Report of the Fire Department - 2017

I am pleased to present the Annual Report of the Wakefield Fire Department for calendar year 2017.

The Wakefield Fire Department continued to receive significant financial aid in the form of state and federal grants during 2017. This grant assistance has become essential to the operation of the department. This year federal grant funding for approximately $45,455 was used to purchase a set of battery-powered hydraulic rescue tools that can be utilized in remote areas away from fire apparatus and in confined-space applications. A federal grant for the replacement of the department’s air bags and forcible entry tools will be applied for in 2018. A state grant has also been applied for to help replace worn out infrastructure to the department’s radio system and for the purchase of fiber optic cable for this system. State funding pays for the training and response costs associated with the department’s participation in the regional hazardous materials and technical rescue response teams.

Calendar year 2017 saw the completion and delivery of a new 1250 gallon-per-minute pumper that will serve the department well for many years to come. The new engine has been designated Engine 1 and will be quartered at fire headquarters in the Public Safety Building. This new pumper represents a significant investment by the town as it strives to keep its fleet of fire apparatus up to date and reliable.

Wakefield has many ongoing construction projects underway underscoring the need for a strong Fire Prevention Bureau staffed with a full-time Fire Prevention Officer. The ability of the department to monitor these projects and follow up on fire safety and enforcement issues in the community has significantly improved since this position was re-instated in 2012.

Emergency Incident Response

During 2017 the Wakefield Fire Department responded to 3,736 emergency incidents, including 3,332 Still Alarms and 404 Box Alarms. This represents a 1.3% decrease over last year’s responses. Wakefield had one civilian fire death in 2017. The department responded to three fires in 2017 requiring a multiple-alarm response.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Thomas Purcell responded to a reported structure fire in a two-family residence at 17 Stark Avenue during the evening of March 23. Firefighters arrived within two minutes of being dispatched to find fire showing on two sides of the structure. A second alarm was struck bringing firefighters from the Melrose, Reading, Stoneham and North Reading fire departments to the scene and Woburn and Lynnfield to cover fire headquarters. The fire was quickly knocked down but caused heavy fire damage to the entire first floor unit and severe smoke and heat damage to the remainder of the building. All four residents of the building were displaced for an extended period until repairs could be made to the house. The cause of this fire was determined to be the accidental ignition of clothes in a basket placed on top of a stove after one of the burners was inadvertently turned on. There were no reported injuries as a result of this fire.

Captain Christopher Smith led Wakefield firefighters responding to Wakefield’s second multiple alarm fire of 2017 in a commercial building at 7 Hart Street during the morning of August 9. Crews arrived to find heavy smoke pouring from the building. Entry was quickly gained to the structure but extremely heavy smoke conditions initially hampered firefighters in their attempt to locate the seat of the fire. A second alarm was struck for manpower bringing crews from Melrose, North Reading, Reading and Stoneham to the scene. The fire was located and contained to an area at the rear of the second floor. The wooden flooring and adjacent floor supports in this area sustained considerable fire damage, while the remainder of the building suffered smoke damage. An investigation determined the cause of the fire to be overturned temporary lighting that ignited nearby combustibles and wooden flooring under it. There were no injuries as a result of this fire. A Woburn engine and Lynnfield ladder truck covered fire headquarters during this incident.

The most serious fire of 2017 occurred at 123-125 Water Street during the evening of September 4. Firefighters under the command of Captain Paul Pronco responded to a reported structure fire in a 6-unit apartment building at this location. On arrival, firefighters found heavy fire showing from several windows at the rear of the second floor as well as an additional report of a person trapped inside the apartment where the fire started. A second alarm was struck summoning firefighters from North Reading, Reading Melrose and Stoneham. The fire was contained at an apartment at the rear of the second floor. Sadly, the sole occupant of that apartment, a 71-year-old mobility-impaired woman, was not able to escape the fire and died at the scene. Troopers from the State Fire Marshal’s Office along with local police and fire officials investigated the fire and determined the fire to be accidental, most likely due to the ignition of bedding caused by smoking in bed.

