Simultaneous Cambridge Fires Prove Value of Mutual Aid
Two serious fires occurring within four hours of each other on the night of February 22, 1948, proved very conclusively the value of having well-established plans for mutual aid in a large metropolitan area.
A general alarm fire (Box 79) in a block of stores at Massachusetts Ave. and Dudley Streets, Cambridge, Mass., broke out about 10:15 P.M., and burned stubbornly for nearly three hours before being brought under control. Damage was estimated at $100,000, as the fire, which was caused by defective wiring, passed from the basement up through the wall between a grocery store and a tavern to the loft between the ceiling and the roof. In this three foot space, the fire travelled across the length of the block in a downwind direction.
Fire-fighting operations were difficult, requiring the frequent relocation of charged lines. Temperature of 12° F., heavy smoke and metal ceilings also were contributing factors. Occupancies damaged were: the Bowling Alley, a Tavern, First National grocery store, the Quality Shoe Store, and the Lewis Quality Shop—a dry goods concern. Several firemen were treated for smoke inhalation at the Cambridge City Hospital.
While this fire was still “in” an alarm was received from Box 541 for a residence fire at 48 Brewster Street in the well-to-do Brattle Street section of the city, located about a mile from the first fire. The first companies to arrive at the scene were Engine 2 of Belmont and Ladder 1 of Somerville, both of whom were covering in at the nearest fire stations. They found fire roaring out of the first floor windows at the back of the house, and promptly went to work.
Photo by Charles L. Hanson, Jr.
Repeated searches of heat and smokefilled upper floors of the two and onehalf story, wooden-frame house by the Fire Department Chaplain, the Deputy Chief, and many firemen at great personal risk and punishment in the performance of their duty, resulted in the removal of six victims of the fire. All apparently died of suffocation, some while attempting escape. In view of the great headway gained by this fire before being noticed in the dead of night, the victims must have been beyond the help of any fire department before the arrival of the first apparatus.
Photo by Charles L. Hanson, Jr.
As the owner of the house was in the blind and sash business, nearly every window of the newly redecorated residence was equipped with a storm sash over the regular window, more nearly sealing the house. As the fire progressed it moved toward the front of the house and up the stairs, spreading out into second and third floor rooms, finally breaking through the roof in spots.
Through fixed, predetermined mutual aid schedules, 6 engine companies and 2 trucks were available for response to the fire immediately, having covered in from Boston, Arlington, Belmont and Somerville, augmenting the Cambridge apparatus which stays in quarters during a general alarm. Other apparatus not needed at the store fire was ordered to the scene by radio and further assistance was sent from Boston and Somerville by special call. Without mutual aid, the first due companies would have had across-the-city runs to reach the scene.