Running Cards show the which fire companies will respond to a particular firebox. Every address in the city is built into a database which in cross-referenced to the nearest firebox in the area. With the assignments to each firebox already pre-determined, the response to any address can be easily determined.
Running Cards have existed since the development of the Fire Alarm System. Every fire company cannot respond to every fire box. By predetermining a response pattern, the most efficient use of resources is accomplished in a timely fashion. By using street patterns, one-way streets, firehouse locations, bridges, highways, railroad tracks, and other physical barriers, the fire companies with the quickest possible response are pre-selected. For multiple alarms above the first alarm, the process includes determining a response to the fire location, and also to cover firehouses near the scene of the fire.
NOTE: The Fire Alarm Office (FAO) and all firehouses currently use a Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which is based on the Running Cards but is not dependent on them exclusively. Paper copies of the Running Cards are kept up to date at the FAO and all firehouses in the event the CAD system fails.
Every firehouse maintains a card file containing all the Running Cards. When an alarm is received in the firehouse, the firefighter on watch pulls the card for that Box and determines if the fire company or any other fire company in the firehouse is required to respond. Sometimes just the engine company or the ladder company may respond, while the other company does not, based on the Running Card.
Refer to the example Running Card below. This a 1929/1930 edition of the Running Card for Box 1526 at Tremont Street, opposite Waltham Street, in the South End. This Running Card came from a set which was kept in a firehouse, which accounts for the worn and somewhat soiled patina. Note the changes which were made to this Card over the years. The changes are made for many different reasons. For example, a fire company may have been taken out of service, or a street pattern change may have been made by the city.
Assuming a Second Alarm, with nine engine companies and four ladder companies at the scene or responding, many firehouses are thus uncovered in the South End, Back Bay and Downtown areas. Thus firehouse ‘Covering’ must take place, and the right side of the second row identifies the covering response. Six engine companies move to cover, while two ladder companies move as well.
It was noted earlier that Engine 22 was ‘First Due’ to the fire, as it was the nearest firehouse to the fire location. In the Engine Covering column, second row, note the 12-22 item. This means the Engine 12, from 407 Dudley St., Roxbury, covers Engine 22, by driving to Engine 22’s firehouse, parking inside, and assuming any calls that Engine 22 would normally respond to.
The 5 Alarm Running Card system stayed in effect until 1980. All the cities and towns in the Massachusetts Fire District 13 (Metrofire) except Boston adopted the 10 Alarm Running Card system. Boston adopted a 9 Alarm Running Card system at that time. The 10(9) Alarm Running Card system helped to develop a consistency to alarm levels within big cities and small towns, and to help coordinate mutual aid response within the Metrofire area. The first official 9th Alarm fire in Boston took place on June 17, 1980, at 70 Western Av., Allston, in a large railroad shed, involving railway boxcars and tractor trailer trucks.
To view the different editions of the Boston Running Cards see the list below. Use this Link for the Metrofire Running Cards: Metrofire (Dist. 13) (off-site)
Box 1362 (v. 1929) (c. 1950)