A massive four-alarm fire that erupted in Chelsea, Massachusetts, early Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, destroyed a duplex. Image courtesy of Paul Koolloian.
But the chief of Chelsea’s fire department told Coffee or Die Magazine no hydrant hampered his personnel’s response to the inferno that consumed the wooden structure on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
“Actually, the water system had no impact on the end result,” Chief Leonard Albanese said. “It’s late at night. You have a fire burning on the back porch. It's not visible from the front. It's not visible from the street side. So those fires get a head start. So the big part of these things that we try to tell people is porch fire safety is everything.”
So how did the gossip about the dry plug get started?
“We got water out of it. We used that hydrant,” Albanese said. “When we went to shut it down, we couldn't shut it properly all the way. Somebody could have heard a radio transmission that we needed the water department to repair the hydrant, but it was actually for closing the hydrant down.”
The Boston suburb of Chelsea was nearly destroyed twice by great conflagrations. This is what was left of the Central Congregational Church after the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908 swept the Massachusetts community. Chelsea Public Library photo.
When Albanese’s firefighters arrived at the Blossom Street blaze around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, they found flames flickering up all three floors at the back of the building. It took them about an hour to stop the spread of the fire and quench the embers, he said, and one injured firefighter was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Chelsea Police officers evacuated dozens of residents from their apartments, without injuries.
Albanese told Coffee or Die investigators suspected a light fixture had triggered a small fire that bored its way through to the rear wall of the duplex after igniting a wooden porch.
He pointed to a public push his department makes every June to warn citizens to extinguish their cigarettes in water or a bucket of sand and to avoid cooking or using other devices that could set a deck on fire.
“That's the biggest thing, especially in these thickly settled neighborhoods, because rear porch fires are very dangerous,” Albanese said. “They provide rapid fire spread from floor to floor and building to building.”
The Massachusetts city of Chelsea burns on Oct. 14, 1973, the second of two great conflagrations that destroyed large sections of the community. Photo by Spencer Grant, now in the archives of the Boston Public Library's Arts Department.
Across the Mystic River from Boston, Chelsea is a city of nearly 41,000 people crammed into less than 2.5 square miles, which makes it the second-most densely populated community in Massachusetts.
Two conflagrations have destroyed much of the city over the past century. The Great Chelsea Fire of 1908 destroyed nearly a fifth of the city and left at least 15,000 citizens homeless.
And then, 65 years later, another blaze erupted only 600 feet from the 1908 fire. It incinerated more than 300 buildings.
Investigators blamed high winds and a lack of water to fight the fire.
The Boston suburb of Chelsea was nearly destroyed twice by massive conflagrations. Here, troops ask two men to show their passes before they're allowed into the ruins of the city. A photo by Leslie Jones, now in the archives of the Boston Public Library's Arts Department.
Albanese insists his fire crews have a great relationship with the city’s water department, which recently transitioned from private ownership to municipal control.
The chief said the city maintained roughly 600 hydrants across Chelsea, and his teams work with the city's to keep the water flowing.
“Once in a while, you'll come up to a hydrant where it hasn't been used in a while, or you might get a broken spindle, or you might get a valve that might have been shut off by accident,” Albanese said. “But we have a pretty good maintenance program here with the Chelsea all-city water department.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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