THE BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
RESPONDED TO PROVIDE AID
This page provides readers with a chronological listing of non-fire related disasters and events which the Boston Fire Department has responded to throughout its history. Disasters such as water rescues, aircraft crashes, subway/trolley/train crashes and building collapses. The Boston Fire Department has provided aid at the scene of these disasters, while the event itself may have involved little or no actual fire suppression.
- March 14, 1887 – The Bussey Street Bridge Collapse
The Bussey Bridge over South Street in Roslindale collapsed during the morning hours of March 14, 1887, killing 38 persons and injuring as many as 40 others. A Boston & Providence Railroad train, consisting of 9 passenger cars, a baggage car, locomotive and tender, left Dedham at 0700 hours. Between the Roslindale and Forest Hills stations, the track passes over South Street. The bridge, built for two tracks but containing only one, collapsed after the locomotive, tender and three cars had passed. The engineer drove the locomotive down the track to Forest Hills station to give the alarm.
The Boston Fire Department was notified at 0724 hours when Box 528 was pulled, apparently by the train engineer. Chemical Engine Company 4 was the first company on the scene, later assisted by Engines 28 & 30, Ladder 10, and Chemicals 1 and 5. Rescue efforts were under the command of Assistant Engineer J. F. Hewins of District 10.
- March 4, 1897 – Explosion at Tremont & Boylston Streets
A gas-line explosion at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, Downtown, killed seven persons and injured 60 others. The leak was in a 6-inch gas line located beneath the street and above the Tremont Street Subway tracks. A spark from a trolley car apparently caused the explosion, occuring at one of the busiest intersections in Boston and caused thousands of panes of window glass to break in the vicinity.
There were three gas mains at the location, an old 6-inch and two new 8-inch mains. Controversy arose over whether a contractor for the Subway moved or damaged the mains. Six weeks earlier, a major gas leak had caused the service to the nearby Pelham Hotel to be shut off.
The Boston Fire Department responded to Box 53 to provide aid to the victims of the explosion.
- November 7, 1916 – Streetcar crash into the Fort Point Channel
An inbound electric street-car on Summer Street crashed through a barricade and plunged through and open draw-bridge into the Fort Point Channel, killing 52 riders.
The Boston Fire Department responded with land units and the Fireboat Engine 44 from its berth at the Northern Avenue Bridge. Divers from the fireboat attempted to rescue riders from the submerged street-car, but were largely unsuccessful.
Only 7 riders and the motorman and conductor survived.
- January 15, 1919 – Molasses Tank Collapse in the North End
At 12:40 PM on a cold winter day, a 50-foot high tank holding over 2 millions gallons of molasses, located near 521 Commercial St., North End, ruptured and collapsed. The resulting flood caused twenty deaths and significant damage to buildings and structures in the area. The elevated railway line above Commercial St. was destroyed. Several trains on the elevated tracks stopped before plunging to the street below. The firehouse of Fireboat Engine 31 was knocked off its foundation and the resulting collapse caused the death of one fireman. Workers and pedestrians in the area were killed immediately and many others were injured.
The Fire Dept. transmitted a 2nd Alarm on Box 1234 (Commercial & Foster Sts.) to send a large contingent of rescuers to the scene. The thick, sticky molasses made working at the scene very difficult.
The molasses tank was located on the waterfront to aid in transferring the product from ships to railway tank cars. The tank cars were then moved on surface railroad tracks to East Cambridge. The molasses was used in the production of both liquor and munitions. With World War I having just concluded and the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) set to take effect in January, 1920, the owners of the molasses tank were trying to maximize their resources. Thus the leak-prone tank was filled to near capacity, setting the stage for disaster.
- July 4, 1925 – Pickwick Club Collapse on Beech Street
Just after 3AM, the Pickwick Club, occupying the 2nd floor of the 5-story brick building at 6 Beach Street, Downtown, the former Hotel Dreyfus, collapsed. It is estimated that 200 persons were dancing in the club at the time of the collapse. Many persons were trapped in the rubble. The cause of the collapse, in the apparently unlicensed club, was widely thought to be due to the jumping/dancing of the patrons causing the floor to give way, followed by the entire building giving way.
The Boston Fire Department responded to Box 1471, which had been pulled by a Boston Police patrolman. A second alarm was transmitted to bring more firemen to the scene to aid in rescue and recovery efforts.
In the aftermath of the collapse, 43 persons lost their lives, despite the efforts of the Fire and Police Departments, Boston Elevated Railway workers and construction company crews. At the time, it became the largest loss-of-life disaster in Boston’s history.
- July 22, 1928 – Beech Street Elevated Railway Crash
Two men were killed and 21 others injured when a Boston Elevated Railway train left the overhead tracks at Beach Street and Harrison Avenue. The train crashed into the abandoned Beach Street Station as it rounded a curve from Harrison Avenue onto Beach Street. Each car of the 4-car train left the tracks, although none crashed down to the street below.
The Boston Fire Department responded to the scene to lend aid, evacuate the victims from the train and then lower them to the street below. Ladder Company 17 was first on the scene and gained access to the railway trestle via ground ladders.
Officials who responded to the scene agreed that had the train not struck the abandoned station, all the cars of the train would certainly have crashed to the street below, resulting in more deaths and injuries.
The scene is about 50 yards away from the location of the Pickwick Club collapse in 1925.
- January 19, 1931 – Train crash in Readville
In a blinding snowstorm, a Washington, DC-bound train, the ‘Colonial Express’, collided with a Boston-bound local passenger train near the Milton Street Bridge, Readville. The collision occurred at the crossover tracks located near Signal Tower 181. The Boston-bound train, which originated in Blackstone, Mass., was crossing over from the westerly-side of the tracks, across the mainline tracks, to the northbound local track. Both trains were running several minutes late, due to the snowstorm.
Over sixty passengers on both trains were injured, with no fatalities. Most of the injured were on the Boston-bound train.
The Boston Fire Department responded to the scene to assist in the removal of the injured and maintain a watch on the damaged boilers from both trains.
- October 13, 1932 – Boston & Albany Railroad crash in Back Bay
A collision occurred between two trains of the Boston & Albany Railroad near Columbus Avenue and Berkeley Street, Back Bay. A freight train pulling several freight cars easterly toward South Station collided with a empty passenger train being pushed to railyards near Exeter Street, Back Bay.
The collision severely injured the engineer, fireman and brakeman on the freight train, as well as the brakeman on the passenger train. The left leg of Freight Engineer Wallace Smith was amputed below the knee in order to free him from the wreckage. District Chief Samuel G. Pope, District 7, kept Engineer Smith’s head outside the window of the locomotive when a doctor from Boston City Hospital performed the amputation.
The Boston Fire Department responded to the scene to assist in the removal of the injured and maintain a watch on the damaged boiler on the freight train.
- February 28, 1939 – Streetcar crash near Franklin Park
A Boston Elevated Railway trolley car crashed near the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and Seaver Street, Roxbury, resulting in the death of six passengers and injuring twenty-six others. The trolley was operating on the route from Egleston Square, Roxbury, to Mattapan Square, Dorchester.
The trolley was eastbound on Seaver Street when it began to accelerate down the hill on the approach to Blue Hill Avenue. As the trolley, estimated to be traveling 35mph, rounded the curve onto Blue Hill Avenue it derailed and crashed into several trees.
The crash was the worst disaster to occur to the Boston Elevated Railway since the Summer Street Bridge streetcar crash of November 7, 1916, which claimed 52 lives.
The Boston Fire Department responded to the scene to assist in the removal of the injured and deceased passengers.