Boston Fire Department

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Boston Fire Department (BFD)
Boston Fire Department patch.jpg
"First in the Nation"
Operational Area
Country  United States
State  Massachusetts
City Boston
Agency Overview[1]
Established 1678 (1678)
Annual calls 74,191 (2013)
Employees 1,611 (2014)
  • 1,467 uniformed
  • 68 fire alarm
  • 76 civilian
Annual budget $187,849,951 (2014)
Staffing Career
Commissioner Joseph E. Finn
EMS level EMT-Basic
IAFF 718
Facilities & Equipment[1][2]
Divisions 2
Battalions 9
Stations 35
Engines 33
Trucks 18
Platforms 4
Rescues 2
Wildland 2
Official website
IAFF website

The Boston Fire Department (BFD) provides fire protection and EMT Level emergency medical services to the city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. In addition to fire protection, the Boston Fire Department responds to a variety of emergencies such as, but not limited to, motor vehicle accidents, hazardous material spills, electrical hazards, floods, and construction accidents.

The Boston Fire Department is the largest municipal fire department in New England and serves approximately 636,000 people living in a 47-square-mile (120 km2) area of the city proper and provides additional mutual aid to 32 surrounding communities of the Greater Boston Metro Area, including Logan International Airport.

The Headquarters of the Boston Fire Department is located at 115 Southampton Street in the Roxbury section of the city. The Boston Fire Academy is located on Moon Island in Boston Harbor.

The Boston Fire Department responded to 74,191 emergency calls in 2013.[3]



The Boston Fire Department traces its roots back to 1631, a year after the city was founded, when the first fire ordinance was adopted. In what then was the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the Kingdom of England, the city banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys. However, it wasn't until 1653 that the first hand engine was appropriated to provide pressure for water lines.[4][5]


In 1678, the city founded a paid fire department, and hired Thomas Atkins to be the first fire chief.[4] On February 1, 1711, the town appointed a group of Fire Wards, each responsible for the operation and maintenance of equipment assigned to a region of the city.[6] The grandfather and great grandfather of Herman Melville, Thomas Melvill, served as a town fire ward from 1779 to 1825, and Allen Melvill, served as an early firefighter 1733 to 1761.[7][8]

It was not until 1799 that the first leather fire hose was used, after being imported from England.[4]


The department underwent its first reorganization in 1837 when the hand engine department reorganized, reducing the number of active engines to fourteen.[6] By December 31, 1858, the department had 14 hand engines, 3 hook and ladder carriages, and 6 hydrant (hose) carriages.[6] On November 1, 1859, Engine Co. 8 began service as the first steam engine in the department. The reorganization of 1859-60 replaced the department's 14 hand engines with 11 new steam engines, forming the departmental hierarchy still used today.[6]

The department was the first in the world to utilize the telegraph to alert fire fighters of an emergency, installing the system in 1851.[4] The first fire alarm was transmitted via the Fire Alarm Telegraph system on April 29, 1852.[6]

The famous Boston fire of 1872 led to the appointment of a board of fire commissioners. The Boston Fire Department also provided assistance in the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908 and the Great Salem Fire of 1914.[6]

The department purchased its first steam fireboat in 1873, and installed fire poles in the stations in 1881.[4]


On July 29, 1910, the department purchased its first motorized apparatus. From 1914 until 1923, horse drawn engines as well as steam and motorized engine companies were in use in Boston. Ladder 24 was the last company to replace its horses in 1923 when it became motorized.[6] In 1925, the last fire horses were retired.[4] It wasn't until 1926 that the last steam engine was converted to a motorized engine.[6] The department first started using radio communication in 1925, installing radios in the fireboats, chiefs' cars, and rescue companies.[4]

By 1960, the department operated 48 engines, 29 ladders, 1 rescue, and 2 fireboats.[6] By the end of the decade, the standard 85-foot (26 m) ladder trucks were replaced by 100-foot (30 m) aerial ladders with tillers.[6]