There were several other significant fire incidents that occurred during 2017.

Firefighters under Captain Paul Pronco responded to a fire at 9 Carriage Lane during the evening of January 31. Firefighters arrived to find a heavy smoke condition on the second floor and quickly determined the cause to be a clothes dryer fire. The fire was quickly confined to that area, but not before it had caused considerable smoke damage throughout the second floor. There were no injuries as a result of this fire, however, the family occupying the home was displaced for several days.

Firefighters under the command of Acting Captain Robert Taggart responded to a structure fire at 90 Myrtle Avenue during the early morning of April 7. Firefighters were initially dispatched to the Renwick Road area before being redirected by the police to Myrtle Avenue. First arriving firefighters encountered a fire on the rear wall of the residence rapidly extending into a three-season porch. The fire was quickly contained to this area but caused considerable smoke damage throughout the residence. The three occupants of the house were displaced until repairs could be made. The cause of the fire appeared to be an arcing electrical cord that was damaged when it was caught between a basement bulkhead door and its framing. There were no injuries to any responding firefighters or residents. The Stoneham Fire Department assisted at the scene while a Reading engine covered headquarters.

Firefighters under the direction of Captain Brian Purcell responded to a reported structure fire at the Colonial Point Apartment building at 95 Audubon Road during the evening of August 15. Crews quickly found a fire inside the first floor main electrical room creating a smoke condition in the area as well as on several upper floors as the smoke made its way into the elevator shafts. The Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department (WMGLD) quickly responded and shut down power to the building, allowing firefighters to extinguish the fire. Many occupants of the 176-unit apartment building evacuated to the parking lot while electricians called to the scene by the property owner made emergency repairs to the electrical system. Additional firefighters from Lynnfield, Reading and Stoneham as well as units from Action Ambulance were called to the scene to help triage any occupants with medical needs and assist them with evacuating the building. The Wakefield Police Department responded and assisted with crowd control as the parking lot was congested with several hundred residents from the complex. The Red Cross responded to the scene to provide food and water to the occupants and Rehab 5, a volunteer group, provided drinks and snacks for first responders. Power was eventually restored to the building after several hours. There were no injuries as a result of this fire and the occupants were able to remain in the complex, preventing the need to open an emergency shelter. Excellent cooperation between firefighters, police officers, WMGLD workers, paramedics and the electrical workers resulted in the rapid control of a dangerous situation that could have easily displaced hundreds of residents for an extended period of time.

Captain Thomas Purcell led crews that responded to a reported fire at the Park Crossing Condominiums at 234 Water Street during the afternoon of November 4. A brief investigation turned up a fire inside the washing machine of a third-floor unit. The fire was quickly contained to the washing machine but caused a considerable smoke condition throughout the unit and adjacent third floor corridors. The cause of the fire was determined to be an unknown mechanical failure inside the washer. There were no injuries and no one was displaced as a result of the fire.

Wakefield firefighters led by Captain Brian Purcell responded to Mike’s Gym at 10 Broadway, after smoke was spotted coming from the building during the evening of November 9. Firefighters soon determined the source of the fire to be a malfunctioning sign on the front of the building. Power to the sign was disconnected and the fire was quickly extinguished. The cause of the fire was determined to be a burned-out ballast in the sign. There was no other damage to the building and no one was injured.

A deep-seated fire in the leaf pile at the Nahant Street town pit taxed the department during the last week of December. The fire self-ignited due to the spontaneous release of heat that results from the breakdown of compost materials. The fire was extremely difficult to extinguish due to the size and height of the pile and extremely cold temperatures in the region during the end of December. The department worked whenever possible with the Wakefield Department of Public Works (DPW) utilizing heavy equipment to pull apart and extinguished the fire. Extremely cold temperatures prevented the department from establishing a water supply line into the pit area, forcing a water shuttle operation where water was applied to hot spots one tank at a time. The department’s pumping engines began to freeze up if operated for too long in the frigid temperatures. The department will monitor the situation in the pit area and conduct a more thorough check of the pile to complete extinguishment once the weather warms up above freezing.

