Missing apparatus to return to Mass. city 80 years after theater fire that killed 13 FFs

The Squad A truck, which responded to the blaze and has been missing for 73 years, will be welcomed back by relatives of the fallen Brockton firefighters


Cody Shepard
The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.

BROCKTON, Mass. — Every March, firefighters from across the region gather in Brockton to remember the 13 firefighters who died battling the historic Strand Theatre fire on March 10, 1941.

It's a solemn ceremony of remembrance and reflection.

But this year's ceremony — a significant one being the 80th anniversary — will also include a reunion.

The Squad A truck that responded to the fire and has been missing 73 years will return to the city this March and relatives of the four firefighters who were on the engine and died that day will welcome it back to Brockton during an anniversary ceremony at City Hall.

"These firefighters who died protecting Brockton were heroes and their sacrifice must always be honored," Mayor Robert Sullivan said. "To discover this fire truck after more than 70 years is nothing short of a miracle. The Strand fire stood as the worst single day firefighter loss of life for decades until Sept. 11. Their bravery should never be forgotten."

The firefighters who were on Squad A — Denis P. Murphy, William J. Murphy, Roy A. McKeraghan and Daniel C. O'Brien — were four of the 13 who died battling the blaze, which remains one of the deadliest incidents resulting in the loss of firefighter life in U.S. history, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The Squad A truck was housed at Station 1 on Pleasant Street prior to responding to the scene and the four firefighters on the engine were among 10 total who died from that station.

The Strand fire also took the lives of Capt. John F. Carroll, Lt. Raymond A. Mitchell and firefighters George A. Collins, Bartholomew Herlihy, Frederick F. Kelley, Martin Lipper, Matthew E. McGeary, Malcom McNeil, and Henry E. Sullivan.

On Sunday, March 9, 1941, the Strand Theatre, located on a large block at the corner of Main and School streets, was showing the film "Hoosier School Boy," starring Mickey Rooney. "Secret Evidence" filled out the double bill.

Hours after the last showing, the night custodian discovered a fire in the basement and instructed his helper to activate the fire alarm box at Main and High streets. The fire department received the box alarm at 12:38 a.m. and sent the first apparatus to the scene. A second alarm followed, and finally a general alarm.

When firefighters first arrived, all indications were that they were not dealing with a very serious fire. However, as time progressed, the fire gained headway and the structure collapsed.

In all, 13 firefighters were killed, and more than 20 injured when what was termed a routine fire turned into disaster.

The Squad A truck that responded that morning, a 1924 Seagrave, which was manufactured in Columbus, Ohio, went into service in Brockton on Nov. 3, 1924. The truck was initially considered a "chemical car," meaning it had no pumps and carried a 40-gallon tank under the seat that allowed firefighters to spray flames with foam. But it was converted a water pumper in the 1930s.

In 1948, the truck was taken out of service and sold at an auction to a farmer in New Hampshire who used it primarily for irrigation. It was sold in 1980 to Bruce Eaton, who owned Tuxbury Pond Campground in Southampton, New Hampshire, and it was stored there for years.

The truck would occasionally be driven in parades, but there was no indication the engine was from Brockton or that it was used to battle the historic Strand Theatre fire.

In 2019, Billerica firefighter Dave Feyler, a collector of antique fire trucks, bought the Squad A truck from the Eaton family and learned, through research, that it was from Brockton.

Feyler worked with retired Brockton Fire Chief Kenneth Galligan to trace the serial numbers on the truck and confirmed it was the Squad A engine used in the Strand fire.

"We are so thankful to firefighter Dave Feyler for helping us bring this priceless piece of our city's history home," Galligan said. "The families of the fallen firefighters, members of the Brockton Fire Department past and present and the public deserve to be able to see and touch this vehicle and we are grateful that they will soon have that opportunity."

Feyler was storing the truck in Maine, but city officials said he decided it should be returned to its hometown.

Brockton Firefighters Local 144, the city's firefighters union, obtained the truck and a restoration effort is underway.

City officials are considering several options to permanently display the Squad A engine, Sullivan's office said.

"This truck is a living piece of history," Sullivan said. "Our school kids need to see it, touch it, feel it and understand the rich history of our city and the importance of community. It's much more than just a truck. It is a piece of Brockton's soul."

The truck will officially be welcomed back to the city during the Strand Theatre remembrance ceremony at 10 a.m. on March 10.

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(c)2021 The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.

 

Recently, Local 144 was presented with an amazing opportunity. the Squad A, used at the Strand Theatre Fire was located...

Posted by Brockton Firefighters Local IAFF 144 on Monday, February 15, 2021

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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