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Great Fires of Boston

A guide to resources about devastating fires in Boston's history at the BPL and beyond.

June 17, 1972

View of remaining west wall, from the Boston Building Commissioner's report.
(Click on image to see full-size)

The worst firefighting tragedy in Boston’s history occurred after the fire had already been brought under control. Relatively few people were in the Hotel Vendome on that day, due to the significant renovations that were currently underway. The building was originally built in 1871 as a luxury hotel and in 1972 was in the process of being converted into a combination condominium and commercial building.

A worker noticed a fire between the third and fourth floors around 2:30pm and alerted the fire department. Ultimately 16 engine companies, 5 ladder companies, 2 aerial towers, and a heavy rescue company responded to the 4-alarm fire which had been largely brought under control by 4:30pm. Several crews were at the building doing clean-up at around 5:30pm when the entire southeast corner of the building collapsed without warning, burying 25 firefighters and a ladder truck in a pile of debris. Nine of the firefighters died, making it the greatest loss of life in a single incident in the history of the Boston Fire Department.

Killed: 9 firefighters
Injured: 8 firefighters
Buildings Partially Destroyed: 1
Cause: Structural deficits in the building caused by the removal of a load-bearing wall during renovations in 1890 that were exacerbated by the addition of a heating and ventilating duct in 1972, the fire itself, and the millions of gallons of water used to bring it under control.
Arrests/Convictions: None. The court determined that no one living was responsible for the collapse.
Effects: Renovations to the Vendome were eventually completed. In 1997, on the 25th anniversary of the fire, a memorial to the 9 firefighters who were killed was dedicated on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall not far from the site of the tragedy.

The Fallen

Vendome Fire Memorial
22 November 2016

Click on Image to see full-size.

Firefighter Thomas W. Beckwith, Engine 32. 35 years old, 6 years with BFD.
Firefighter Joseph F. Boucher, Engine 22. 28 years old, 19 months with BFD.
Lieutenant Thomas J. Carroll, Engine 32. 52 years old, 27 years with BFD.
Firefighter Charles E. Dolan, Ladder 13. 47 years old, 25 years with BFD.
Lieutenant John E. Hanbury, Jr., Ladder 13. 46 years old, 23 years with BFD.
Firefighter John E. Jameson, Engine 22. 52 years old, 21 years with BFD.
Firefighter Richard B. Magee, Engine 33. 39 years old, 4 years with BFD.

Firefighter Paul J. Murphy, Engine 32. 36 years old, 5 years with BFD.
Firefighter Joseph P. Saniuk, Ladder 13. 47 years old, 24 years with BFD.

Thousands of firefighters from all over the United States and Canada came to Boston to pay their respects to the nine men who died in the collapse. An estimated 10,000 people attended the funeral Mass held at Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End a few days after their deaths.

A memorial designed by artists Ted Clausen and Peter White was dedicated on the 25th anniversary of the fire in 1997. The memorial consists of a simple curved granite base with a bronze sculpture of a firefighter’s helmet and jacket draped over the top. The names of the firefighters who lost their lives are inscribed on the granite base along with a description of events on the day of the fire.