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  •      "A Study of the 1918 Pandemic & The Boston Fire Department"
    Posted On: Feb 24, 2020

     " I had a little bird and his name was Enza

                            I opened the window and


    During recess, after school, at playgrounds and on the sidewalks from Bunker Hill to Wellington Hill, girls jumped roped to “enza.”

    During this centennial year of the "Spanish Flu," which claimed millions of lives worldwide,  the focus of this article is:

         "A Study of the 1918 Pandemic & The Boston Fire Department"

    Influenza sickened an estimated ¼ of the population of Bostonians in late 1918.  Misnamed the “Spanish Flu,” it killed mostly the young and healthy.  The Fire Dept. was a microcosm of the epidemic that swept the City and the State during the waning days of WW I.

    The Athens of America was in patriotic fever as Wilson’s War effort dominated all.  Daily the papers told of the exploits of the Yankee Division.  It is difficult for us today to grasp the mood of the Nation. The War infected every aspect of life: girls saving pennies to buy thrift stamps; boys eating peaches then drying the pits for gas masks filters; Liberty Bond Drives; attending parades; meatless, wheatless & heatless days; rationing of food and gas; young men volunteering or being drafted; men flocking to the big cities of the east to work in newly opened shipyards; wives and mothers sewing Red Cross bandages; everyone doing his part to bring down the Hun.

    As the leaves began to change color, the Hub was optimistic.  News from the trenches brought Hope that it would be over soon, over there.   Beantown was awash in activity.  Nowhere was this bustle more pronounced than on the docks and piers.  Ships of all sizes and cargoes docked at “T’ wharf, Long Wharf and India Wharf.  Naval vessels departed & embarked from Commonwealth Pier as hundreds of mere boys left and returned from the killing fields of Europe.  Relieving the tension of everyday life was the diversion of the home town heroes with the Bambino leading the team in hitting and pitching.  As the boys of summer were about to duel the Chicago North Siders, Dante Inferno was unleashed on the waterfront.

    These days were extraordinary for the City and the men of the Fire Department.  High Cost of Living, as inflation then was known, was especially hard on the families of Firemen.  Real Wages did not keep up with the cost of basics.  They cast their eyes around their neighborhoods.  What they saw deepened frustration.  The men in the Charlestown Navy Yard, longshoremen and construction workers were receiving more than twice what the full paid firefighter received.  The war brought prosperity to many families but firemen lagged behind-- still working long, long hours, 72 straight hours on and then 24 off with 3 meal hours each day.

    In an effort to placate the men Mayor Peters implemented token benefits but it was too little, too late.    In early 1918, he reduced the hours from a day in four to a day in three, (48 on & 24 off) necessitating the hiring of more men. Despite the hike of a dollar-fifty a week the pay was still only 21 bucks (about nineteen cents an hour) for a 112 hour work week and out of that measly sum, one had to purchase his uniform, fire coat and boots.  Only the helmet was issued.  God forbid if you lost it. Firehouses were old, dirty, cold with unsanitary bunk rooms.  Ladder 4 was built before Roxbury was annexed to Boston in 1868.  It was over 100 years later that a new building housed Ladder 4.  It was not unique.  Even today Engines 50, 30 & 5 to cite a few are well over 100 years old.

    Discipline was harsh.  Captain Florence Sullivan,  Engine Co.1, received an Official Reprimand for allowing a man to leave Quarters a few minutes early to catch the trolley heading home for breakfast.   

    Discouraged the men looked to the newly formed IAFF to address grievances.  The Union granted Charters to both officers and firemen.  The Police Strike of 1919 broke the back of the Labor Movement.  In the wake of Gov. Calvin Coolidge’s edict the men relinquished their association with the International and returned the Charters. It was not until WW II that the Union and the men were reunited.   

    The years preceding the roaring twenties saw great changes for the Fire Dept.  Motorized apparatus were rapidly replacing the horse.  Hose wagons with booster tanks eliminated the need for chemical companies. 

                                        A Chronological   Summary of Events                                                      


    July 26      Secretary of War Newton D. Baker orders that Major-league Baseball end the season on Labor Day, Sept 2.  The World Series will commence immediately after the end of the season.