There were several non-fire related incidents that were noteworthy in 2017.

Crews operating under Captain Randy Hudson responded to a reported multiple-car accident with trapped occupants during the morning of February 8. Icy conditions on Route 95 resulted in the collision of approximately 55 vehicles including tanker trucks, flat tops and other commercial vehicles mixed in with passenger cars. Firefighters worked quickly to triage the injured while additional firefighters and ambulances were called to the scene. Firefighters from Lynnfield, North Reading, Reading and Melrose assisted at the scene while Saugus firefighters covered headquarters. Ambulances and tow trucks from all over the region responded to assist at the scene. Surprisingly, only eight people were injured and none of them seriously. Equally amazing was the fact that none of the trapped occupants required the use of any hydraulic rescue equipment (Jaws of Life) to free them. The wrecked vehicles were towed to the Comverse parking lot on Quannapowitt Parkway so that the highway could be cleared as quickly as possible. Quick and efficient cooperation between firefighters, law enforcement, ambulance crews and tow truck operators prevented a very serious accident from turning into a potential tragedy. A Melrose fire engine was involved in a separate accident while working the scene of another car accident further north on Route 95 that occurred during this incident. Fortunately the Melrose firefighters aboard the fire engine were not seriously injured.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Paul Pronco responded to a reported motor vehicle accident involving a tanker truck on Route 95 southbound just before exit 39 at North Avenue shortly after midnight on March 11. Wakefield and Reading firefighters arrived within minutes to find an 11,500-gallon gasoline tanker that had collided with two other vehicles before striking and coming to rest on the Jersey barrier. The tanker then partially separated from the truck cab before it rolled over the Jersey barrier and landed in the high-speed lane on the northbound side of the highway. Incredibly, there were only minor injuries to all the vehicle occupants and the tanker did not explode. Firefighters quickly set up a unified command with local and state police agencies. A water supply was established to a hydrant some 950 feet away on Walker’s Brook Drive. An absorbent material was applied to each of the five leaking manholes on each compartment of the tanker that were all actively leaking gasoline. Nearby storm drains were also diked to keep gasoline from entering the drainage system and nearby Lake Quannapowitt. The Massachusetts District 2 Hazardous Materials Response Team, the Massport Fire Department, The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection all sent personnel to the scene. Chief Sullivan assumed overall command of the incident as the hazardous materials team developed a plan to mitigate the incident. Highway traffic was shut down in both directions. Hazardous Materials Technicians, under the protection of Massport, Reading and Wakefield firefighters with charged hose lines and firefighting foam, drilled into each tanker compartment and pumped out the gasoline into another tanker truck parked nearby. As each compartment was emptied, dry ice was placed into it to prevent flammable fumes from igniting. This process took some nine hours to complete with ambient temperatures hovering around 12 degrees and winds that often gusted to more than 40 mph. Traffic on Route 95 was backed up for miles as traffic was diverted to the on and off ramps on the southbound side and Quannapowitt Parkway on the northbound side of the highway. Hard work by well-trained firefighters and dozens of other emergency personnel from various agencies resulted in the loss of less than 50 gallons of gasoline out of a total of 11,500. The successful outcome of the entire operation is a testament to the courage, skill and determination of all those who responded to this incident.

Crews led by Captain Christopher Smith responded to Hartshorne Cove on Lake Quannapowitt on the morning of July 16 after receiving reports that a body had been discovered in the lake near the floral path off Church Street. Upon their arrival, firefighters found that an adult male had been pulled to the shore by Wakefield Police Officers. Unfortunately the man had been deceased for an unknown period of time and could not be revived.

Firefighters under the direction of Captain Randy Hudson responded to a report of an overturned boat in Lake Quannapowitt about noon on September 1. Firefighters quickly launched the department’s fire boat and rescued the two occupants who had been in the cold water approximately 20 minutes. The mast of the sailboat had become stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake and was later retrieved by members of the Quannapowitt Yacht Club. Windy conditions and choppy waters made the rescue of the boaters as well as the recovery of the sailboat more difficult.

