskin from there you can see the sources in the footnotes and see if you wish to rely on these sources. Isn’t it amazing how we can have an article saying that safety of residents and fire fighters come before Jewish law and some knuckle head will say “hey dude it must be a cult if you put religion before safety!” You will never win some people will see what they wish to see. I agree with 17

  14. I agree with 22( and wully!13) but its still important for us to do our hishtadlus in our efforts to respond in case of emergency. Therefore i really hope TLS will continue to provide us with important posts such as this one. I would also urge the entire community to go out and buy Emergencies In Halacha!!

  15. I am a big follower of the mechaber. He is not stam. This is just the tip of the red mountain that he has to offer we hope to see many more azelche books from him.

  16. #19
    there are some things you can pasken even from the sefer
    for instance if someone clearly needs help and is in a life threatening situation one should call for medical help right away even on shabbos
    that is a simple straight forward thing that any one should know AND DO

  17. I just bought Emergencies In Halacha. I am half way through the book and I find it to be extremely informative, and is an excellent sefer for every home to have!

  18. I know the mechaber. While he is a BIG ben toira and learned person he is not a poisek and he says so in the book. But everything has a scource in the footnotes.

  19. used to it says:
    December 26, 2009 at 9:18 pm
    there are some things you can pasken even from the sefer
    for instance if someone clearly needs help and is in a life threatening situation one should call for medical help right away even on shabbos
    that is a simple straight forward thing that any one should know AND DO
    if you need a book or a sefer to tell you that a for a life threatninbg situation one should ca;ll for medical help then u yourself need medical help

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