    Aug 24   In Chicago, the Cubs beat up on Brooklyn winning both ends of a twin bill pulling 11 ½ games in front of the Giants and clinching the National League Flag.

    Aug 27   Two sailors from a Navy ship at Commonwealth Pier reported to sickbay  with the first cases of the flu in the City.

    Aug 28    “Boston Post” reports that the Cubs will play the Series at Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox, because Wightman Park (Wrigley Field) the Cubbies’ Park’s capacity was ½ of the south side field.

    Aug 31   Babe Ruth pitches a three hitter, bangs out two base hits and scores a run, as the Sox clinch the pennant with a 6 to 1 drubbing of the A’s in the first of two at Fenway. 

    Sept 2    Labor Day.  The Red Sox split a double header  with the Yankees at the Polo Grounds ending the shortened season with 75 wins and 51 losses finishing 2 ½ games ahead of the Indians.  Due to war time travel restrictions for the first and only time the Series schedule was modified with the first three games in the Windy City and the next four scheduled in Back Bay.

    Sept 3   A civilian is admitted to City Hospital with the Spanish Flu.  After a rain out yesterday the Babe held the Northsides to six hits as McInnis knocked in Shine in the top of the fourth for the only marker of the contest. For the first time in World Series’ history at the 7th inning stretch nearly all of the 20,000  joined the band in a tumultuous strain of the “Star Spangled Banner.”  From that moment at every World Series Game, the National Pastime & the National Anthem have become inseparable.  Boston & Chicago papers coverage of the War relegated the Series to secondary status on their front pages.

    Sept 6

    GENERAL ORDERS                                                                HEADQUARTERS FIRE DEPARTMENT

             NO.    97.                                                                                            BOSTON,  SEPTEMBER 6, 1918



    1. The members of this department who have volunteered  their services at Fenway Park will report on their respective days off to District Chief Gaffey not later than 9:30 A. M., at the baseball park.

    By Order of the Fire Commissioner;

                Peter F. McDonough,

              Chief of Department.

    Sept 9.  Dan Fennessey, a 26 year old Hoseman from Engine 48, appointed only 5 months before, died from the flu at his home on Garfield Ave, Hyde Park.  Nearly all of the men died at home during the worst of the epidemic since all of the hospitals were over run with patients.  The men were cared for by their parents, wives and family.

    Sept 10   Strike!  With the Sox needing only a victory in game 5 to win it all, the players went on strike but were coerced to play.  The rift, between the players and the owners which sowed the seeds that sprouted with the Black Sox in 1919, had its genesis at Fenway when the cheap owners spitefully refused to pay the winning players 2,000 dollars promised.  Anti-climatic: Cubs 3, Home town 0

    Sept 11.  Engine 48 suffered another loss as another young man only 6 months on the job succumbed.

    Sept 12   Edward Martin a “Globe” sportswriter reported, “Boston is again the capital of the baseball world.” Yesterday, the Sox beat the Chicago Nine 2-1, to be crowned for the fifth time, World Champs.  Harry Casey from the “Record” penned, “The Red Sox never provided the Cubs with any breaks.”   The rescheduled series had a major impact on the death rate from LaGrippe in the Hub.      (see Oct 3)

    Sept 15    On July 12 Edward Kaine was appointed as a Provisional Fireman.  A member of Ladder 29, Eddy died this date after two months of service.  There were so few applicants willing to work the long hours for the short pay it became necessary to make provisional appointments until civil service examinations could be held.

    Sept 16   Two Dorchester men died today.  Craddock from Eng 20 who had over 12 years of service & Provisional Walter Walsh of Engine 46 in Peabody Square at age 24 having been appointed on July 5, this year.

    Sept 18   Another member from 46 appointed in 1912 at age 29, died.   Frank Redddington, like many of the Irish Catholics, was a member of the K of C.

    Sept 21   Due to the distance men had to travel for meal hours, firemen were assigned to a company near their home consistent with operational needs of the Department.  One man who was not assigned close to his residence was 25 year old Jimmy Hastings of 28 Engine, a fireman for only 6 months.  Another Provisional, sick for only 5 days, he died at home in the South End. Following his wake, Captain Gavin and the other members of 28 escorted his remains to St James on Harrison Ave.

