Archives Guide ~ Fire Department (0500)

Historical note

The origins of the Boston Fire Department date back to 1678 with the establishment of the first engine company and the receipt of the first hand fire engine in North America. The Board of Fire Wards was established on February 1, 1711. Prominent men were chosen as Fire Wards and were responsible for the operation and maintenance of the equipment assigned to their ward. Chapter 52 of the Acts of 1825, "An Act Establishing a Fire Department in the City of Boston and an Ordinance for the preventing and extinguishing of fires and establishing a fire department" went into full operation in April of 1826. With this legislation, the Board of Fire Wards was dissolved. All records and property belonging to the city were transferred to the Chief Engineer in May of 1826.

By the reorganization in 1837, the Fire Department changed from a partially volunteer to a paid fire department. On June 16, 1851, the City Council passed an order to erect a system of telegraphic fire alarms and the first regular alarm on the new system was received on April 29, 1852. On January 1, 1859, two new steam engines were put in service replacing two hand engines. On October 24, 1873, the City Council passed an ordinance creating a Board of Fire Commissioners to oversee the department. Section 9 of Chapter 449 of the Acts of 1895, an act to amend the City Charter, abolished the Board of Fire Commissioners and placed the Department under the charge of one Fire Commissioner. The Chief Engineer serves as the Executive Officer of the Commissioner and directs the work of the members of the Department.



0500.001 General orders 1887-1893, 1947-1962, 1966, 1968-1970 2 record cartons

Scope and Contents note
General Orders sent out to all station houses by the Fire Commissioner concerning administrative and personnel issues.



0500.002 Special orders 1946-1962, 1968 3 record cartons

Scope and Contents note
Special Orders sent out to all station houses by the Fire Commissioner.



0500.003 House journals 1913-2006 with gaps 66 record cartons

Scope and Contents note
Station House journals of Engine 28/Ladder 10, 1942-2002 with gaps; Engine 32/Ladder 9, 1913-2006 with gaps; Engine 41/Ladder 14, 1941-1968 with gaps; and Engine 50, 1961-2000 with gaps. House journals record calls received and response, members present and other functions of house.



0500.004 Photographs circa 1900-1961 10 photographs

Scope and Contents note
Small collection of 10 photographs donated to City Archives. Includes image of horse-drawn fire apparatus, undated; Fire Engine on Cambridge Street, undated; Engine 47 Fire Boat, 1948; Fire Department Banner on Washington Street, 1956; Fire on Brattle Street, 1959; 4 photographs of damage to North Station MTA, 1959; and Gil Jones and Fire Prevention Detail, 1961.



0500.005 Annual reports and publications 1835-2004 15 volumes

Scope and Contents note
Includes copies of annual reports for 1879, 1885-1890, 1945 and 1971; programs for Fire Department annual ball for 1973 and 2004; Constitution of the Charitable Association of the Boston Fire Department, 1835; Report of the Joint Special Committee appointed to inquire into the causes of recent fires in Boston, 1893; Boston Fire Prevention Code (Chapter 3 of the Ordinances of 1959), 1959; and Rules and Regulations of the Fire Department, 1965. Annual reports can also be found in the City Documents series.



0500.006 Scrapbook 1841-1847 1 volume

Scope and Contents note
Scrapbook and log of fires in Boston and other towns, 1841-1847.



0500.007 Fire records 1880-1967 54 oversized volumes

Scope and Contents note
Logs of fires from 1880-1967. Includes location, owners, cause, amount of damages, companies responding, remarks etc.

Finding aid



0500.008 Lists of call men 1837-1858 2 volumes

Scope and Contents note
Registers recording names of firemen, engine company, date admitted and discharged. Beginning in 1837, compensation was given to firemen who served for six consecutive months with the same engine company.



0500.009 Payrolls 1902-1972 with gaps 20 volumes

Scope and Contents note
Payroll lists for the Fire Department from 1902-1907, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1956-1969 and 1972.



0500.010 Receiving books 1961-1968 with gaps 4 volumes

Scope and Contents note
Receiving books of goods and services purchased for the Maintenance Division from 1961 and for Headquarters from 1962-1963 and 1968.



0500.011 Fire Alarm cards circa 1960-1981 1 large metal case (approximately 2 cubic feet)

Scope and Contents note
Set of Fire Alarm cards in use from 1960-1981. The Fire Department began using a card system for the fire alarm boxes in 1910. New sets were issued in 1910, 1921, 1929, 1960 and 1981. Includes a card for each fire alarm box in City with information on the order of response and coverage of fire companies to alarms on the fire box. These sets were kept in each fire house in the City.


0500.012 Mayor's approvals 1901-1994 with gaps 18 record cartons

Scope and Contents note
Requests for approval of myriad personnel and financial matters submitted by the Fire Commissioner to the Mayor. 

Finding aid


0500.013 Fire Commissioner records 1873-1954 with gaps 15 record cartons

Scope and Contents note
Proceedings of the mostly daily meetings of the Board of Fire Commissioners, as well as the proceedings of what later became a single Fire Commissioner. The Board of Fire Commissioners was abolished and replaced by a single Fire Commissioner on July 1, 1895. The minutes record the actions of the Board of Fire Commissioners and the single Fire Commissioner on issues including personnel, supplies, equipment, etc.

Finding aid