1906 AUTOMOBILE CHEMICAL ENGINE
Loaned to the Boston Fire Department by the
American LaFrance Fire Engine Company
On September 24, 1906 the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company loaned an automobile chemical unit to the Boston Fire Department for trial. This unit was first placed in the quarters of Engine Co. 26/35 on Mason Street, Downtown, and then to the quarters of Engine Co. 22 and Ladder Co. 13 on Warren Avenue, in the South End, where it remained the longest. It was equipped with two (2) 35-gallon chemical tanks, 250 feet of hose and other necessary tools. The unit was built on a Packard chassis and was equipped with a gasoline 30 horse-power engine, which could speed up to 30 miles per hour.
The first response was that same night to an alarm in South Boston at 1835 hours to Box 129, West Sixth and B Streets, for a fire at 276 Dorchester Avenue in South Boston. The apparatus responded over the Broadway Bridge and made very good time. District Fire Chief Ryder was going to use the new wagon to respond to fires from his quarters on Warren Avenue. The chauffeur was Frank Shea, who had been Chief of Department Mullen’s driver, and was familiar with the motor apparatus. Other firemen assigned were John F. Watson, William H. Boudreau and William A. J. Drinan. This unit used the designation of Chemical 13 while operating from Ladder Co. 13’s quarters.
On October 6, 1906 a letter was sent to the American LaFrance Company commenting on the wheels on the auto chemical apparatus and that they should be replaced. The letter stated, “the spokes were splitting and were becoming unsafe. The tires have no give to them and consequently racking on the apparatus is very severe and it would be unwise to continue the machine in service for any length of time, unless other tires are provided.”
On October 9, 1906 another letter was sent to the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company stating that the Repair Shop people had conferred with the Packard representatives and they were trying to come up with a different type of tire. They would keep the American LaFrance representatives advised. The Fire Commissioner also stated he had taken the wagon off of long distance responses but would continue to respond to all alarms in District 7 only.
On November 17, 1906 at 1829 hours, while the American LaFrance automobile chemical unit was responding to a fire, it was in an accident. Part of one of the rear wheels collapsed and in the process the car ran into an elevated railroad upright. District Chief Ryder was thrown over the bell and landed on the hood, fortunately raising his hand in a manner preventing him from being thrown against the post. The chauffeur, Mr. Shea, was thrown but the steering wheel prevented him from being thrown out. The two men riding the rear step, John Finnan and John Watson were thrown against the rail and slightly injured.
The accident happened while they were responding down Castle Street, off Tremont Street in the South End, to Box 64, for a fire at 12 Corning Street. The fire was very minor and Chief Ryder continued on foot to the fire. The location of Box 64 was at Washington and Motte Streets.
Because the unit was so heavy, it took several hours to remove it to the Repair Shop. The wrecking wagon was called and front axle and wheels had to be removed and it was jacked up and towed to the shop for examination. This was a first, the first motorized piece of apparatus being involved in an accident.
The loaned automobile Chemical unit returned to service in January, 1907, after being repaired from the accident, and in the words of Commissioner Wells, “in better shape than when it was delivered.” It was moved from Engine Co. 22’s quarters to the quarters of Ladder Co. 12 and Chemical Co. 12 at 1046 Tremont Street, Roxbury. Chemical Co.12’s one-horse chemical unit was taken out of service; and the auto chemical took over in its place. The first response from the new quarters was on January 18, 1907 to Box 276, Washington and Dudley Streets, at 0500 hours for a fire at 98 Roxbury Street.
On April 8, 1907 the auto chemical engine was returned to the American La France Fire Engine Company. In his letter, Fire Commissioner Wells stated that he “thought that the apparatus performed very well and he was sorry, but he did not have the money to purchase it. The running card exceeded the one for a horse drawn unit and was usually the company with the first water at the fire scene.” The last assignment was at Chemical Co. 12 in Roxbury.
The total number of runs that this unit responded to was: While running as Chemical Co. 13 with Engine Co. 22 and Ladder Co. 13 it responded to 48 alarms of fire, including the last run which was the accident.
The total number of runs this unit made while it was assigned to Chemical Co. 12 in Roxbury was 41 runs and the last response was to an alarm from Box 221 on February 6, 1907.
It did return to Engine Co. 22 where it made 3 more runs and the last run from here was on February 24, 1907. It is unfortunate that there was no money to purchase this unit as the department seemed to like it and the hand writing was on the walls, motor apparatus was the future of fire fighting apparatus. The chemical truck made a total of 92 responses while in the city, I have no idea how many times they went out to drive with it.
– Bill Noonan 2008