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From the Fire Engineering Vault: Chelsea (MA) Conflagration

From the Fire Engineering Vault: Chelsea (MA) Conflagration

The 1973 Chelsea Fire in Massachusetts occurred 40 years ago this month. The conflagration leveled 18 city blocks, displacing 600 workers and 1,000 residents. See Fire Engineering’s fire report HERE (PDF, 2 MB). Herbert C. Fothergill Sr., the chief of department at the time, was at home that Sunday. He responded in his recently purchased car, parking it within 500 yards of the fire.

His son, Chuck Fothergill, discussed the fire. “I was in the military at the time, assigned to Company O Airborne Rangers. I did learn about the fire the next day and had a difficult time imagining that such a large area of the city was burning. Of course, I was very concerned about the family and in particular my father, knowing he would be front and center fighting this fire.”

One result of the fire, Fothergill said, was a more formal and extensive regional mutual-aid network. A mutual-aid system was in place in 1973, but, he said, “Never before was there such a demand on the mutual-aid network.” After the fire, the mutual-aid system became more formalized with written agreements among all communities. Called “Metro Fire” since 1976, it now serves 34 communities over 351 square miles and protects approximately 30 percent of the state’s population.

Fothergill said other innovations used in fighting the fire included directing the firefight from a helicopter and the use of large-diameter hose, hydrant assist valves, and lightweight portable deck guns. A timeline slide show with radio transmissions from the incident is available at http://youtu.be/_pTr512Q-Qo.

The disaster was the subject of a National Fire Protection Association documentary film, “The Great Chelsea Fire of 1973” (http://youtu.be/f6zzterNQx4), and a Civil Defense Preparedness film, “Conflagration” (http://youtu.be/gd4dIHSUmjA).