Wakefield was hit by a heavy rain storm accompanied by high winds during the early morning hours of October 30. The storm caused several power outages including a large area of the North Ward and Montrose sections of town for several hours. Downed trees and large limbs took out power lines, stuck homes and blocked streets on Briarwood Lane, Friend Street, Lowell Street, Mackenzie Lane, Park Street, Parker Road and Whittier Road. Wakefield once again benefitted from having its own light department as employees from the WMGLD worked quickly to restore the outages. In most cases within several hours and in all areas by noon on October 30. Crews from the DPW quickly cleared blocked streets of trees and debris. The department responded to 15 emergencies involving water leaks, arcing wires and downed trees and power lines related to the storm.

Firefighters under the command of Acting Captain Joseph Albert responded to Crystal Lake on the morning of December 28 after receiving reports of a deer in distress out on the ice. Department members donned cold weather survival suits in the frigid temperatures and managed to rescue the deer from the ice using some rope and an ice rescue sled. The deer was found to be severely injured, in deep shock, and sadly had to be euthanized shortly after it was rescued.

The Wakefield Fire Department responded to 52 requests for mutual aid during 2017.

Mutual aid responses included fires in Lynnfield, Malden, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Saugus, Stoneham and Woburn. A crew from Engine 2 led by Lieutenant Joseph Albert assisted the Stoneham Fire Department at the scene of a wind-driven brush fire on Pine Street near the DPW facility during the afternoon of April 16. A crew from Engine 2 under the direction of Acting Lieutenant Daniel Hancock assisted the Saugus Fire Department at the scene of a 2-alarm fire at 435 Walnut Street during the afternoon of May 3 that sent Wakefield Firefighter Erik Cole to the hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion. A crew from Engine 2 led by Lieutenant Michael Long covered a vacant Revere fire station during a 4-alarm fire in that community during the morning of June 13. Lieutenant Robert Taggart led firefighters from Engine 2 at the scene of a 3-alarm fire at 62 Goss Avenue in Melrose during the afternoon of June 18. Lieutenant Michael Long and a crew from Engine 2 responded to a 3-alarm fire in Melrose during the afternoon of September 27 that sadly took the life of an elderly occupant. A crew from Engine 2 under the command of Lieutenant Sean Curran assisted the Woburn Fire Department at the scene of a 3-alarm fire at 23 Hart Place during the evening of December 17.

Wakefield firefighters assisted at two large fires in the region during 2017. Lieutenant Phil Preston, Firefighter Jonathan O’Brien and Firefighter James DeMartino, along with more than 100 other area firefighters responded to a 6-alarm fire at 52 Sanborn Street in Reading during the afternoon and evening of June 1. This fire involved a former high school building that had been converted into a 40-unit condominium building, resulting in a response from more than a dozen departments before finally being extinguished some 12 hours later. A crew from Engine 1 consisting of Lieutenant John Mercurio, Firefighter Daniel Hancock and Firefighter Sean Giampa assisted the Waltham Fire Department at the scene of an 8-alarm fire at a group of former mill buildings being converted into condominiums. The recently installed sprinkler system had yet to be turned on, causing the fire to gain considerable headway before the arrival of firefighters and eventually destroying 5 separate buildings. More than 100 firefighters from a dozen communities battled the fire through the night and well into the next day. Wakefield’s crew did not return home until 4 P.M. that afternoon.

Lieutenant Michael Long and Firefighter Steven Bivens responded along with other members of the Northeast Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team to the scene of a wall collapse at 327 Lowell Street in Peabody during the early evening of August 28. The team worked to recover the body of an adult male who was killed when a retaining wall collapsed on him. The Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council reimburses the department for all training and incident response expenses associated with this team.


As of December 31, 2017, the Wakefield Fire Department consisted of 51 personnel: The Fire Chief, five Captains, including a Captain assigned as Fire Prevention Officer, 12 Lieutenants, 32 firefighters; and one civilian administrative secretary.

