Fire Department Journal

Boston's Engine-Squads

By William Noonan
Fire Fighter


During 1954 two of the three Boston heavy rescue companies had been disbanded. Rescue Companies 1 and 2 were disbanded; Rescue Co 3, located in Bowdoin Square, became the Rescue Company. engine_squad_11Faced with the desire to provide special tools and equipment at strategic locations throughout the city and not having the resources to create additional special units, the Boston Fire Department opted for an innovative solution.

Five 1947 and 1948 Mack hose wagons were taken out of service to be converted into apparatus for engine-squad companies. The purpose of these new units was to make special equipment available in all parts of the city., These new units were converted under the direction of the late Chief of Department, Leo C. Driscoll, who was then an Assistant Chief.

The five Mack hose wagons had the bodies removed and were sent to the Robinson Boiler Works in Cambridge, Massachusetts who would build the new bodies. The wagons came from Engine Companies 3, 13, 33, 41 and 48. These new units would cost $10,000 each.

These new units went into service as engine-squads as follows:

  • Engine-Squad 53 on January 12, 1956

  • Engine-Squad 18 on February 4, 1956

  • Engine-Squad 14 on February 24, 1956

  • Engine-Squad 34 on March 28, 1956

  • Engine-Squad 11 on April 27, 1956

On April 4,1956, Engine-Squad 53 and Engine Co. 45 exchanged locations. Engine-Squad 53 was located in the firehouse on Walk Hill Street. On April 6, 1956 Engine-Squad 34 and Engine Co. 29 exchanged locations, with Engine Co. 29 becoming Engine-Squad 29.

The apparatus carried a full compliment of engine company equipment, since the companies still responded to regular box assignments in addition to their special duties. Each rig had a 750 G.P.M. class "A" Waterous two stage pump and a 400 gallon booster tank. engine_squad_18There were two pre-connected 1 inch lines, each equipped with an adjustable fog nozzle. The hose bed carried 1000 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose, 800 feet of 3 inch hose, and 800 feet of 1 1/2 inch hose.

The overhead ladder rack carried a thirty five foot aluminum extension ladder. While these companies did not normally perform ladder work, the ladders were provided for possible emergency use prior to the arrival of a ladder company. The ladder rack was hinged so that it could be dropped down to speed the removal of the ladder.

Emergency lighting equipment included a 3500 watt Onan generator. The generator was arranged so it could be used either on the vehicle or removed and used as a portable unit. Mounted over the pump was a three way gated deck gun which was semi-portable. Department practice at the time was to provide short lengths of three inch hose, attached to the gun which would reach the pump discharge outlets for rapid use.

In designing the apparatus, special attention was given to road stability, including proper weight distribution. Heavy duty springs were provided along with heavy duty snow tires.

Some special equipment that was carried on these units consisted of stretcher and carrying case, blankets, first aid kit, flexicots, tankit, 10 ton 'jacks,

Halligan tools, bars, hammers, sledges, saws, wood wedges, refrigerator tools, life net, resuscitators and a portable acetylene cutting outfit. Also included was an elevator rescue kit, electric chain saw, electric rotary floor saw with special steel cutting disk and other various rescue equipment. Extra "Squads" could be special called to alarms and did at times.

Engine-Squad 14 was involved in a serious accident with the Mack hose wagon of Engine Co. 12 on August 24, 1963, at Regent and St. James Streets. Both companies were responding to the same alarm. Rumor had it that Engine-Squad 14 lost it's brakes. Both rigs were damaged beyond repair. engine_squad_53In December 1964, Engine-Squad 14 received a new 1964 Ward-LaFrance squad rig. It had a 1,250 G.P.M. pump, 400 gallon booster tank and the extra compartments to carry the rescue equipment. This was the only new rig ever purchased for use by an Engine-Squad.

All these units remained in service as Engine-Squads until July 1969, when these companies returned to straight engine companies. The rescue equipment was transferred to Ladder Companies 2, 11, 16, 26 and 27. In July of 1967, Engine Co. 13 became "Rescue-Pumper" (RPU) with the assignment of a CD rescue van along with the standard pumper. They would pick up some of the response of the Engine-Squads.

The City of Boston now has two heavy duty rescue companies. And ladder companies and engine companies carry EMS equipment and resuscitators.

In addition to being an engine company, these units filled a gap, providing specialized tools and services throughout the city. The New York City Fire Department just added five more "engine-squads" to back up the Haz-Mat Unit. Maybe the Engine-Squads will make a return?

These squad rigs remained in the reserve fleet until the middle 1970's and most engine companies had at least one of these as a spare. They sure were "fun" to drive and were "top heavy" without the heavy rescue equipment. Anyone who drove one will know what I mean. I drove a couple of them when we had them as spares.


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