The 1942 Luongo’s Restaurant Fire and Collapse in East Boston; Six Boston Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths

The 1942 Luongo’s Restaurant Fire and Collapse in East Boston; Six Boston Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths

Boston Fire Department Box 6153 Five Alarm November 15,1942

 

Boston Fire Department Box 6153 Five Alarm November 15,1942

A multiple alarm fire and collapse 70 years ago resulting in six Boston Firefighter LODDs was overshadowed by the Coconut Grove Fire which occurred 13 days later. Here’ the story and legacy.

The 1942 Luongo’s Restaurant Fire and Collapse in East Boston; Six Boston Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths

During the early morning hours of Sunday November 15, 1942, a still alarm followed by box alarm 6153 was received for a fire at 4-6 Henry Street located in the Old Armory Building at Maverick Square in East Boston (MA). The address was for a report of fire in the Luongo’s Restaurant. A fire broke out in the rear of Luongo’s Restaurant on the first floor at about 2:26 a.m. The Boston Fire- District #1 report stated the fire originated in the rear kitchen ceiling.

November 16, 1942 New York Times:

The following is a description of the fire from the November 16, 1942 New York Times: “The fire, starting from a fireless cooker in the cafe on the ground floor at Henry Street and Maverick Square, suddenly swept through the building.

The firemen who were killed had just entered a restaurant on the second floor with a line of hose. As the flames ate through the cross timbers the wall collapsed with a roar, burying two men on the stairs and crushing the three others manning the hose. That part of the wall which fell outward felled about forty firemen standing on the Henry Street side of the building beside the new $20,000 ladder truck, which was buried under the wreckage. At the same, a hot air explosion blew a half dozen firemen across Henry Street.”

The Building

The Luongo’s Restaurant was housed in what was called the Armory Building a five and one half story Type III Building of ordinary construction (Brick and joist) consisting of masonry bearing walls with approximate dimensions of 35 feet width x 60 feet depth x 65 foot height. The ensuing fire would spread to the exposure building at 10 Henry Street a three story 20 ft. X 40 ft. x 40 ft type III (brick and joist) structure.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

 

Fire and Collapse

Upon arrival of the first alarm companies, the fire initially was commanded by Fire Captain Amsler, Ladder Co. 2. District Chief Crowley rapidly assumed command upon his arrival and directed initial fire suppression activities of the companies to interior operations and quickly ordered a second alarm at 03:04hours.

Command was subsequently transferred to Deputy Chief Louis Stickel who ordered a third alarm struck due to fire extension twenty minutes later.

Suppression, ventilation and rescue operations were conducted with the fire under control when at 04:15 hours with without warning, it was reported the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors began to collapse with the brick masonry wall on the Henry Street side collapsing outward into the street. Ladder Company 8, a new 125 ft. aerial ladder, the largest in the United States at the time was buried in the timber and brick rubble and collapse pile. It was reported that as many of 43 firefighters in the street were injured as a result of the collapse.

 

Search, Rescue and Recovery Efforts

 

The arrival of Chief of Department Samuel Pope ordered fourth and fifth alarms. This brought Engine Companies 40, 9, 5, 11, 50, 8, 32, 6, 39, 3, 33, 12, 13, 38, 21, 35, 37, 20, 16, 10, 42, 51, 19; Ladder Companies 2, 31, 21, 8 and 3.

With both extensive interior and exterior collapse conditions with numerous trapped and injured firefighters, rescue efforts and medical assistance was being rendered by all fire service, military, hospital and civilian resources. Local Coast Guardsman were deployed to support the massive search and rescue efforts.

 

Rescue and Recovery

Six Boston Firefighters were killed in the line of duty as a result of the collapse, all of whom were conducting operations and working on the second floor with hose lines.

Supreme Sacrifice in the Line of Duty:

  • Hoseman John F. Foley, Engine Company 3
  • Hoseman Edward F. Macomber, Engine Company 12
  • Hoseman Peter F. McMorrow, Engine Company 50
  • Hoseman Francis J. Degan, Engine Company 3
  • Ladderman Daniel E. McGuire, Ladder Company 2
  • Hoseman Malachi F. Reddington, Engine Company 33

Post Requiem

The Department’s 125 foot “jinx” aerial ladder, reported to be the largest in the nation at that time, was standing beside the falling wall on Henry Street. It was buried in the wreckage. The ladder was originally purchased by the City of Somerville. They found upon delivery that it was too big for their firehouse. Boston bought it. The truck had a series of problems.