In the 1970s, the department experimented with lime-green colored apparatus, but reverted to the traditional red in 1984, when the Department made the switch to E-One fire apparatus.[6]

In the early 1980s, an arson ring caused over 600 fires, many reaching multiple-alarm status. The group was ultimately caught and convicted.[6]

Also in the early '80s, the Department experienced a dramatic number of cutbacks due to budget cuts. The number of Engine Companies dropped from 43 to 33, the Fire Brigade was disbanded (only to be reopened in the mid-80's), the number of Ladder Companies went from 28 to 21, and one of the two Tower Companies was disbanded and reduced to a regular Ladder Company (bringing the total to 22 Ladder Companies). Rescue 2 was disbanded, but reorganized in 1986.


The Boston Fire Department consists of 7 Divisions:[9][10]

  • Fire Suppression — The most visible members of the department, this division provides the fire protection and rescue services for the city of Boston. The services provided include fire fighting, medical evaluation, vehicle extrication, hazardous material response, confined space rescue, structural collapse rescue, trench collapse rescue, and more. The department operates engine companies, ladder companies, and rescue companies, each providing distinctly separate services at a fire or other emergency.
  • Fire Prevention — This division is responsible for maintaining records, granting permits, conducting public education, and inspecting buildings.
  • Training, Maintenance and Research — This division supervises the development of the fire fighters from probation to retirement. Also, the division conducts research to improve techniques and equipment, evaluating new tools before their implementation. The Emergency Medical Services and the Safety Operations Unit are also within this division.
  • Special Projects — This division was created in January 1992 to monitor the safety of the Boston Harbor Project and the Central Artery/Tunnel Project. The activities of the division include plans review, permit issuance, and inspections. With the completion of the Boston Harbor Project, the division now only monitors the Central Artery/Tunnel Project.
  • Office of Strategic Planning — This division was established in 1996 to replace the Special Services Division, providing the city with an Incident Command System, Office of Emergency Management, and Local Emergency Planning Committee.
  • Information and Technology — This division maintains and improves technological appliances of the department, such as automated external defibrillators (AED), computers, and communications devices. From 2003−06, the division installed mobile data terminals (MDT) in all engine and ladder companies as well as command vehicles.
  • Personnel — This division includes the Administration Section, Selection Unit, Medical Office, Personnel Assignments of Officer’s Section, and the Employees Assistant Program. The division keeps the records of each fire fighter, communicates with other departments, unions, and agencies, and hears grievances, disciplinary hearings, and appeals.

Rank structure[edit]

  • Fire Commissioner
  • Deputy Fire Commissioner
  • Chief of Department
  • Deputy Chief
  • Deputy Division Chief
  • District Chief
  • Captain
  • Lieutenant
  • Senior Firefighter
  • Firefighter
  • Probationary Firefighter


Engine Co. 50, quartered in Charlestown, utilizing a spare apparatus
Ladder Co. 15, quartered in the Back Bay
Quarters of Engine 10, Tower Ladder 3, Rescue 1, and C6(1st Division Chief) in Downtown.
Quarters of Engine 14, Ladder 4, and H1(Safety District Chief) in Roxbury.

Fire Station Locations[edit]

The BFD currently operations 2 Divisions and 9 Districts in the city. Division 1 commands a total of 5 Districts and Division 2 commands a total of 4 Districts. Division 1 commands the following Districts: District 1, District 3, District 4, District 6, and District 11. Division 2 commands the following Districts: District 7, District 8, District 9, and District 12.

Each Division is commanded by a Deputy Chief and each District is commanded by a District Chief, similar to a Battalion chief, who supervises 3-5 Fire Stations and their respective fire companies. There is also a Safety District Chief, who serves as the Incident Safety Officer(I.S.O.) at fires and large-scale incidents, as well as a Special Operations District Chief, who supervises the specialized companies and units at large-scale fire and rescue incidents. Each District Chief is also assigned a Chief's Aide.

