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How the Fire Department works

Learn about the Boston Fire Department, and how our divisions work together.

The divisions that make up our department are our backbone. They keep us ready to respond to the different types of emergencies that happen in Boston.


The Engine Company is the foundation of our department. They bring fire engines and water  to rescue calls. On the scene, firefighters must find the best course of action and make quick decisions. They use their training and skills to make these decisions based on the nature of the situation.


To protect the public from fire hazards, the Fire Prevention division inspects properties and issues relevant permits, licenses, and certificates. They also educate the public on fire safety and prevention. Learn more about Fire Prevention.


The ladder company opens up entry and exit points during a fire. We need ladder trucks on every call, and they either show up before or with the engine company. Not only do they provide access to the building, but they also work to remove heat, smoke, and gases. This helps firefighters move through the building.


We divide rescue companies into heavy and light rescue. Our two heavy rescue teams work by themselves and with each other, depending on the emergency. We train rescue company members for many situations, including:

  • medical emergencies
  • hazardous material incidents
  • terrorist attacks
  • technical rescues, and
  • other complicated situations.


When the Safety and Special Operations Division responds to all calls. They look for safety issues, liked weakened building. Part of their work includes more technical calls, like:

  • multi-building fires
  • major airport or ship incidents, and
  • subway accidents.

The division also takes part in a program that finds unsafe buildings around the City.


The Special Operations Command researches new equipment and protocols for the other divisions. This includes studying advancements in rescues that include:

  • confined spaces
  • trench collapses, and
  • hazardous materials.  


The Emergency Planning and Preparedness Division plays a big role in planning for the future. Working with Emergency Management, they develop strategies for how to deal with and respond any type of emergency.


The Training Division manages firefighters as they begin and develop in their careers. They research and put in place new training programs. They also learn about new tools and equipment, and bring that knowledge to firefighters.


The Personnel Division includes all the behind-the-scenes teams, like administration and the medical office.  Aside from handling disputes, they also manage:

  • hiring practices
  • skills testing
  • medical clearance, and
  • employee records.

By the numbers

To provide protection across the City of Boston, we deploy:

  • 33 engine companies (five of which are trained and staffed to respond to hazardous material, weapons of mass destruction and decontamination incidents)
  • 20 ladder companies
  • two tower ladder companies
  • two rescue companies
  • one marine unit (comprised of two vessels)
  • one Safety Division
  • six Special Operations Command Units, which include a Hazardous Materials Operations Unit
  • one Mobile Decontamination Unit
  • one Decontamination Supply Unit
  • two Technical Rescue Support Units, and
  • one Collapse Unit.
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