There was some speculation that due to the long ladder and wide bed, the large ladder might have caused the wall collapse. This theory was later ruled out. In fact, some of the firefighters who were on the ladder at the time of the collapse, credit the ladder bed with saving their lives. When the granite and debris began falling, they lay down in the bed and the rubble slid down over them to the street.

Many felt that this was the end to the ladder. But, it was repaired and returned to service in South Boston as Ladder 19. Tragedy would continue to haunt this piece of apparatus. On December 3, 1947, Ladder 19 was out of service conducting tests on its brakes when it overturned and rolled. Provisional Firefighter Joseph B. Sullivan, on the job for less than six months, was killed. The Department took the truck out of service and scrapped

Individuals Remembered

As with many of these incidents, the men involved came from different backgrounds and circumstances that put them on that second floor that fateful night.

Edward Macomber was the father of eight children and considered to be one of the best firefighters in the department according to his superior officers. He was a member of the department for 28 years, and had been injured while on duty more than seven times.

Francis Degan, at age 24 was one of the youngest members of the Boston Fire Department at the time. He had been on the job only 19 months prior to November 15th. His officers thought that the young fireman was well on his way to becoming an officer. Young Degan took great pride in being a firefighter and realized his life’s ambition when he was appointed to the department to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was attached to Ladder Company 1.

John Foley, a hoseman on Engine Company 3, had been a member of the department for more than 30 years. He was planning to retire in a short time. In a tragic case of irony , Firefighter Foley should have been on a day off at the time of the fire, but had changed his schedule in order to get some time off later.

World War 1 veteran Pete McMorrow was a bachelor member of Engine Company 50 and was loved by many of the school children of Charlestown. He had served in the Navy in the first war and was telling his closest pals that he might just be going back to serve again. At age 46, he had carried the colors of the Boston Fireman’s Post #94, American Legion, through downtown Boston. While trapped in the debris for eleven hours, McMorrow’s fellow company members crawled into the space where he lay to tell him to hang on and they’d get him out soon. Throughout the early morning and into the next day the rescue efforts continued. However, when they were finally able to get to McMorrow, it was too late.

This fire and the subsequent six firefighter line of duty deaths were overshadowed by the Cocoanut Grove Fire which occurred only 13 days later on November 28, 1942.

Memorial, Dedication, and Reception

On Thursday November 15, 2012 the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and the Boston Fire Department will be conducting a Memorial, Dedication, and Reception in Recognition of the 70th Anniversary of the Luongo Fire at Maverick Square, East Boston.

The event is scheduled from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm at 20 Maverick Square, Boston, MA.

 

Video: Former Boston Fire Commissioner Paul Christian shares the story of the little-known Luongo fire as well as that of the 8-alarm Thanksgiving Day Fire of 1889. November has been a tragic month in Boston’s fire history. On November 15, 1942, a fire started in the back room of the Luongo Restaurant.

Collapse Scene from Maverick Square

 

Boston Fire Department 125 ft. Aerial Ladder on Henry Street Side

Rescue operations on Henry Street Side

 

Present sidewalk memorial marker

 

Memorial Dedication

 

Aerial Image of current property block in East Boston (MA). Bing Maps Image

Historical Note: Three and a half story high, with granite faced and brick exterior walls, the interior wooden joisted building at the corner of Henry Street and Maverick Square in 1942 was one of the oldest buildings in East Boston. It was typical of mid 19th century Boston commercial construction. In accounts of the fire it is frequently referred to as “Old Armory Hall”. “Armory Hall” is the name by which it was known in the early years of the 20th century. That building however never was actually an armory as such. There once was an armory in East Boston. It was located at the corner of Maverick and Bremen Streets in a wooden building that preceded the still standing brick Overseers of the Public Welfare Building. The building in which the “Luongo Fire” occurred was built sometime before 1858. It was known originally as “Ritchie Hall” likely from the name of its owner.

 

Armory Hall Building is to the left of Photo – Circa 1910

 

Bromley Map Image Circa 1922

Sanborn Map Image Circa 1888

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