The fire station on Central Street in Ipswich was built in 1907, replacing the fire house at Lord’s Square. Originally built for horse-drawn equipment, it took over the work of the smaller departments at the Old Town Hall, Warren St., Candlewood Rd. and several other locations in town when it became motorized. For over a century, the building has served as the town’s continuously-staffed fire station.
The Collum house fire, 2001
On a Tuesday night in January 2001 the Collum house at 18 Lafayette Street went up in flames. Harold Bowen once wrote that this house had been built from lumber that was salvaged when a tall wood fence surrounding Bialek Park was removed early in the 20th Century.
Lisa Collum and her two young daughters were trapped on the third floor by the fire and perished despite heroic attempts to rescue them by the Ipswich fire department, assisted by teams from neighboring towns. There was no emergency egress from the third floor. Five years later the documentary Into the Fire was created about that tragic night. The video is sad but well worth watching. It provides a wake-up call about the importance of maintaining sufficient fire and emergency services in a community.
“A friend,” “Dedicated,” “Always available and cooperative,” “The best friend we ever had…” These words of Fire Captain Harold Wile in 1972 seemed to sum up the unusual career of the late Russell “Buddy” Scahill; unusual not because he was a good fireman, but because he lived to do what he liked most. “Buddy started as a boy dreaming of becoming fire chief someday and he did it, and I call that true success. He was a damned good firefighter.”
Born across the street from the fire station, it must have seemed prophetic when the late chief donned a miniature uniform as fire department mascot in the 1920’s to sit in the lead engine in Ipswich parades. In 1956 Frank O’Malley tapped Mr. Scahill on the shoulder and told him he had been unanimously elected fire chief by the board of selectmen.
An indication of the esteem in which his fellow townsmen held him came when the town meeting voted Chief Scahill life-time tenure, something the town had not seen fit to confer on any other official. It was an appropriate honor for a man whose life revolved around service to the town for 43 years as a member of the forestry department, the water department, the highway department, and for 31 years, the fire department.
An Act providing life tenure for Russell L. Scahill, INCUMBENT OF THE OFFICE OF CHIEF OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OF THE TOWN OF IPSWICH
Be it enacted as follows: The tenure of office of Russell L. Scahill, incumbent of the office of chief of the fire department of the town of Ipswich, shall be unlimited.
Approved at Town Meeting, February 11, 1963.
“Buddy” Scahill did what he wanted to do most, and he did it to the best of his ability – at any time of day or night. For little boys who dream impossible dreams, the career of “Buddy “Scahill should provide hope.
(adapted from the 1972 Ipswich Town Report and the Ipswich Chronicle, May 18, 1972)