Calendar year 2017 brought some personnel changes to the Wakefield Fire Department.

Wakefield Firefighter Daniel Marsinelli retired on June 21 after serving with the department for more than 28 years. Marsinelli was appointed a permanent firefighter on January 26, 1989. He was a member of the Massachusetts District 2 Hazardous Materials Response Team and was the senior firefighter on Group 4 at the time of his retirement. Marsinelli received a Medal of Valor from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services as well as a local department commendation for his actions in rescuing a woman from a smoke-filled hallway during a fire at the Rockledge Apartments on December 20, 1997. The department will miss Firefighter Marsinelli’s experience and wishes him a long and healthy retirement.

The retirement of Firefighter Marsinelli resulted in the appointment of recruit Firefighter Joseph Treacy to the department on November 1, 2017. Firefighter Treacy is a Wakefield native and a veteran of the United States Navy. He is presently enrolled in a ten-week training program with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy with an anticipated graduation date of January 22, 2018. The department welcomes Firefighter Treacy and wishes him a long and productive career in the fire service.

Apparatus and Equipment

The Department accepted delivery of a new 1250 gallon-per-minute (GPM) pumper truck in August of this year and has designated the new truck as Engine 1. This new pumper truck will replace the 2006 Seagrave 1250 GPM truck of the same capacity as a front-line pumper and will serve the town well for many years. The 1996 pumper, known as Engine 4, will continue to serve the department as a reserve pumper quartered at the Greenwood Fire Station. The former Engine 1 has been renumbered to Engine 5 and will serve as a reserve pumper quartered at fire headquarters at the Public Safety Building.

The Department received a federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) totaling $45,455 to be used towards the purchase of a set of battery-powered hydraulic rescue equipment. This AFG grant funded 90% of the cost of this equipment with the remaining 10% local match coming from a Fiscal Year 2018 Capital Outlay request. This equipment requested under the AFG grant will include a hydraulic cutter, a spreader, a combination cutter/spreader unit, a set of hydraulic rams and a portable power unit. The new tools are equipped with built-in hydraulic reservoirs, eliminating the need for cumbersome cables. The battery-operated tools will also be much quieter than the gasoline-powered unit currently used in remote locations. The tools are lighter and do not generate carbon monoxide during their operation, allowing them to be used in situations involving confined spaces.

Town Meeting authorized the expenditure of $180,000 during the fall of 2016 for upgrades and improvements to the radio system infrastructure for both the police and fire departments, including radio receivers, repeaters, comparators and associated equipment. The requested funding would also add an additional repeater site at the Northeast Regional Vocational School for police and fire radio systems, boosting the radio signal for this area of town. The present Verizon copper phone lines that connect the various receivers with the Public Safety Building and the main repeater on the Hart’s Hill water tower are obsolete and fail often during inclement weather rendering one or more receivers inoperative. The new equipment will utilize fiber optic cable to connect the receivers and repeaters, making the radio system for both departments more efficient and safe.

All the department’s pumper engines, fire hose, ground ladders, air compressor and breathing apparatus were inspected, tested and certified during 2017. The aerial ladder for Ladder 1 was also inspected and certified.


The department participated in many training programs this year, including programs offered by the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy as well as outside vendors brought in to train on specialized topics. During 2017 the Wakefield Fire Department conducted training sessions covering the following topics:

Captain Paul Pronco and Firefighter Steven Bivens continue to be active members of the Northeast Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team, which became operational in February of 2010. Firefighter Daniel Marsinelli retired in June from the department and the District 2 Hazardous Materials Response Team. Firefighter Marsinelli was replaced by Lieutenant Michael Long, who left the technical rescue team to join the hazardous materials team.

