Mutual Aid Functions As Fire Razes Church
The year 1956 saw costly fires in religious properties in this country and Canada. This graphic report of one of the worst such fires is published through the courtesy of Fire Chief John E. Corcoran, Newton, Mass. Fire Dept.
AT 8:10 P.M., SATURDAY, February 11, 1956, Box 16, Centre and Church Street, Newton, Mass., was sounded. One minute later, fire headquarters received notification by telephone from an unidentified woman that smoke was pouring from the Eliot (Congregational) Church, Newton Corner.
The first alarm called Engines 1, 4, 8 and 9, Ladders 1 and 3 and the mobile lighting plant, with Fire Chief John Corcoran and Assistant Chief F. A. Perkins, Jr.
Chief Perkins at 8:18 p.m. radioed a second alarm, which was picked up by Chief Corcoran, en route, over his mobile radio set. Upon arriving at the scene, Chief Perkins informed Chief Corcoran that he had also requested a third alarm from the same box at 8:30 p.m.
The second alarm brought Engines 2, 3 and 5: Ladder 2: Assistant Chiefs H. L. Murphy and J. L. Martin, the former locating at Station 4, to cover. Motor Mechanic J. T. Keefe also responded.
Coming in on the third alarm were Engines 6, 7 and 10.
Under the area mutual aid set-up, the successive alarms set in motion the following:
From Watertown, Mass., Chief William J. McElroy, Ladder 1 to Newton Station 1 (covering); from Waltham, Chief Frank Fleming, Engines 1, 4, 6, with portable lighting plant, to the fire, and Ladder 1 to Newton Station 4 (covering); from Boston, Engine 41 to Station 1, thence to fire, Engine 51 to Station 1, Engine 10 to Station 9 and Engine 26 to Station 7 (all covering); also from Brookline, Chief George L. Gettings, Engine 6 to Station 3 (covering and to fire), and Ladder 3 to Station 3 (covering and to fire); from Needham, Engine 2 to Station 7, (covering) and Engine 4 (tank wagon) to the fire; from Wellesley, Chief Thomas A. Slaman, Engine 3 to Station 6 (covering); from Weston, Engine 2 to Station 2 (covering), and from Belmont, Chief Edward J. Crowley, an Engine Company to locate in Newton Station 4 (covering)
The historic Eliot Congregational Church is located at 474 Center Street and was founded 110 years ago. Cornerstone of the present granite and stone, and wood structure was laid in 1899. Only the walls remained standing after the devastating fire which, before it was controlled, threatened wide areas of the city. Property loss is estimated at $1 million.
Cause being investigated
The cause of the fire was not immediately determined and is reported still under investigation. According to Chief Corcoran, witnesses declare there was a noticeable odor of smoke in the neighborhood of the church at approximately 6:00 p.m. The Church itself was entirely secured and it was necessary for the department to force entrances. There was quite evidently a delay in notifying the department; meanwhile the fire had spread through timber interior construction to so involve the edifice that sustained interior operations by fire fighters were practically impossible.
Possible causes of the fire advanced by Chief Corcoran are defective oil burner and electrical short circuit.
When Chief Corcoran, arrived at the scene and took command, Chief Perkins and crews of Engines 1, 3, 4, 8 and 9 and Ladders 1 and 3 were concentrated in the rear of the church, which was entirely enveloped in smoke.
Notwithstanding the smoke and heat, hose lines were stretched, charged and operated in the basement kitchen and rooms on the first floor rear where intense heat but no immediate sign of fire was encountered. Lines were also placed and charged to operate in front and at the east and west sides of the building.
It was later determined that the fire had evidently been binning in the basement concealed areas for some time because early in the operations, after the men were driven out of the building, the floor timbers on the east side and at the entrance collapsed. When this occurred, the extension of the fire was apparent, involving the first floor level in the entire rear of the church.
Ladders were raised to the second floor, east end, and hose lines operated from the aerials, but rapid advance of the fire necessitated withdrawal of the units, one of which, Ladder 3, narrowly escaped damage by burning before it could be withdrawn to less dangerous position.
The advance of the fire, which soon broke from windows and through the roof, involving the entire building, created an exceptional hazard to the entire neighborhood when flaming brands filled the area extending as far south as Summit Street.
To cope with this situation hose and booster lines were operated on house roofs on Church and Centre Streets in the immediate fire area and Newton Engines 1 and 2 and Boston Engine 41, together with Brookline and Needham units, patrolled the entire area to prevent extension of incipient fires in gutters, on roofs etc.
Covering units answer other calls
The importance of adequate mutual aid reinforcements was further indicated when two other alarms were received and promptly handled during the progress of the church blaze. These were as follows: Box 24, 8:41 p.m.: auto accident, 400 Watertown Street, Newton, responded to by Brookline, Waltham and Boston, Assistant Chief Murphy; dismissal, 9:06 p.m.
Box 58, Beacon and White Oak Road, Waban: incipient, responded to by Needham, Wellesley, Brookline and Waltham and Chief Murphy.
More than 25 streams were in operation at the height of the church fire, including heavy duty streams from three Newton and one Waltham wagon turrets; an Eastman portable street set, and two Barker street guns located on Center and Church Streets. Aerial ladder pipes were operated with powerful streams (1%-inch nozzles) from Ladders 1 and 3 and Brookline, concentrating on the Church Street tower and Center Street tower at the front entrance, east side.
The water supply was reported sufficient, but an unfortunate delay was encountered through a defective hydrant located on a 12-inch main on Center Street. This made it necessary to shut down one line from Engine 7, a 1,000 GPM pumper, and greatly reduced the pressure on a remaining line supplying a wagon pipe.
In addition to the master streams, powerful hand lines were also operated by Engine Companies 1, 2, 4, 9 and 14 on the east exposure of the church.
The Newton Civil Defense Auxiliary Fire Department consisting of some 40 members under Chief Milton P. Young and Assistant Chiefs Philip Gilfix and Frederick Cole, Jr., responded to the fire and manned hose lines from Civil Defense Engine 14, a 750 gpm pumper. This pumper supplied four lines of 2%-inch hose at 200 psi with a hydrant pressure of 100 psi. One Auxiliary Fire Company also manned Engine 16, located at Station 10, to provide coverage for the area.
Rain and sleet handicapped fire fighters hut was credited with helping prevent the spread of the fire by sparks.