Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Same Story, Different Chapter—The Great Boston Fire of 1872

picture of Boston following the fire
(Boston Fire from Washington & Bromfield panoramic. John Adams Whipple - Boston Public Library)
"America's cities were burning down." - Bruce Twickler

The date was November 9, 1872. The place is Boston, Massachusetts. Fire Chief Damrell was a student of fire and had visited Chicago following the great fire. What could have gone wrong?

Watch Bruck Twickler, writer and director of Damrell's Fire, discuss his perspective on the Great Boston fire of 1872 and the role John Damrell played in leading up to and beyond the fire.

Tidbits of Information

  • Building codes were not enforced.
  • Narrow streets. 
  • Buildings built close together.
  • Improper insurance practices and illegal behavior
  • Poor infrastructure
  • Poor communication
  • Horse illness
  • Politics and power struggles

Damrell's Fire
by The Dimes

It felt like winter everywhere except for Summer Street,
there the flames were all anybody anywhere could see
and from the top of Beacon Hill we watched the fire spill over Water Street

It started quickly, the flames in a shootout on a city street,
jumping roof to roof like they were running from a robbery
and everywhere you turned, another building burned, now it's all debris

and everybody knows where they were the night the fire came
everybody found who they were the night the fire came and swallowed me whole

With our backs on Broad Street, the captain told us all we had to hold the line,
but the horses were laid up in bed, and the engines couldn't make the climb
so the word spread down the wire, the flames were getting higher here in Damrell's Fire

and everybody knows where they were the night the fire came,
everybody found who they were the night the fire came and swallowed me whole

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Watch Bruce Twickler's documentary Damrell's Fire. 
  • Consider the main characters/leaders in the story. Compare and constrast their leadership styles. 
  • What, if anything, did Damrell learn from the Great Chicago fire?
  • How might/has/did the privatization of fighting fire affect the public effort?
  • How important is it to tell our fire story?
  • How did technology help and hinder the fire suppression effort?
  • What did Damrell do to further his knowledge? What did he learn and try to apply to his sphere of influence? How did his efforts change fire suppression efforts?
  • Are fire conflagrations new to the U.S.?
  • How has/does progress contribute to the problem of fire destroying cities/towns?
  • How does politics and influence affect fire suppression?
  • How did Damrell's construction apprenticeship contribute his profession and time went on?

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