The First “On The Job”: Boston’s Plant Shoe Fire

Boston Fire Department photographer Bill Noonan provides photos of the action and two veteran fire chiefs share their memories of the fire that launched our popular “On The Job” series.


The first "On The Job" article to appear in the first issue of Firehouse® Magazine was about the Plant Shoe fire in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston in 1976. The nearly 100-year-old complex contained 13 buildings. Units had been to a one-line fire inside one of the buildings...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The first "On The Job" article to appear in the first issue of Firehouse® Magazine was about the Plant Shoe fire in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston in 1976.

8_01_boston1.jpg
The nearly 100-year-old complex contained 13 buildings. Units had been to a one-line fire inside one of the buildings a week before the major blaze.

For this special 25th Anniversary issue, Firehouse® Editor-in-Chief Harvey Eisner asked Boston Fire Department photographer Bill Noonan for a large group of photos from the fire, many of which did not appear with the original article 25 years ago, and - with the help of Steve McDonald, the department's public information officer - he was able to track down two firefighters who fought the Plant Shoe fire. District Chief Ted Maiorana was a lieutenant assigned to Engine 14 and John Clougherty was the acting division chief the day of the fire. Here are their recollections.

District Chief Ted Maiorana: "The week before the big fire, we had a one-line fire inside the structure at about 5 P.M. It was unusual, but there were four or five large moving vans parked in the street. I had been to the complex a half-dozen times over the years. Artists and sculptors were now occupying the building. It was the biggest building in the area. My mother had told me that the buildings were so large that messengers used roller skates to go from office to office around the turn of the last century (1900).

"There was another run in the area. We were normally assigned third due. We were about a mile away and were assigned first due. There was a heavy smoke condition in the area. I was thinking it was a car fire or tires. As we got closer I noticed large brands going straight up in the smoke. Upon arrival it was evident there was a good working fire in the large complex. I was waiting for the chief to arrive.

8_01_boston3.jpg
Firefighters dove under rigs as the walls came down. The heat melted all the windows in a nearby public housing project.

"I directed the apparatus around several sides of the complex. We followed the smoke. The building was five or six stories high and it was difficult to see the column of smoke way overhead. Halfway down the block we found a hydrant. As we entered the building we noticed three well-dressed men with briefcases coming out of the building. We told the investigators later. We stretched a 21/2-inch line inside the stairtower down the block. We saw skylights from the basement that was under the large courtyard in the center of the building complex. We heard a roaring noise like a freight train running through a tunnel. We had a very serious fire. There was a fire door that we cautiously opened to see if we had a safe vantage point to operate. Most of the fire was in another section of the building, so we closed the fire door.

"As we went deeper into the building we discovered the fire was below us. We really needed quite a bit of help. The fire was way beyond control of one line. We were operating on the second floor from a good vantage point for about 15 to 20 minutes when everything went black. We crawled on our bellies. The smoke was down to the floor. I told the company we have to get out. We were near the stairs and we dove down one flight of stairs to the first floor. When we reached the base of the stairs there were three 21/2-inch lines operating into the fire door where we hadn't seen anything minutes before.

"As we exited the building we looked up and heard firefighters calling for help. They were trapped in the stair tower. There were portable ladders positioned down the street. We slid the ladders 50 or 60 feet along the exterior wall, raised the ladders to at least the fourth or fifth floors and removed the firefighters. Everybody was ordered out. There were 13 buildings in the complex. Heavy-stream appliances, ladder pipes and aerial towers from Boston and surrounding cities were requested. Eventually the walls came down, blocking our rig in the block. One of the walls came down and hit a street lamp. The lamp came down striking a firefighter who was removed to a hospital. Firefighters had to jump under the apparatus to escape the collapse. We were finally relieved at 9 A.M.

This content continues onto the next page...