Jungle Fire: History of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue

For this blog we are pleased to have a another Boynton Beach Fire Department history installment from our resident guest blogger, Michael Landress of the Boynton Beach Fire Department

An interesting early morning structure fire during the late 1940s occurred at a tiny pub called the Jungle Inn Bar located in Briny Breezes. The inn was a popular drinkery owned and op…erated by a man called “Biggin” Baskin — aptly named due to his mountainous size.

The fire began as an unattended barbeque pit that was used inside the tavern collapsed in the wee hours of the morning, sending smoldering coals crashing to the ground. The unabated embers ignited the wooden floorboards and flames quickly rolled up the walls.

This 1946 Mack 500 GPM Piston Pumper is the truck used during the Jungle Inn Bar fire. The fire engine would prove its worth, as it was still in service in our department during the 1970s

This 1946 Mack 500 GPM Piston Pumper is the truck used during the Jungle Inn Bar fire. The fire engine would prove its worth, as it was still in service in our department during the 1970s

The department had recently purchased a 1946 Mack 500 GPM piston pumper and Boynton firemen responded to the blaze with the new engine. On arrival, they found the inn totally insulted by fire. They staged the fire engine parallel to the tangled mangroves and Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in hopes of drafting water, as hydrants were few, or non existent.

In the chaos that ensued, the weary operator engineer [driver] stood aghast at the pump panel. Scratching his head in disbelief, he had forgotten the sequence for pumping. Fireman James I. Lacey then stepped up to the panel and quickly engaged the pump. As other firemen began to pull multiple sections of hose and nozzles from the engine, James deployed the hard suction, complete with strainer into the saltwater, thus beginning the drafting process.

They valiantly battled the blaze until dawn.

“It was saltwater, but it was wet. We pumped water until daybreak and finally extinguished the fire. It was a good thing because we noticed that our drafting hose and strainer were dangling in mid air. The water level had dropped considerably. We thought that we had drained the canal until we realized it was an outgoing tide! We all enjoyed a hearty laugh.”

~ Fireman Lacey

Michael Landress

Michael Landress

Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.

Quiet Hero

Written by Guest Blogger Michael Landress of the Boynton Beach Fire Department

The 1970s were the beginning of the paramedic program for the Boynton Beach Fire Department. Fireman Gene Kight is credited with initiating the program along with medical directors Richard Vollrath and Charles Akes.

Gene became somewhat of a reluctant celebrity in the early ‘70s. On May 7, 1974, Gene was returning home from Miami after visiting with the City of Miami Fire Department’s Rescue Division. Traveling north on Interstate 95, Gene was waved down by other motorists and asked to assist in the rescue attempt of a crane operator working nearby.

Gene Kight, Image courtesy The National Enquier

Gene Kight, Image courtesy The National Enquier

The operator had raised the boom of the crane tangling it in a web of overhead high tension electrical wires. The man was actually being electrocuted as Gene approached the scene. In a perilous move, and with nothing more than a pair of gloves for protection, Gene pulled the man from the crane, thus saving his life. Gene received third degree burns to his left arm.

Gene’s bravery did not go unnoticed by the local newspapers. Numerous articles were featured in the papers calling Gene a true hero. Miami Fire Chief, D.A. Hickman, sent a letter to Boynton Beach Fire Chief E. Wright on Gene’s behalf.

Perhaps the most exciting recognition he received was a letter of appreciation from the President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford. Gene was also named the “1974 Florida Fireman of the Year” by the Florida State Firemen’s Association for his unselfish act of heroism.

Gene continued his work in developing and enhancing the paramedic program until his retirement in 1997. Author’s note; although I did not have the opportunity to work with Gene during his distinguished career, I have had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and believe it when I write, he is a quiet hero!

Michael Landress

Michael Landress


Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.

Unity and Patriotism

This 911 tribute is written by guest blogger Michael Landress of the Boynton Beach Fire Department.

