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.

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.

The Wireless Telephone of 1913

This blog does not directly tie to Boynton history, but I found it while looking for information on a 1913 Boynton news event. The only South Florida online paper from that era is the Daily Miami Metropolis; the Palm Beach Post does not appear until 1916. I was scanning the headlines and saw an interesting title “A Glimpse of the Future;”  the writer was making predictions on the newspaper of the future, as seen by the Macon News. I thought this would be a good chuckle to see some fanciful musings of our future life. But what I found was a prophecy that would make Nostradamus jealous.

Some of the prophecies:

“…its pages will be smaller, methods of distribution will be quicker and circulation will cover greater areas” – Newspaper pages have certainly shrunk in size.

“Morning and evening papers will be merged and editions will come out almost every hour of the day and night.” – There are no more evening papers with the Internet, cable TV and the 24 hour news cycle.

“News will be collected by wireless telephone and a reporter will always have a portable telephone with him with which he will communicate with his paper without the trouble of going to a telephone.” – The Mobile Phone

“The wireless telephone message will be delivered to the sub-editors in printed column form.’ – The Wireless Tablet

“All the news of the day will be given hot from its source.” – Live coverage of news events

“…a householder will have his daily newspaper printed in column form by a printing machine in his hall… – Desktop Home Printers

There is no byline in the article, so the prophet will remain a mystery. So what is your prophecy for the newspaper 100 years from today? The complete item from September 2, 1913 appears below.

Article from September 2, 1913 Daily Miami Metropolis

Article from September 2, 1913 Daily Miami Metropolis

Boynton’s Earliest Churches

Before Palm Beach County existed, most of southeast Florida was Dade County. Before the pioneers founded religious institutions, the community relied on the occasional traveling missionary for church services. Congregants gathered in homes and in shady

Bethesda-By-The-Sea Church - Palm Beach (Courtesy Florida Memory)

Bethesda-By-The-Sea Church – Palm Beach (Courtesy Florida Memory)

arbors, reading the Bible and singing hymns. As more settlers arrived, the families raised money, gathered materials, and built small local churches. Weather and fire destroyed most of the early church buildings, though one pioneer church built in 1894, the second Bethesda-By-The-Sea Episcopal church, still stands in Palm Beach.

In 1930-1940, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) surveyed churches throughout the state to chronicle the history and inventory the church archives. The WPA reported the Town of Boynton had seven organized congregations with church buildings, though few buildings were the original structures.

According to WPA records, Saint Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church (1900) is the oldest. The records designate Saint John Baptist (1909) as the second oldest, yet a comprehensive history of the Boynton Methodist Episcopal Church, South published in 2006 (First United Methodist Church of Boynton Beach, Florida: A Centennial Celebration: A History of the First 100 Years 1905-2005) is contrary to the WPA date of 1915 and supports the claim the Boynton Methodist formed in 1905.

Original WPA Notes scanned into Florida Memory

Original WPA Notes scanned into Florida Memory

Other early Boynton churches

Saint John Baptist Church 1909

Saint Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church 1923

Community Church 1926

Church of God 1936

New Mount Zion Church 1939

Methodist Church, 1930s

Methodist Church, 1930s

In the 1976 film, The History of Boynton Beach, one of the scenes shows scores of men, women and children exiting a church. As the church-bell chimes, people scurry across Seacrest Boulevard and gather in small groups to chat. The women wear lovely skirts and wear heels, with their heads covered by colorful hats. Nearly every gentleman wears a tie, and most are carrying a suit coat or sport jacket over his arm. Though today many church-goers don’t dress up as much, this idyllic scene is still repeated across Boynton Beach on Sunday mornings.

Today Boynton Beach and nearby unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County are home to nearly 600 religious institutions. The Boynton Beach Historical Society would like to add to its knowledge base and archive with information including primary documents and photographs of each church. To contribute to the history, please email us at boyntonhistory@gmail.com.