Fire Department Journal

Merciless Conditions

By Gerard Lucas
District Fire Chief

 

The Boston Fire Department has fought many memorable fires under merciless conditions during its long history but few tours of duty in modern history measure up to the night tour of January 22-January 23, 1976. Many members consider this night the benchmark for firefighting under severe weather conditions. When group 1 reported for duty the temperature hovered around 0 with a steady wind of 35 mph. Wind chill factors were an appalling minus 55.

At 20:11 Hrs Box 7445 was struck for 768 East Sixth Street, South Boston. Engine 2 reported smoke showing from an attached multiple dwelling. It soon became evident that the fire had entered the common cockloft and had involved 768 through 776 East Sixth Street. Five alarms were sounded bringing twenty-seven fire companies and one hundred and fifty firefighters to City Point. Numerous hydrants were frozen forcing long hose lays. Deputy Chief Leo Stapleton, Division I, considered calling the Marine Unit for supply water. Hose streams whipped into the faces of firefighters like razor blades and ground ladders were thrown on sheets of ice. Who would possibly do a job like this?

The temperature had dropped below O by 00:59 Hrs when Box 1423 was stuck for 74 Franklin Street, downtown. Arriving companies reported smoke showing from a five story brick commercial building housing offices on the upper floors and Brigham's Restaurant on the ground floor. The wind howled as companies, some just returned from the earlier five alarm fire sought the seat of the fire. Deputy Chief Stapleton ordered a second alarm when the fire was discovered in the walls.

Mother nature and the misfortune of fire was not yet finished during this memorable tour. At 03:37 Hrs Box 7317 was struck for a three story wood frame building at 533 East Third Street, South Boston. District Chief John White, District 6, still soaking wet and freezing from Box 7445, ordered a second alarm when it was evident that the fire had extended to 535 East Third Street. Lines were run and ladders thrown many times by fire companies battling their third multiple of the night. Unfortunately, one civilian fatality occurred at this fire.

The Boston Fire Department has battled many dramatic fires but few tours of duty match this horrendous night tour twenty-one years ago. Those who worked these fires will never forgot them and those lucky enough to be off duty will be forever grateful. The three multiple alarm fires fought under these conditions exemplify the fortitude for which this Department is noted.

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