BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
The Boston Fire Department (BFD) was organized with the
establishment of the countries’ first engine company and the receipt of the
first Hand Fire Engine in North America in 1678. Unique to Boston at that time was that
the members were paid for responding to fires and other official calls.
Additional engines were procured over the years and the
structure of the department was changed as the community and the danger of fire
grew. A major effort to improve the
system occurred when a group of well respected men in the town were appointed as
Fire Wards by the town fathers on February 1, 1711. Each of these gentlemen was responsible for
operation and maintenance of the equipment assigned to their particular section
of the city.
The 1st reorganization of the BFD occurred in 1837 when the hand
engine department reorganized reducing the number of engines in active service
from 20 and several unmanned reserve engines to 14 active engines.
On December 3l, 1858, 14 hand engines, 3 hook and ladder
carriages and 6 hydrant (hose) carriages were in service.
Steam Engine was placed in service on North Bennett St.,
North End, on November 1, 1859.as Engine Co. 8. The conversion to steam fired apparatus was rapid
and greatly improved the ability of the department to fight fire. Ultimately a total
of 11 steam engines replaced the 14 hand engines.
The Boston Fire Department
(BFD), in its present structure, is the result of a reorganization which was
instituted in 1859-60 as the conversion to Steam Engines from hand pumps took
Fire Alarm Telegraph system in the world was established in Boston. The first alarm of
fire was transmitted on the system on April
handled many great fires, including the "Great Boston Fire of 1872,"
with fire companies from as far away as New Haven, CT. working. BFD
companies traveled to other cities over the years, including the Great Chelsea
Fire of 1908 and the Great Salem Fire: of 1914.
Boston's first piece of motorized apparatus
was placed in service on July 29, 1910 at Chemical 13 (now
Engine 53). Horses, which had pulled fire apparatus since the mid-1850's, began
to be replaced with motor apparatus about 1914. Ladder 24, in 1923, was the last horse-drawn
apparatus to be replaced. The last steam engine was replaced in 1926.
greatest fire disaster in Boston's history, in terms
of loss of life, occurred on November 28, 1942 at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Piedmont St., downtown, where
492 persons died. This fire ranks as the second deadliest fire in the nation's
history, after Chicago's Iroquois Theatre
fire in 1903 which cost 602 lives. Many improvements to building codes and burn
treatment resulted from the Cocoanut Grove fire.
the BFD consisted of 48 engines, 29 ladders, 1 rescue and 2 fire boats. Of the
48 engines, 20 were 2-piece (hose wagon and pumper) companies. Later in the
decade, 100 foot aerial ladders with tillers were purchased, replacing the previous
standard 85 foot ladders.
In 1972, a
4-alarm fire at the Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Ave. caused the death of
nine firefighters when, without warning, a large portion of the building
collapsed. Later in the 1970s an
experiment with lime-green colored apparatus was conducted, but the BFD
reverted back to red in 1984.
early 1980's, Boston experienced a rash
of 600 arson fires, many of these fires reached multiple-alarm status. An arson ring was ultimately caught, tried
and convicted for this wave of destruction.
in 1984, all first-line apparatus was renewed with single unit Engine companies
replacing the 2 piece companies and Ladder Companies receiving 110'
rear-mounts, making the famous tiller-trucks obsolete. The systematic
replacement of front line apparatus has continued and new innovations instituted
such as all wheel steering, modern Ladder Towers, Mobile
Communication Centers and specialized equipment to facilitate collapse rescue
and fire fighting in the I90, I93 and airport tunnels.
Boston currently (2006) operates 34
engines, 18 ladders, 2 (heavy) rescues, 4 tower ladders, 2 fireboats and
numerous special units.
344 CONGRESS ST.
ENGINE 39 & LADDER 18)
Companies 38 and 39 were organized on May
18,1891, as the only double engine company (1 captain) ever organized
in the BFD. They occupied the newly built firehouse located in a busy wool
warehouse district, but close to the downtown area. The principal landowner in
the area, Boston Wharf Co., provided the land for the station. E38 and E39 did
not respond together to any box on the first alarm, an arrangement requested by
Boston Wharf to provide adequate
fire coverage at all times.
horse-drawn steamer of E38 was replaced in 1897 by a self-propelled steamer
which saw heavy fire duty, serving until 1925. In 1898, 6 BFD members,
including 5 from this station, died in a bedding factory fire on Merrimac St., West End. Another member
from this house died at a fire on Chauncey St. in 1946.
was disbanded in 1947. In 1953, Ladder Co. 18 (organized in 1902) moved from
quarters on Pittsburg St. (1 block away) to
344 Congress. The house was occupied by these companies until closed on April 22, 1977 when a new station was opened at 272 D St., South Boston. The new location houses Engine 39 and Ladder
18 along with Engine 1.
86 years that this firehouse was active, the companies responded to many
important fires. Among them were the "Great Salem Fire" of 1914, the
"Great Chelsea Fire(s)" of 1908 and 1973, the Cocoanut Grove Fire of
1942, the Biddeford (ME) fires of 1947, the Sleeper St. Fire (1 block away) of
1948 and the Bellflower St. Fire of 1964.
"Congress Street Fire Station" was granted Landmark status in 1987
and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Boston Fire Museum
and Boston Sparks Association have
occupied the firehouse since 1983