Period from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1 Gives Fire Fighters Tough Time, Terminating in Haymarket Blaze

(Adapted from a report by

who also provided pictures.)

Editor’s Note: While this article on an unusual cycle of fires which occurred early this year in Boston was scheduled for publication the past summer, a rash of major stories received in the interim forced postponement of its publication until this issue. It will still prove of interest to the student of fire fighting.

THE old saying among firemen that “there’s nothing certain about fire fighting but the uncertainty” seems to hold true in the Boston area.

In that area, like many other localities, large fires apparently run in cycles. Months may pass with fires of little consequence; then, within a period of a week or so, fire fighters will have their hands full.

Such a situation came about as 1954 was ushered in. The quiet cycle (in terms of serious fires) held true until the night of Jan. 23rd, when a week of work set in for Boston area’s smoke-eaters.

One might say the end of the quiet cycle and the beginning of the work period was clocked at 6:55 P.M. on the night of Jan. 23rd, when Box 5121 was transmitted for a fire in a five-story brick apartment house in the Brighton district.

Officers of District 11 reported a working fire, and at 7:02 P.M. a second alarm was sounded, at which time flames were leaping out of windows on the fourth and fifth floors. The fire apparently started on the fourth floor from which it communicated to the floor above, and roof areas.

Members of ladder companies quickly laddered the structure and removed by way of 50-foot ladders, two elderly women who were trapped on the top floor. Meanwhile hosemen placed a deluge gun in operation in the front and carried hose lines up ladders and via the stairways into the burning building. All told, eleven 2 1/2-inch lines were operated. The blaze was under control in 45 minutes. Property damage was reported as $25,000.

Assignment response for Box 5151 was as follows:

First Alarm: Eng. 41-29-34; Lad. 14-11; Dist. Ch. 11.

Second Alarm: Eng. 37-51-53-10-6;

Lad. 26-34: Res. 2; Wat. Tow. 2; Lt. Plant 1-2; Dist. Ch. 8; Dept. Ch. 2.

Waltham General Alarm

On Sunday, Jan. 24, the City of Waltham, Mass., sounded a general alarm for a fire in the Baker Dumber Yard Co., which involved several two-story metal buildings housing lumber and yard equipment. Large piles of lumber in the vicinity of the burning buildings were also ignited.

The fire raced rapidly through the lumber yard and raged out of control for three hours. The Waltham Fire Department was aided by mutual aid front eight surrounding towns and Civilian Defense units, by whose combined efforts a serious conflagration was averted.

A week later, in Boston, on Sunday morning. Jan. 31, at 1:45 A.M., District 6 responded on a still alarm to a fire in a three-story wooden block. Upon arrival, the fire was found to have made such headway that the District Chief ordered Box 731 to be struck

The fire was in a group of stores in the first floor of the building and it gained headway rapidly, giving off heavy concentration of smoke.

At 2:15 A M. a second alarm was ordered and, as the fire continued to spread, a third alarm was struck at 2:22 A. M. Another ladder unit was also ordered at this time.

The fire spread through the walls to involve most of the structure and gave firemen a hard workout. Seven 2 1/2-inch lines were used in the front and rear of the building, while five fire companies operated inside the building.

The blaze was brought under control in about an hour. The amount of the property loss, estimated as $30,000, fails to indicate the seriousness of the fire suppression problem.

General alarm blaze which destroyed the Baker Lumber Co. plant in Waltham, Mass., brought large concentration of firemen from eight communities to aid local force.Climaxing series of severe fires in Boston area, this Haymarket 5-alarm blaze taxed strength of department. Entire 6-story furniture building became involved in matter of minutes. Laddermen on roof were ordered down for fear of explosion or collapse. Wind and cold weather handicapped fire fighters.As laddermen (left) bring down elderly women from upper floors of burning apartment, hosemen go into action. Deck gun is used to beat back blaze from building front to enable hand lines to be taken into building, and to facilitate search for victims.

Assignment response to Box 731 was as follows:

First Alarm: Eng. 1-15-43; Lad. 5-20; Res. 1; Dist. Ch. 6.

Second Alarm: Eng. 2-38-35-3-7; Lad. 19-3; Wat. Tower 2; Lt. Plant 2.

Third Alarm: Eng. 12-33-39-26-13-21.

Haymarket Scene of Stubborn Fire

Boston fire fighters got their toughest workout on Feb. 1st when they were called to the Haymarket Square area. Box 1321 was pulled at 1:20 A.M., and when Rescue 3, the first company to reach the scene, arrived, the six-story brick joist building at 138 Friend Street, was fully involved. This structure was one of three six-story buildings on Friend and Sudbury streets, all of which ultimately became involved. The area houses many furniture establishments and industrial properties.

Fire walls apparently checked the blaze temporarily after it originated in the Tulman Furniture Co., but flames broke through the roof and spread to the Belmont Furniture Co., the Eagle Electric & Supply Co. and Morrison Stove Co.

Deputy Fire Chief John F. Howard of Division 1, who answered the first alarm, skipped the second alarm and turned in a third at 1:24 A.M. Companies responding on these calls found it impossible to operate inside the burning structure, and concentrated efforts on confining the threatening blaze.

As wind-fanned flames threatened to communicate the fire to other structures, Fire Chief John Stapleton ordered fourth and fifth alarms, at 1:34 A.M. and 1:54 A.M.

Nine engine companies took positions in front of the burning building and opened up deck guns to pour heavy streams into the structure. A water tower joined in the action, and hand lines were carried into the Belmont Ruilding and other adjoining structures in an effort to cut off extension of the fire.

With the temperature hovering around 11 degrees and a strong wind blowing, the fire fighters were faced with a tremendous task. The high pressure system was boosted from 100 to 225 pounds, and additional streams directed into the burning building from every vantage point. All through the night the fire raged and firemen, coated with ice and numb with cold, stuck to their positions. Hose lines were temporarily buried under ice as spray and water froze. Aerial ladders were frozen against the building.

Fire Controlled Twelve Hours After First Alarm

Seven hours after the first alarm, firemen were still pouring water into the ruined structure but were unable to enter the building because of the intense heat and danger of collapse of floors and walls. The blaze was finally controlled twelve hours after the first alarm, with property damage estimated at from $250,000 to $750,000.

In the effort to remove the ice encrusted ladders and hose, following the fire, old “Abe Lincoln,” the department’s 1872 steam engine, was brought into play to provide live steam for melting the ice.

Despite the large force of firemen, and dangerous operations, only two firemen were hospitalized with injuries. A number of others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, frost bite and other hurts.

The response assignment for this fire was as follows:

First Alarm: Eng. 4-6-8-50; Lad. 1-24; Res. 3; Wat. Tow. 1; Lt. Plant 1; Dist. Ch. 4; Dep. Ch. 1.

Second Alarm: Eng. 10-7-38-35-32-15; Lad. 8-18; Dist. Ch. 5.

Third Alarm: Eng. 13-43-33-25-39-26; Lad. 12.

Fourth Alarm: Eng. 9-37-21-2-42; Lad. 10: Dist. Ch. 7.

Fifth Alarm: Eng. 16-12-20-51-53.

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