911 Tribute

911 Tribute

September 11, 2001 happened to fall on “B” shift for the men and women of the Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. I was working as the lead paramedic on Rescue No. 2 along with firefighter 3, Randy Jute and probationary firefighter, Adam Turey.
Our normal morning activities of inventorying supplies, checking vehicles, cleaning the station and perpetuating firehouse gossip was abruptly halted by a barrage of horrific images coming from national television broadcasts. We focused on the small TV in the kitchen to witness the top portion of the north tower of the World Trade Center being enveloped in thick, black smoke.
The smoke was billowing uncontrollably from a gaping hole in the building and initial reports were unclear. However, I vividly recall reporters stating this may have been accidental.  “A small plane has just struck the north tower of the World Trade Center . . . more details to follow,” one of them muttered.
It was painfully obvious this was no accident as United Airlines Flight No. 175 slammed into the south tower in an exploding orange ball of fire and falling debris. The plane literally disintegrated into the building killing everyone on board instantly. Terrorists had planned and executed an affliction on American soil like no other time in modern history with perhaps the exception of Pearl Harbor.
As Randy, Adam and I discussed our own strategies for combating such a blaze, the north tower began to buckle and crumble. This magnificent structure, now insulted by fire, collapsed in a huge cloud of dust that blanketed the streets of Lower Manhattan — forever shattering our sense of security.  We realized that it was just a matter of time until the south tower would succumb to the same intense heat radiating from the burning jet fuel. It too, would finally collapse under its own great weight. It was surreal watching this calamity unfold on live television.
My wife called the fire station — her voice cracking with fear as the twin towers disappeared from the New York City skyline. I desperately tried to calm her fears, while coping with my own.  Our reality then set in when the station alarm sounded, summoning us to the first of many emergencies we would handle on this day. My emotions remained mixed throughout the arduous twenty-four hour shift. I was experiencing feelings of anger, grief, helplessness, but above all, I had feeling of unity and patriotism.
Everyone we encountered, including patients, nurses, ER physicians and the notoriously cranky trauma surgeons offered support for what we were doing — simply our jobs. I’ve always been enamored with this profession, but never have I been so proud to have worked as a firefighter/paramedic as I did on September 11, 2001.

On the first anniversary of September 11th, I was invited to speak to a group of young people regarding the events of that day. I chose words of celebration, not of despair. I reflected on the newfound sense of unity and patriotism I had experienced.
Perhaps I am naïve, but I felt as though, albeit brief, that everyone in the country, regardless of race, color or creed, seemingly became one. We were all touched by this tragedy — not for the color of our skin, nor our political affiliation or religious beliefs, but simply because we are Americans.
Who can forget the bipartisan, campy rendition of “God Bless America” sung by members of Congress on the steps of Capitol Hill? Yes, it’s true, some sang like squeaking hinges, but it was good to see cooperation and unity from our leadership.
It’s troublesome to think it takes this type of cataclysm for the people of this great country to come together as one nation.
I will always hold the 343 New York City firefighters, the paramedics and emergency medical technicians, the police officers, the port authority personnel, our military and civilians who were murdered on that clear September morning in the highest regard.

Michael Landress

Michael Landress

Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.

In Memoriam: Fireman Lacey’s Final Ride

This piece is written by guest blogger, Michael Landress of the Beach Beach Fire Department.

In Memoriam

In early 2007, Rescue No. 4 (C-Battalion) responded to a medical emergency in the southeast portion of the city just north of Woolbright Road. Upon arrival, they found an elderly male patient named James Irvin Lacey in slight distress and complaining of chest pain.

As our paramedics performed their assessment and initiated treatment, the eighty-eight year old man exclaimed he was once a fireman for the Town of Boynton Beach. He was then transported to JFK Medical Center, where he was treated and released several weeks later.

When I was presented this information by the crew, I began to research the gentleman’s claim. With a little digging through some dusty boxes I discovered that indeed, James I. Lacey was a volunteer fireman with our department. He started his career in 1945 and retired during the early 1960s. I called Mr. Lacey and explained that I was working on a chronological history book for our fire department and asked if he would be receptive to a visit. He agreed, but said not to arrive before 1pm.    As he exclaimed; “I like to sleep in.”

