BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT Commissioner Martin E. Pierce Jr. Personnel: 1,575 career firefighters Apparatus: 33 engine companies, 21 ladder companies, two heavy rescues, one tower company, two fireboats, three brushfire units, one safety operational unit Population: 574,283 Area: 48.4 square...
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BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
Commissioner Martin E. Pierce Jr.
Personnel: 1,575 career firefighters
Apparatus: 33 engine companies, 21 ladder companies, two heavy rescues, one tower company, two fireboats, three brushfire units, one safety operational unit
Area: 48.4 square miles
Photo by Jon Hill, staff/Boston Herald
A Boston police officer at the incident moments after the explosion occurred. Heavy fire is taking possession of the structure before any water is applied.
The City of Boston is very diverse in its culture, its ethnic neighborhoods and its many types of structural architecture. Built within many of Boston's neighborhoods is a type of apartment building known as a "3-decker." This type of building is of wood-frame construction, three stories, or about 40 feet, in height, generally 30 by 60 feet front to rear, and normally contains three or more apartments. A duplex 3-decker is correspondingly larger in total area. Thousands of these buildings were constructed in the early 1900s.
These dwellings were built very well and are considered strong structures not prone to sudden collapse. Many of the cooking stoves in the apartments of these buildings are fueled by natural gas under pressure. This gas is distributed by a network of thousands of miles of decades-old cast-iron piping buried under the old streets of Boston.
On occasion, one of these pipes can leak natural gas. How much gas is leaking, and where it is leaking, will determine the outcome. Such a cause-and-effect scenario occurred on Aug. 26, 1998, with devastating results.
Engine Company 52 and Ladder Company 29 are stationed on Blue Hill Avenue in the Dorchester/Franklin Field section of Boston. The fire alarm box on the front wall of the station is box 36. This station is located in a neighborhood where there are hundreds of wood 3-deckers that are occupied.
Explosion Near Quarters
It was very warm and sunny on that Wednesday morning just after 11 o'clock. Engine Company 52, under the command of Lieutenant Claus Guttenberg, had been dispatched to investigate the report of a baby in a dumpster in Franklin Field near a public school building. This call proved to be false.
As Guttenberg and his crew were investigating the dumpster, they heard a loud explosion coming from the direction of their station. They walked back to the engine and heard Boston fire alarm dispatch a box alarm assignment for an explosion on Floyd Street. The explosion was actually at 8 Ashton St., near Floyd Street, only a few blocks from their quarters.
Ladder Company 29, commanded by Lieutenant Richard Powers, had been in quarters when members heard what sounded like "sonic booms" coming from the direction of Floyd and Calendar streets. A few minutes later, they were dispatched to a level zero hazmat incident away from the direction of the sonic boom sound. As Ladder 29 pulled out onto the apron of the station, Powers saw a column of smoke coming from the direction of Floyd Street. At that time, box 36 was transmitted for the explosion and Ladder 29 was reassigned to that box.
Photo by Jon Hill, staff/Boston Herald
Construction workers who were nearby found a ladder and helped rescue occupants still in the building after the explosion occurred.
Upon the arrival of Ladder 29, Powers and his crew observed a scene of destruction, heavy fire and smoke showing from the fire building, injured people and a large, chaotic crowd yelling that a child was trapped in the third-floor apartment. Boston Emergency Medical Service crews and Boston police were on the scene treating the injured residents. Powers quickly sized up the situation and ordered a "working fire" via radio to the Boston fire alarm office. An additional engine company, ladder company, the Division 2 on-duty deputy fire chief, the safety operational district fire chief and other support units were dispatched to the scene. Powers ordered Firefighter Edward Munroe to raise Ladder 29's 110-foot aerial ladder to the third-floor front window and directed Firefighter Michael McLean to ascend the ladder and perform a rapid primary search for the child that was reportedly trapped. McLean, the father of three children, later reported, "The walls and ceilings were partially collapsed. It was a very dangerous situation, and I was really scared."