By Seth Daniel
One of the coziest and oldest fire stations in the country is about to shut down for more than a year in order to be renovated, and some are worried that the temporary relocation plan could put the eastern side of the Town at risk.
Fire officials confirmed that renovation plans are in the works, and that the station would likely be vacated on March 31. The relocation period wasn’t specified, but sources said it would likely be for a period of 15 to 18 months.
Engine 50 is located on Winthrop Street, right off of the Training Field, and up just a bit from Warren Street.
Plans to renovate the station have been in the works since May 2015, when Mayor Martin Walsh announced $3.5 million would be dedicated to renovating the old station. It was one of only two historic fire stations in the city to be targeted for a top to bottom renovation. However, there wasn’t much of a peep since then about the project until this week when many became aware that the project would likely start at the end of the month.
While most cheer the updates, the relocation plan is eating at a few residents, who witnessed two major fires on Bunker Hill Street this year and worry about response times.
The plan is to relocated the firefighters from Engine 50 and their apparatus to the Sullivan Square station near the Schrafft’s Center – which is at the far end of the Town on the Neck. In years past, some sources said, when renovations were done, firefighters from Engine 50 were housed in trailers down the Navy Yard. This time that won’t be the case.
Boston Fire Department (BFD) officials, however, said that fire protection in Charlestown over the many months of renovations won’t change in the least. In fact, they said they had a wealth of positive experience in other parts of the city with similar renovations and relocations.
“There is no change in fire protection in Charlestown,” said BFD spokesman Steve MacDonald. “We will still have two engines and one ladder stationed there. We can never predict when an incident requires a response. We have several fire stations at trainings during the day across the city at any given time. It is one reason we send engines from several locations when responding into a fire.
We are going by what we did when Engine 51 in Oak Square, Brighton, was renovated. That station was closed for 13 months and Engine 51 moved to Allston at Engine 41. We had no issues with response there.”
The current building has been a fixture on Winthrop Street since 1918, but there has been a firehouse at the location since 1853. The site is not only the longest serving firehouse in the city, but also the oldest in the country. Engine 50 responds to incidents in Charlestown, North End, North Station and Beacon Hill, and responds to approximately 1,500 incidents per year.
A building was first constructed on the site in 1853 to house the ladder truck, a hall for the military and a room on the first floor for a school. Once Charlestown was annexed to Boston in 1874, the firehouse was the home of Hose Company 3. In 1898, Hose Company 3 became Combination Wagon 7 and then Combination Wagon 2. After disbandment of several other fire companies, the building was closed in 1917 to allow for a major renovation so motorized fire trucks could be accommodated at the station.
Finally in 1918 the structure that still exists today was reopened as Engine Company 50.
In 1981, the firehouse faced closure but a huge protest broke out and Charlestown residents occupied the historic building for several days and dubbed Engine 50 “The People’s Firehouse.”
That civic history has made the Engine 50 Station a closely watched commodity in the Town.