    Sept 23   While men of the Department were sick & dying, the grippe ravaged the City.  Nearly 600 deaths were recorded in a ten day period.  Today in Charlestown, pneumonia claimed John Harvey, his wife and John’s brother, James.   The John Harvey's left 4 orphans, ages 7 months to 7 years.

    Sept 24  In the next 6 days, nine more men perished including another from 43.  The reduction of a day in four to a day in three affected the on duty strength.  In addition to the number of men drafted and volunteering for the Armed Services the staggering number of sick further depleted the firefighting force.  Normally rookie firemen attended drill school during the day and reported to their assigned companies at 6 PM.  Chief McDonough thought it prudent to cancel drill school and beef up the strength available for fires.

    Sept 25     Members of Eng 5, 43 and Ladder 31 in Oak Sq. died today.  The Supt. of Schools cancelled all classes until Oct 21.   Yesterday 109 died & today 105.

    Globe Headline:        Two Turk Armies Destroyed.

    Sept 26      Liberty Loan Parade cancelled.  Today should have been the opening of the World Series at Fenway.  156 died; how many more if the games were played?  His Honor, the Mayor, ordered all public places closed and this would have shut down the contest.  With no series perhaps the Black Sox would not throw the 1919 games.  Frazee may have held on to Ruth and there would be no Curse.  Would we have had to wait 86 years to win another?   The events of this sad year had a vast impact on the history of the game.                                   

    Sept 27    A third member of 48 Engine died.  Headline:  “Americans Crush Hun Line.”   Among the precautions recommended was this one cited in “Everybody’s Business,” a column in the “Globe,”  “Call it a closed season on kissing.”   The Phone Company placed the following notice in newspapers.  “The Telephone Company has been impaired due to the number of operators sick with the flu.  Please no unnecessary phone calls.  No special appeals to Chief Operators.”

    Sept 28   Another black day as 144 died and a black day for the Dept. as three more members succumbed.  Another helpful hint was issued by the Health Authorities, “Keep out of dirty restaurants.”

    Sept 29   Frank D. O’Brien of Ladder 13 contacted pneumonia and passed away at his home in Forest Hills.  Frank was appointed in 1907 as a Chief’s Driver.  A Chief in the horse and buggy days was assigned an 18 year old boy to be his aide. Among his duties the teen had to feed and groom the horse, handle the buggy responding to an alarm, and be able to communicate by telegraph from the box to the Fire Alarm Office.  Naturally he had to be physically fit.  O'Brien was appointed a permanent man when he turned 21.

    Sept 30   The Boston Elevated, posted signs:  “No Smoking on subway or El Trains.”  It was hoped that this drastic measure would help stem the tide of deaths.

    Oct 3     Billy Condon, a South Boston native, assigned to Ladder 18 less than two months ago, succumbed to pneumonia.  Another helpful hint was circulated, “Don’t let the waste products of digestion accumulate.”  Ed Martin, a “Globe” Sportswriter, age 34, died today, his wife died yesterday.  Harry Casey of the “Record,” also in his 30s, was dead before Christmas.  All were victims of LaGrippe.

    Oct 4   After the flu caused so many deaths and so many were sick, the Dept. finally took note and issued its first precautions against further spread among the fireman sleeping in bunk rooms.

                                                 General Order No. 130

                                                    1. Care of Quarters

    3… “Beds formerly occupied by men who are now on sick leave; the sheets and pillow cases should be sent to the laundry and the blankets aired for at least 48 hours.”

    Oct 7   Angus McDonald, USA, died at Fort Meade, Maryland from LaGrippe.  On Independence Day, 1918 he enlisted in the Army.  McDonald, a member of Ladder 3, received a High Commendation for his rescue of civilians Brown & Watson at Box 1621 on January 18, 1918.  The death rate at Army Containment Centers was astronomical.

    Oct 10     Pneumonia was a leading cause of sickness in the early 1900s, but this pneumonia was a killer. Victims coughed up blood; it poured from eyes, ears, nostrils.  Then the patient turned blue because oxygen could not be transferred from the lungs.   It was only pneumonia but this was an exceptional lethal pneumonia. And it resulted in a very painful and horrible death.  An East Boston man, Willy Keen, Engine 5, was found dead at his home on Princeton Street with a gunshot to his head and the symptoms of pneumonia.  At 39, he was the oldest to die.