Fire Prevention - Fire Safety Education

The department conducted in-service inspections of all commercial and industrial properties in town during 2017. As a result, 597 business fire inspections were conducted in the community between March and December of 2017 by on-duty firefighters operating on a ready-to-respond basis. An additional 80 quarterly inspections of school buildings, nursing homes, hotels and boarding homes were also conducted. Another 24 inspections directly related to local and state licensing of restaurants, group homes, day care centers and after-school programs were completed. The Fire Prevention Officer or Fire Chief completed more than 94 compliance inspections during 2017 to ensure that any potential violations or hazards discovered were corrected. These inspections have also resulted in updated emergency business contacts for these properties, allowing property owners to be notified quickly so that they can respond to an emergency scene. These in-service inspections also have the added benefit of familiarizing department members with the floor plans and individual hazards associated within buildings prior to an emergency situation. The department worked closely monitored the July 4th parade and fireworks as well as a blasting project on Lovis Avenue.

The calendar year 2017 has brought an abundance of construction activity to Wakefield. Many buildings were demolished in preparation for new construction including locations on Butler Avenue, Crescent Street, Evergreen Street, Hart Street, Main Street, Middlesex Street, North Avenue, Richardson Street, Sweetser Street, Sylvan Avenue and Water Street. The department‘s Fire Prevention Bureau closely monitored and completed final inspections of large construction projects at the Brightview assisted living facility at 21 Crescent Street, a three-story apartment building at 600 North Avenue and a two-story medical office building at 888 Main Street. Large solar panel arrays have been installed on top of the parking garages at 600 and 700 Edgewater Drive that will provide supplemental power for those office buildings. The building at 400 Audubon Road has been converted to an enormous self-storage facility. Several new restaurants opened in Wakefield including the Public Kitchen in downtown Wakefield. The basement of the Dollar Tree store in downtown Wakefield has been converted to a self-storage facility. The department continues to conduct plan reviews of dozens of residential additions, new homes and commercial tenant fit-ups in many locations around Wakefield.

The year 2018 promises to be another busy construction year for Wakefield as a large construction project involving a five-story, 60-unit condominium complex with commercial spaces at 175 North Avenue will be finished by March of 2018. Several other mid-rise apartment and condominium projects have been approved for construction in 2018 for Bennett Street, Foundry Street and Main Street. Additional residential projects may be approved in the near future on Water Street, Foundry Street and Hopkins Street. A large self-storage facility has been proposed for the Water Street area. The Fire Prevention Bureau will closely monitor these developments during calendar year 2018.

The department presently does not have the necessary funding to conduct fire safety classes in the local school system. This is unfortunate since classroom instruction of fire safety and survival skills have been proven to save the lives of school-age children on many occasions state wide. Several large pre-schools in town including the preschool center at the Doyle School as well as some kindergarten classes visited both fire stations during 2017. Multiple fire drills were conducted at each school facility and the department assisted with multi-hazard evacuation drills at every public and private school in Wakefield during 2017. The department participates in school activities including guest reader days and fire truck washings whenever possible as it strives to increase its visibility in the school system and promote awareness on fire safety issues.

The re-instatement of the full-time Fire Prevention Officer position in 2012 continues to positively affect the department’s ability to conduct enforcement responsibilities more efficiently and effectively. Commercial properties are being inspected and violations are followed up in a timely manner. Each duty shift is given the opportunity to conduct walking tours of various commercial properties and major construction sites in town. This increases the awareness and overall operational safety of all department members by making them aware of specific safety hazards that they may encounter at the locations they visit.


In conclusion, I am grateful to the community and especially our Selectmen, Finance Committee and our Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio for their ongoing support during the year. The new fire engine placed into service in 2017 will serve the town well for many years to come. As the Town enters 2018, my goals are to closely monitor the town’s ongoing major construction projects, provide quality training programs for department members and to continue to advocate for and request funding for new fire department equipment.

I would like to thank all the members of the Wakefield Fire Department, the Wakefield Police Department, all other Town boards, committees and departments and the citizens of Wakefield for their continued support and assistance.

Respectfully submitted,

Chief Michael J. Sullivan
Wakefield Fire Department

Further reading:

Reports from previous years: