Fire Chief William Sullivan, Fire Commissioner Emery Haskell, and a contingent of Malden Firefighters welcomed Mayor Gary Christenson, members of the State Legislative Delegation, City Council, Fire Chiefs from neighboring departments and residents to dedicate a plaque in honor of James G. Fagan who died in the line of duty in 1868. The event took place at the corner of High and Ferry Streets the very place where a horrific fire burned that caused the death of Firefighter Fagen.
Born on April 8, 1844, to Irish Immigrants the Fagan family lived at 19 Irving Street. James joined the Malden Fire Department as a member of the Wannalancet Steam Fire Engine No. 1. The “Wannalancet” was quartered in a small wood frame, one bay fire station located on Pleasant Street, in Malden Square where the Dowling Building currently stands.
On Tuesday May 12, 1868, The Malden Messenger reported “just after 2 o’clock in the morning our citizens were awakened from their slumbers by the cry of - FIRE! accompanied by the quick and sharp peals of our village bells.” Malden fire companies responded - some apparatus being pulled by hand while others were drawn by horse - they arrived to find that the fire involved the Miner Bakery and an adjoining horse stable. Despite the exhaustive efforts of Malden Firefighters, particularly those first to arrive with the Wannalancet Steamer No. 1, the fire steadily increased in size and scope, spreading rapidly involving multiple buildings along both High and Ferry Streets.
Several Malden firefighters led by well-respected Fire Captain Thomas W. Hough, who just three years later would become Chief of the Department, advanced a hose-line into one of the involved buildings in an aggressive effort to halt the fire’s progression. As they pushed further into the burning building, they were confronted by heavy fire conditions that unbeknownst to them had already begun to compromise the structural integrity of the building. Without any warning, the front wall of the building buckled and suddenly collapsed with as the newspaper article reported “a smothering and blinding crash.”
Hose-men from the Daniel Webster Engine Co. 3 from Edgeworth immediately redirected their hose stream onto the fiercely burning ruins of the collapsed structure. Other firefighters, aided by citizen onlookers who had crowded the intersection, quickly began the enormous and dangerous task of removing the heavy structural elements of the collapsed building to uncover their trapped comrades, while endangering themselves in the process. These rescue efforts were soon rewarded when Captain Hough, who had been thrown partially through a window, was pulled from the burning debris. Firefighter George Fredericks was the next to be freed. The third and last member to be located and rescued was Firefighter James G. Fagan. As recorded in the Malden Messenger he was by far in the most perilous condition and sustained the gravest injuries. He was found lying upon his face with a heavy burning timber across his back.
Tragically, on May 21, 1868, nine days after the horrific fire - 153 years ago - Malden Firefighter James G. Fagan succumbed to his injuries. He was the first Malden Firefighter to lose his life in the performance of his duty. At the time of his death James was just 24 years old. Of his death the Malden Messenger reported:
“Very unexpectedly, and much to the sincere regret of all who ever knew him, of all who recognized his strong and earnest endeavor to act his part in life, faithfully to himself and his opportunities, James Fagan died Thursday night. He was known by the majority of our people as a young man, who had achieved for himself a measure of success, who was industrious and energetic, who was useful, and whose example was worthy of emulation by those over whom he exerted influence. By those with whom he was brought in closer contact, he was esteemed and respected, and his character commanded their admiration. He died in early vigorous life, in the discharge of duty, and sacrificed himself, rather than bate one bit of his obligations. Long an active member of the Wannalancet Steam Fire Engine Co. 1 he was always one of the first to perform every task that was entrusted to him. We feel that Malden has occasion, while feeling proud that she has reared such a man so true to himself and his profession, to lament a wise Providence should have taken him in his vigorous manhood and deprived us of his years of usefulness and his worthy example.”
“Today, as a community, we remember a young man, a son of Malden, who had his whole life ahead of him,” said Chief William Sullivan. “One who, as a fireman, placed the protection of his neighbor’s lives and the preservation of their property ahead of his own wellbeing. As a fire department we once again reaffirm our commitment to never forget. To never forget our own, those who have proceeded us in this noble firefighting profession of ours.”
During Chief Sullivan’s research into the life and career of James G. Fagan he was unable to determine with any degree of certainty what badge number Firefighter Fagan had been given upon his appointment to the department or whether in those early years of the Fire Department badges were issued at all. As a result, Badge Number 1 in the Malden Fire Department has been officially assigned to Firefighter James G. Fagan as the first Malden Firefighter to lose his life in the performance of his duty.