    Oct 17    Another Order from Hq. on Bristol St. was promulgated reminding Company Commanders they were responsible for the safe guarding of fire stations. "Members assigned to Light House Duty shall close the doors when apparatus responses to alarms."   How these actions improved the health of the men remains a mystery.  Men returning                                                           from sick leave but not well enough to perform fire duty were assigned to Light House Duty.

    Oct 19   The youngest to die, William Connolly of Ladder 4, was a mere 22. As was policy, 16 men were detailed under the direction of a District Chief to act as a funeral escort.  Then, as even today, the man’s company was relieved from duty to attend.   After the Requiem Mass, he was buried at St Mary’s Cemetery, West Quincy, in an unmarked, mass grave.

    Nov 12   !!Armistice!!  Yesterday at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month it was over, over there. Boston had exported influenza, it moved on carried by soldiers & sailors by rail, by ship to the rest of the country.  The worst was over but not entirely over, many more would die.  Downtown a million turned out for the Victory Parade. Coughing and sneezing the crowd spread more sickness & death.  As the troops passed in review the kids sang:

                                        “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching

                                                    I spied the Kaiser at the door

                            And we’ll get a lemon pie and we’ll squash him in the eye

                                              And there won’t be any Kaiser anymore.”

    Dec 12   Thomas McAndrews of Engine 26/35 died.  He was a member of that proud firehouse on Mason Street.  In July he was appointed from the Protective Dept.  The Insurance Patrol had a special relationship with the Department.  The Protective had a compliment of 40 and were affectionately known as the 40 thieves.  They were members of the Relief Assn.  It was considered an honor to be appointed from the Protective and to be assigned to 26/35.  It was the only funeral that the entire company was not relived.  This double engine company was relied upon for fires in the high value district, thus only a few men could be spared. 

    Dec 18   Of the men who died, none were officers and most were in their 20s or early 30s.  Why was this?  In 1890 a wide spread but less lethal virus hit New England. A study of 1890 death benefits of the K of C shows that many flu deaths occurred including their Founder, 38 year old Father Michael McGinney.   28 years later the older generation had immunity and left 20 & 30 year olds particularly vulnerable.  So was the case of Herb Symes of Chemical 14 who died today at age 29.   He was the last to die in 1918.                                                         


    Jan 9    This New Year brought its own set of problems for the discouraged men.  Sickness & death continued.  Labor unrest culminated in the Police Strike further depressing the 1201 firemen.  This date saw the first death of the New Year when Jackie Dwyer of Ladder 14 died.

    Jan 15    LOD 3rd Engineer George Layhe of Engine 31 died in performance of his duties at the “Molasses Flood” in the North End.  (LOD  Line of Duty)

    Jan 22   Ladderman Twigg, Truck 13, died today.  Both he and Fireman O’Brien were  Highly Commended Posthumously in GO 19 a few days after Twigg’s death for their rescue of many civilians at Box 1662 on Bunker Hill Day 1918. Twigg had been a fireman for only 10 days.

    Jan 31   Influenza claimed John Patrick Dowd who had enlisted in the Navy a year before.  A Navy Radio Operator, born in Ireland, assigned to Engine 28, he was appointed exactly 6 years before his death.  The Navy returned his body to South Boston and his funeral was held at St Augustine’s.   In 1922, two fireboats were rechristened. Engine 47 as “John P. Dowd,”  &  Engine 44 was dedicated, “Angus J. McDonald” to commemorate these two members who died on active duty during the Great War.

    Feb 6   Another Provisional answered his Last Alarm, Warren Chase of Engine 16 appointed June 1918.

    Feb 15    Another LOD.  Thomas Stevens, also born in Ireland, appointed a Chief’s Driver in 1905 died today from injuries suffered in the Line of Duty on Feb.13 while a member of Ladder 11.  He was one of the many men who contracted the flu but            returned to duty.  Was it because of his weakened condition that he was unable to recover from his internal injuries?  

