Unusual Disaster Causes Loss of Life and Taxes the Heroism and Ability of the Fire Department to the Utmost—Wreckage Covered From One to Two Feet with the Sticky Fluid—Fireboat Station Destroyed

So unusual and hazardous was the work performed by the members of the Boston fire department at the north end disaster caused by the collapse of a huge molasses tank that Fire Commissioner John Grady has made a special report covering the activities of the department. But the brief typed account furnished by the head of the fire service, extracts from which are given below, does not cover the many, acts of individual heroism performed by the firemen who worked for hours often knee deep in the sticky fluid while searching for bodies or extricating the wounded from beneath piled up wreckage. Excerpts from the commissioner’s report follow:

“I respectfully submit for your consideration a report of the activities of this department in connection with alarms from boxes 1234 and 1211 for explosion of tank off Commercial street, Boston, Mass., January 15, 1919: 12:40 p. m.—Alarm received from box 1234; box 1211 received at the same time. 12:43 p. ni. Telegrapher Pope reported at box 1234, following immediately with order to ‘send all ambulances possible’ to that box. Fire alarm office notified police headquarters, relief, and city hospitals. 12:46 p. m. Fire alarm office received message from Deputy Chief Taber directing that the building commissioner’s office and public works commissioner’s office be notified to send all the men they could to box 1234. 1 :1b p. m. Message received from Deputy Chief Taber to send all stretchers in repair shop to scene of accident. 1:17 p. m. Fire alarm office requested navy yard to send stretchers to scene of accident. Captain of yard reported tug with stretchers under way, offering further aid if required. 5:12 p. m. All out signal received from boxes 1234 and 1211. 5:45 p. m. Temporary crew for engine 313 (fire boat) made up of three men from each fire district.

“Senior Deputy Chief John O. Taber reports that upon his arrival at the scene, a terrible spectacle was presented to him. An area of several acres on which had stood many buildings had been demolished by an explosion or collapse of a huge steel tank, containing approximately 2,000,000 gallons of molasses, flooding the area from one to two feet in depth. Among the ruins of these buildings a great number of people had been buried, many of whom had been killed or drowned in the sticky substance, while many others were badly injured. Immediate action was necessary to save life and the difficulties to be overcome seemed insurmountable.

“The senior deputy chief, who was the commanding officer at the time, immediately ordered a second alarm, and sent out calls for ambulances, doctors, clergymen, police, members of the public works department, building department, emergency crews, and gas and electric companies, and ordered an alarm be sounded from box 1211, acting as a third alarm and bringing the apparatus and needed assistance to the west side of the scene of disaster. The companies responding were putting forth heroic efforts to save life under the direction of District Chief Edward J. Shallow. District Chiefs Caulfield and Riley covered the situation on Commercial street and in the freight terminals on the water front.

Scene at Explosion of Molasses Tank at Boston, Showing Destruction Caused, and Sticky Mass Covering Everything

Upon the arrival of the chief of department, Peter F. McDonough, Deputy Chief Taber was assigned in charge of the extrication of injured persons. The injured were removed as rapidly as conditions would allow—given first aid and sent to the hospitals. The district chiefs engaged in directing operations—District Chiefs Shallow, Caulfield, and Riley—cannot be too highly commended, for their efforts were almost superhuman. The same applies to alb as the service they rendered under very hazardous and difficult conditions was highly efficient.

“Too much credit cannot be given the officers and men of the state nautical school ship and naval reserves for the splendid energy and zeal displayed in rendering aid to this department in time of need. Their work should be classified as distinguished service. The Red Cross, clergy, and physicians should also be commended for their efforts, which were highly appreciated.

“In conclusion I would say that great credit is due all those who participated in rendering aid on this occasion as they worked quickly and intelligently under conditions which were of great danger to themselves.”

The fireboat station of engine 31 was adjacent to the scene of the explosion and the interior of the structure, a two-story frame building, was completely wrecked. One firemen was killed and a number of others were injured in the collapse.

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