When City Councilor Sal LaMattina first took office in 2006 a Boston Firefighter approached him after an event and they asked the new councilor if he could do something for the six firefighters that were killed in Maverick Square during the Luongo Fire on November 15, 1942.
“I never really heard of the Luongo Fire,” said LaMattina. “So I went back to City Hall and looked up the Luongo Fire on the Internet. I was shock that there was a major fire in East Boston that took place on November 15, 1942 and that six firefighters were killed, 43 people injured and many more were trapped under debris for up to 18 hours. Because the infamous Cocoanut Grove Fire took place two weeks later where 492 people were killed I think people forgot about the Luongo Fire and these six firefighters.”
LaMattina began lobbying to have a proper plaque in the square to honor the six men and when the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center began planning to put a new facility across the street from where the fire occurred, LaMattina saw his opportunity.
“Then came the East Boston Health Center with their plans to build a new Health Center at Maverick Square and all I can remember during their presentation to me is ‘I will get the Health Center to help me with my quest’,” said LaMattina. “I told them about that firefighter that I met at the school yard event and I told them I had to do something to really honor the bravery of these men who lost their lives. And the Health Center did just that and helped me and the community finally get something to honor these men and for that I will be for ever grateful,”
Last Thursday, to mark the 70th anniversary of the fire the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and Boston Fire Department hosted a memorial and dedication service to remember the Luongo Fire and the six men killed while trying to fight the blaze.
The Health Center also unveiled a new plaque outside its facility in Maverick Square that honors the six firefighters.
In 1942 the building was known as the Old Amory Building, a second-class wooden frame structure popular in its day as the site of many Eastie political rallies and the Luongo Restaurant. The first floor was the old Maverick Lyceum Hall and that’s where this historic event began.
A night worker discovered the fire and rushed to tell firefighters that an electric appliance caught fire. Together, with the aid of two citizens, they tried to fight the fire but to no avail.
It was a slow burning fire but soon got out of control.
According to historic documents on the fire, Boston Fire headquarters received a call reporting the fire at 2:26 a.m. At 2:27 a.m. the Eastie companies were notified and responded from their fire station a few blocks away but by 3:24 a.m. the fire had spread to a three-alarm blaze.
Then at 4:15 a.m. the wall on the Henry Street side of the building bulged and collapsed, trapping firefighters in the building and burying Ladder 8.
The scene quickly turned into pandemonium as fourth and fifth alarms sounded to help the men trapped inside the burning wreckage. Within half an hour ambulance, doctors, additional firefighters and rescue workers (including the Coast Guard) were rushing to the scene, according to documents.
The sad thing is firefighters had the fire pretty much under control when the wall collapsed.
Under the burning wreckage of twisted wood lay the bodies of John F. Foley, Engine Company 3, Edward F. Macomber, Engine Company 12, Peter F. McMorrow, Engine Company 50, Francis J. Degan, Engine Company 3, Daniel E. McGuire, Ladder Company 2, and Malachi F. Reddington, Engine Company 33.
Witnesses to the horrific moment in Eastie’s history watched helplessly as firefighters, although injured, made desperate efforts to save their comrades in the hours that followed.
As the rescue work was proceeding, the flames were cracking high in the air. The adjoining building on Henry Street caught fire and some fifty people fled.
When daylight came, exhausted and injured firemen were lying on the street, waiting to be removed to area hospitals.
Sadly, Foley, Macomber, McMorrow, Degan, McGuire and Reddington were on the second floor working with hose lines when the building collapsed. All six men died as a result.
There deaths are symbolic of the dedication of the Boston Fire Department.
While each man’s death was untimely and tragic, Firefighter Foley’s death was particularly sad. A hoseman on Engine Company 3 for more than 30 years, Foley planed to retire in a short time. In a tragic twist of irony, Foley would have been on his day off at the time of the fire, but had changed his schedule in order to get some time off later.
“To Hoseman John Foley, Hoseman, Hoseman Edward Macomber, Hoseman Peter McMorrow, Hoseman Francis Degan, Ladderman Daniel McGuire and Hoseman Malachi Reddington today on behalf of the people of East Boston and Boston we Honor you,” said LaMattina. “And for the generations of new East Bostonians when they see this memorial they will learn about the Luongo Restaurant Fire and the story of this East Boston Fire will never be forgotten. You will be honored everyday.”