Fire Headquarters is located at 115 Southampton St. in Roxbury and opened on August 6, 1951. Fire Headquarters also houses the Maintenance Facility/Motor Pool and the repair shop for the Fire Alarm Office.[11]

Other Facilities[edit]

Boston's Fire Museum, located on Congress Street in South Boston

The Boston Fire Department's Training Academy is located on Moon Island in Boston Harbor and opened on November 3, 1960.[12]

The Marine Unit of the BFD is located at Burrough's Wharf in the North End and houses the 3 Fireboats or Marine Units. The Marine Unit responds to approximately 500−600 emergency calls annually.[13]

The Boston Fire Department also operates a High-Pressure Pumping Station at 175 Kneeland St. in Downtown and contains 17 miles of underground piping throughout the Downtown area. The system can provide pressurized water to the many pressurized fire hydrants in the Downtown area.[14]


The Boston Fire Department's Communications Center, or Fire Alarm Office(F.A.O.), is the main dispatching center for receiving and transmitting alarms. Alarms in Boston are received either by phone, radio, or from one of the many fire alarm boxes located throughout the city.[15]

The Fire Alarm Office(F.A.O.) is located at 59 Fenway in the Back Bay and opened on December 27, 1925. From 1895 to 1925, the Fire Alarm Office was located at 60 Bristol St. in the South End.[16]

Response Guidelines[edit]

Structure Fire Response[edit]

Below is a listing of the response protocol for reports of structural fires.

Here is a typical fire response as transmitted over the radio by a member of the Fire Alarm Office receiving the emergency call:

"Tones...In District 4, striking Box 1-5-8-3, Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue, for ___ Beacon Street...Box 1-5-8-3, Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue, struck for # ___ Beacon Street, Apartment __. Companies responding to and working at Box 1-5-8-3, Channel # 2 is the fireground. Calling Car 4..."

  • As of early 2014, Boston Fire Department FAO has terminated the use of boxes for incident with the exception of possible structure fires.

BFD now uses a computer system for station alerting instead of the old way when station officers would have to monitor Boston Fire Department radio channel 5.

  • The following response guidelines exclude all mutual aid companies which vary on location and type of incident.
Alarm Type Alarm Level Assigned Units[17]
Central Station Alarm Still Alarm Assignment 1 Engine, 1 Ladder
Brush/Large Outside Fire Still Alarm Assignment 2 Engines, 1 District Chief, 1 Brush Fire Unit
Box Alarm 1st Alarm Assignment 4 Engines (1 for R.I.T.), 2 Ladders, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief
Box Alarm (Downtown) 1st Alarm Assignment 4 Engines (1 for R.I.T.), 2 Ladders, 1 Tower Ladder, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief, 1 Division Chief
Box Alarm (High-Rise Fire Response) 1st Alarm Assignment 4 Engines (1 for R.I.T.), 2 Ladders, 1 Rescue (R1 or R2), 3 District Chiefs (1 for Operations, 1 for Evacuation, 1 for Accountability), 1 Division Chief, Safety District Chief, Air Supply Unit, Field/Tac. Comm. Unit
Box Alarm (MBTA Station/Tunnel Fire Response) 1st Alarm Assignment 4 Engines (1 for R.I.T.), 2 Ladders, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief, 1 Division Chief, Safety District Chief
Box Alarm (Waterfront/Ship Fire Response) 1st Alarm Assignment 4 Engines (1 for R.I.T.), 2 Ladders, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief, Marine Unit (Fireboats)
Full Box Alarm/Confirmed Fire 1st Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 1 Ladder (R.I.T.), 1 Tower Ladder, 1 District Chief (R.I.T.), Safety District Chief, Fireground Rehab./Mass Casualty Unit
2nd Alarm 2nd Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 3 Engines, 1 Ladder, 2 District Chiefs (1 for Accountability), 1 Division Chief, Special Unit, Air Supply Unit, 1 Public Information Officer
3rd Alarm 3rd Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines, 1 Ladder, Field/Tac. Comm. Unit
4th Alarm 4th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines
5th Alarm 5th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines, 1 Ladder
6th Alarm 6th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines
7th Alarm 7th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines, 1 Ladder
8th Alarm 8th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines
9th Alarm 9th Alarm Assignment (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines (Total Apparatus on Scene: 21 Engine Companies, 7 Ladder Companies, 1 Tower ladder Company, 1 Heavy Rescue Company, 4 District Chiefs, Safety District Chief, 1 Division Chief, Special Unit, Fireground Rehab./Mass Casualty Unit, Air Supply Unit, Field/Tac. Comm. Unit, 1 Public Information Officer)

