Fighting Fire: The Establishment of Boston's Modern Fire Department


First established in 1678 as a group of volunteer fire companies, the Boston Fire Department reorganized in 1837. The reorganization marked the beginning of Boston's modern Fire Department.  One hundred and seventy-five years later, we're commemorating the advent of our city's Fire Department with documents and images chronicling the 1837 events that led to its establishment.


Exhibit by Marta Crilly and Kristen Swett


The Broad Street Riots

In 1837, riots broke out when Engine 20, a Yankee fire company, and an Irish funeral profession met on Broad Street and came to blows after a dispute over right of way. The Broad Street riots spurred a reorganization of the fire department from a group of volunteer fire companies to a full time, paid force.

The Establishment of the Fire Department

After the Broad Street Riots, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen reorganized the city's firefighting force. By creating a full time paid force, the city hoped to end problems caused by companies comprised of volunteers. On July 29, 1837, Mayor Samuel A. Eliot combined the city's fire fighting orders and by-laws into one ordinance entitled "An act for preventing and extinguishing fire and establishing a fire department." This ordinance signalled the advent of Boston's modern fire department.