As I knocked on the door and waited, I couldn’t help but think of the memories he may share. I was about to step back in time of our fire department’s history and gather valuable tidbits of information from that era in an effort to enhance the project. Aside from the memoirs of A.R. Cook [an original founding member], there really was no information in the city’s archive regarding the early years of our fire department.

When the door finally opened, a shirtless, wiry, old man was standing there and welcomed me in. He offered me a seat and first spoke of his house — a quaint old Florida block home he purchased in the 1950s. He talked about his lovely wife who passed away in the early 1980s and he explained that he left everything, including the décor, just as it had been when she died — he never remarried.

He was then eager to share memories of the fire department and we spent the next two and a half hours talking shop. Once James began to reflect and speak, he was unstoppable. I could see the gleam in his weary eyes when he recalled something humorous. He would crack a smile and shake his head. He boasted with clarity of the Jungle Inn fire of 1946 [his fondest firefighting memory], and spoke of the Kwik Chek grocery store blaze in 1961.

James mentioned the countless motor vehicle accidents that occurred on Federal Highway and he spoke of the wonderful personalities of his coworkers. Feverishly scribbling notes, there was just no way could I document all of his wonderful stories. Many of those unshared memories he would ultimately take to his final rest and that’s my only regret.

Fireman James I Lacey, ca. 2007

Fireman James I Lacey, ca. 2007

Just prior to finishing our conversation, James slowly lifted himself from his chair then shuffled down a narrow hallway and began rifling through a tiny closet. He emerged and slowly made his way back to the living room clutching a small plastic bag. He reached into the bag and brought forth a vintage 1940s era class “A” cap — complete with a tiny silver badge that read “Boynton Beach Fire Department.”

James donated the cap and it is now on display at Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department’s Fire Station No. 5. It was evident to this firefighter, that even after all these years, Fireman Lacey remained extremely proud of his tenure with our fire department.

James Irvin Lacey passed peacefully in 2010 at his home, just as he left it.

 

Michael Landress

Michael Landress

Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.

Boynton’s First Fire Engine

For this blog, we are pleased to have a second installment from guest blogger, Michael Landress of the Boynton Beach Fire Department. – BBHS Editors

In June 1925, a representative from the American La France Fire Engine Company traveled to Boynton Beach to visit with Fire Chief Charles Senior. The chief was so impressed with the presentation, he requested Mayor Knuth to call a special meeting for later that evening. The mayor and other council members agreed to meet, and shortly thereafter, a deal was struck. The company was trying to sell a fire engine that was involved in an accident in Perry, Florida.

Original hand-cranked siren from the 1910 American La France Fire Engine Company purchased by the Boynton Beach Fire Department in 1915

Original hand-cranked siren from the 1910 American La France Fire Engine Company purchased by the Boynton Beach Fire Department in 1925

The 1910 model fire engine had been returned to the factory and was completely restored to its original condition. The Town of Boynton Beach decided to purchase the truck for the remaining payments, thus ushering in the fire apparatus era.

The fire engine was basically a 500 gallon per minute pumper, complete with a 30 gallon auxiliary soda acid chemical tank, right hand drive and solid rubber tires. The truck was equipped with 1000 feet of 2 ½” hose and 200 feet of 1” chemical hose. Other features included two 10-feet by 4-inch suction hose, an axe and a pry bar.

It was delivered to Boynton Beach on July 4, 1925 by Ray Larabee. He was the chief engineer and mechanic for American La France at that time and drove the truck to Boynton Beach from Jacksonville, most likely using the old auto trail known as the Atlantic Highway. The 300 mile trip began prior to the opening of U.S. Highway 1, and must have been an onerous journey for Larabee, traveling on those unforgiving tires under the searing Florida sun.

It is interesting and remarkable to note that this fire engine was still in service during the 1950s. It was eventually decommissioned after 30 years of service, and then sold to a gentleman in Miami, Florida in 1957 for $350.00.

At the time of the sale, Fire Chief Senior was quoted as saying; “The truck is a rough rider with solid rubber tires and an engine that purrs like a Cadillac.”

The hand-crank siren was removed prior to the sale and is currently on display at Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department’s Fire Station No. 5.

Michael Landress

Michael Landress

Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.