Special Incident Response[edit]

Alarm Type Alarm Level Assigned Units
Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Special Incident 1 Engine, 1 Ladder
Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) with Rollover/Entrapment Special Incident 1 Engine, 1 Ladder, 1 District Chief, 1 Rescue
Vehicle Fire Special Incident 1 Engine, 1 Ladder
EMS Response Special Incident 1 Engine, 1 Ladder, or 1 Rescue
Haz-Mat. Level 0 Special Incident 1 Engine, 1 Ladder
Haz-Mat. Level 1 Special Incident (*Upgrade*) 1 District Chief, Special Unit, 1 Haz-Mat. Inspector
Haz-Mat. Level 2 Special Incident (*Upgrade*) 1 Engine (Haz-Mat.), 1 Ladder (Haz-Mat.), Safety District Chief, Haz-Mat. Unit, Fireground Rehab./Mass Casualty Unit, Field/Comm. Tac. Unit, 1 Boston Police Department Environmental Safety Group Unit
Haz-Mat. Level 3 Special Incident (*Upgrade*) 2 Engines (Decon.), 1 Division Chief, 1 Public Information Officer, 1 Fire Investigation Unit, Photography Unit

Radio call signs[edit]

Each division within the Boston Fire Department utilizes a series of alphabetical radio call signs to designate each unit within a certain division.[18]

Call Sign Division
A Associated Organizations
B M.O.E.P.
C Administrative Officers/Headquarters Staff
G Emergency Planning and Preparedness Division
H Special Operations Units
I Information Technology Division
K Fire Prevention/Investigation Division
M Maintenance Section/Motor Pool
N Field Services Unit
P Boston Police Department Unit's
S Fire Alarm
T Special Operations Command
W Training
X Emergency Medical Response Division

Notable Incidents[edit]

Great Fire of 1872[edit]

The second "Great Fire" of Boston began on November 9, 1872. The fire destroyed 776 buildings, killed 13 people, and caused $75,000,000 in property damage.[4] The fire required mutual aid companies from as far away as New Haven, Connecticut and Manchester, New Hampshire.

Cocoanut Grove Fire[edit]

Main article: Cocoanut Grove fire

The Cocoanut Grove fire was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history. At 10:15 PM on November 28, 1942 the fire began when a short in the electrical wiring ignited gas leaking from a faulty refrigeration unit.[19] The fire eventually claimed 490 lives, and injured 166 more.[19] Only the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago had a higher death toll at 605.

Vendome Hotel Fire[edit]

Main article: Hotel Vendome fire

At 2:35 PM on Saturday, June 17, 1972, an alarm from Box 1571 was received for the Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay.[20] It took nearly three hours to get the 4-alarm blaze under control. At 5:28 PM, during overhaul operations, the southeast section of the building unexpectedly collapsed.[20] The collapse killed 9 Boston firefighters: Lieutenant Thomas J. Carroll (Engine 32), Lieutenant John E. Hanbury (Ladder 13), Firefighter Richard B. Magee (Engine 33), Firefighter Joseph F. Boucher (Engine 22), Firefighter Paul J. Murphy (Engine 32), Firefighter John E. Jameson (Engine 22), Firefighter Charles E. Dolan (Ladder 13), Firefighter Joseph P. Saniuk (Ladder 13) and Firefighter Thomas W. Beckwith (Engine 32); and injuring 8 more.[6] This fire was the worst tragedy in the history of the Boston Fire Department and one of the most deadly fires in the history of U.S. firefighting.