    March 19     Ladder 4, that highly decorated company, suffered another loss as Henry Keenan succumbed and his Mass was celebrated at St. Vincent’s in lower Southie.  After Keenan’s death the Dept. has seen the worst.  But the toll keep mounting as a three more died in the months of the new decade.  These men had contacted pneumonia, returned to duty, suffered a relapse and died.  Their names are recorded in “Deaths.”   Keene’s brother’s body was returned from France where he died in the Great War and they were interred side by side, awaiting the resurrection.   


    Date                Rank                Name                           Age     Company      Date Appointed

    Sept 9, 1918    Hoseman         Daniel F. Fennessey    26        Engine 48        April 5, 18

    Sept 11            Hoseman         John E. Fitzgerald       29        Engine 48        Feb. 6, 18

    Sept 15            Ladderman      Edward J. Kaine         33        Ladder 29       July 12, 18

    Sept 16            Hoseman         Walter F. Walsh          24        Engine 46        July 5, 18 

    Sept 16            Hoseman         John J. Craddock        35        Engine 20        May 11, 06

    Sept 18            Hoseman         Frank J. Reddington   29        Engine 46        June 14, 12

    Sept 21            Hoseman         James M. Hastings      25        Engine 28        March 1, 18

    Sept 24            Hoseman         Charles A. Hanson      24        Engine 43        Jan 30, 18

    Sept 25            Ladderman      Daniel F. Daley          38        Ladder 10       Feb 9, 07

    Sept 25            Hoseman         William H. Boodro     25        Engine 43        Jan 11, 18

    Sept 25            Hoseman         Henry T. Hooper         28        Engine 5          May 5, 13

    Sept 27            Hoseman         William H. Free           28        Engine 48        Sept 9, 18

    Sept 28            Hoseman         Maurice M. Flavin       33        Engine 43        May 3, 09

    Sept 28            Ladderman      Joseph P. Morrisey      31        Ladder 31       April 5, 18

    Sept 28            Hoseman         George F. Beattie        27        Engine 14        Dec 28, 17

    Sept 29            Ladderman      Frank D. O’Brien        30        Ladder 13       April 14, 11

    Oct 3               Hoseman         William G. Condon     32        Ladder 18       Aug 16, 18

    Oct 7               Ladderman      Angus J. McDonald    30        Ladder 3         Feb 24, 13     Oct 10               Hoseman         William A. Keen         39        Engine 5          March 29, 10

    Oct 19             Ladderman      William R. Connolly   22        Ladder 4         Feb 1, 18

    Dec 12             Hoseman         Thomas McAndrews   32        Engine 26/35   June 7, 18  

    Dec 18             Hoseman         Herbert F. Symes        29        Chemical 14    Feb 1, 18

    Jan 9, 1919      Ladderman      John J. Dwyer             33        Ladder 14       April 27, 17

    Jan 22              Ladderman      Edward J. Twigg        35        Ladder 13       June 7, 18

    Jan 31,             Hoseman         John P. Dowd             31        Engine 28        Jan 31, 13

    Feb 6               Hoseman         Warren A. Chase         27        Engine 16        June 21, 18

    May 19            Ladderman      Henry H. F. Keenan    30        Ladder 4         Jan 18, 18

    Jan 31, 1920    Hoseman         John H. Belyea            34        Engine 8          March 15, 18

    Dec 6, 1920     Ladderman      William Cox                36        Ladder 29       July 26, 18

    June 21, 1921  Hoseman         Charles Shepard          41        Engine 33        Dec 08, 05

    Author:        Kevin J. Mochen, Chief of Operations BFD (Ret)                   September 9, 2018


    The writer issued this epistle in 2018 the one hundred anniversary of the Pandemic.

    At this time he thought it appropriate to reissue the article since it may shed some light on the situation of the Coronavirus.   Remembering the "yearly flu" in this country has killed some 14,00 since September last.  The Chinese government has not been forthcoming with the extend  of sickness.  The same situation occurred in 1918.   

    The first reported flu sickness in this City occurred  on August 27 1918.  One month later on the 28th of September 144 died along with 3 fireman.  No doctor or the CDC really knows what will occur.  However, this story points out just how difficult these viruses are controlled. 

    Just to reiterate the policy of the Department.  "Company Commanders  shall order Members on Light House Duty to close the apparatus doors and also ordered to air blankets of members on sick leave".

    KJM             February 17, 2020.

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