2007 Boston bomb scare[edit]

On January 31, 2007, the department, Boston Police, and the Department of Homeland Security had to act to dispose LED advertisements resembling the mooninite characters of the television show Aqua Teen Hungerforce. Two individuals were hired by Turner Broadcasting, Interference, Inc., and Cartoon Network to display the advertisements throughout the entire city. The devices were mistaken for homemade explosives.

The 2007 Boston bomb scare occurred on Wednesday, January 31, 2007, after both the Boston Police Department and Fire Department mistakenly identified battery-powered LED placards resembling two characters from the Adult Swim animated television series Aqua Teen Hunger Force as improvised explosive devices.[21][22] Placed throughout Boston, Massachusetts, and the surrounding cities of Cambridge and Somerville, these devices were part of a guerrilla marketing advertising campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, a film based on the animated television series Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Cartoon Network's late-night programming block, Adult Swim.[22]

Beacon Street Fire[edit]

On the afternoon of March 26, 2014, firefighters responded to a report of a fire in a Beacon Street Brownstone in Boston's Back Bay.[23] It was reported that smoke was observed upon arrival. Shortly after crews entered the building, a mayday alarm was sounded as members of Engine 33 became trapped in the basement. Two firefighters, Lt. Edward Walsh of Engine Co. 33 and Michael Kennedy of Ladder Co. 15, were killed and 18 people were injured in this nine alarm fire.[24]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Boston Fire Department Overview". Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  2. ^ "Firehouse Locations". City of Boston Fire. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "Boston Fire Department Annual Incident Summary 2010 - 2014". 2007-03-07. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Boston Fire Department History". Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  5. ^ Brayley, Arthur Wellington (1889). A Complete History Of The Boston Fire Department ... From 1630 To 1888. Boston: John P. Dale & Co. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Boston Fire Museum, History of BFD". Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  7. ^ Francis Samuel Drake. Tea leaves: being a collection of letters and documents. Boston: A.O. Crane, 1884.
  8. ^ History of the Boston Fire Department. Boston: Arthur W. Brayley, 1889.
  9. ^ "Boston Fire Department Divisions". Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  10. ^ "BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT". 2012-12-01. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  11. ^ "Boston Fire Historical Society". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  12. ^ "Boston Fire Historical Society". 1960-11-03. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  13. ^ "Boston Fire Historical Society". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  14. ^ "Boston Fire Historical Society". 1921-12-19. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  15. ^ "BFD Communications". 1928-06-26. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  16. ^ "Boston Fire Historical Society". 1925-12-27. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  17. ^ "Boston Fire Department Basic Response Pattern". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  18. ^ "BFD Radio System". 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  19. ^ a b Reilly, William Arthur (1943-11-19), Report concerning the Cocoanut Grove fire, November 28, 1942, Boston Fire Department, retrieved 2010-12-02 
  20. ^ a b Mochen, Kevin (15 November 2012). "10-15: Tragedy On Com Ave: The Collapse Of The Hotel Vendome". Fire Engineering Magazine 2012 (11). Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  21. ^ Byron, Katy; Kelley, Rob (February 9, 2007). "Cartoon Network boss quits over bomb scare". Archived from the original on January 18, 2010. Retrieved December 13, 2007. 
  22. ^ a b Smalley, Suzanne; Mishra, Raja (February 1, 2007). "Froth, fear, and fury". The Boston Globe (The New York Times Company). Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2007. 
  23. ^ "2 firefighters killed in Boston blaze". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  24. ^ McPhee, Michele (June 2014). "Into the Fire". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 27 March 2015.