A Special Presentation
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By Britton Crosby
January 2001
(Updated August 8, 2010)
<PREV|  Brush Breaker Index Page | NEXT>
Page 1 
The Story of Brush Breakers
Page 1 - The Story of Brush Breakers
Page 2 - Cape Cod Forest Fires
Page 3 - Before Brush Breakers
Page 4 - The First Brush Breaker
Page 5 - First State Fire Trucks
Page 6 - Fire Towers and the Patrol Planes
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Page 1
1920's - 1930's
The Osterville Fire Station served as the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department's Headquarters.
This photo shows the first brush breaker, a 1937 Ford Brush Breaker, a 1922 Dodge fire truck which served as the town's
first patrol truck, and the 1938 Ford Patrol Truck.
     The story of how the Cape Cod brush breakers came about starts with an understanding of what Cape Cod was like in the "old days."  This feature tries to document and explain how the fire departments on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts adapted vehicles to battle forest fires that burned thousands of acres of woods each year.

     As the story goes, prior to 1937 or so, grass, brush, and woods fires were battled by hand, with hose lines that could reach a fire from a road. The alternative was to use hand tools and pump cans, but this was only good for smaller fires.

     By 1937, vehicles had apparently become large enough and powerful enough to be enhanced with steel bars, sufficient size water tanks, and pumps to go off road and reach fires deeper in the woods than previously possible. By accessing fires quicker, while still small, they were able to reduce a great deal of danger and damage.

     The fire chief in Osterville, Bernard S. Ames also served as the forest fire warden (common in those days). He and some of the other men, including Carl Starck who owned the local garage, and others no doubt, got together and turned a 1937 Ford COE (Cab Over Engine) chassis into a vehicle that came to be known as a "Brush Breaker" by welding steel bars and chassis protection to a truck with a large (believed to be about 800 gallons) tank and a pump.

     The truck was not even finished according to stories, when it responded to its first fire, a large woods fire in Hyannis. The paint wasn't even dry, and surely no one had any experience driving it. The truck got caught in the fire and burned at the first fire it responded to. It was of course rebuilt and became an example from which other departments designed and built trucks for their own communities.

      There continued to be many, many wildland type fires over the years and a number of generations of brush breakers have come and gone over the years. Each generation brought new innovations and adapted to changing conditions. Teams of brush breakers working together on Cape Cod established what became a mutual aid system and helped reduce the damage done by large out of control fires.

      Brush breakers are designed to literally go off road, push over trees as needed, to enter a forest or wildland area to reach a fire and extinguish it while it is still small enough to put out. The alternative is to allow the fire to grow substantially larger as it burns and destroys until it eventually reaches homes or other populated areas. The innovation of this apparatus worked here on the Cape because of the terrain, type of forestation, and other factors somewhat unique to the area.

      Brush breakers are still in use today and while the larger fires have been less often, the potential for them continues to exist. New apparatus continues to be built in anticipation of future fires. These pages show the development and use of apparatus used in battling brush and forest fires around the Cape.



The Centerville-Osterville Fire District was established in 1926 and two fire stations were built, one in each village.
The Osterville station, at 999 Main Street, did double duty as the Town of Barnstable's Forest Fire headquarters station as well.
This photo taken around 1938 shows the Osterville station and the apparatus housed at the time.
C&O Engine 1 was a 1926 Maxim 500 gpm pumper.
TOB Forest Fire Dept patrol truck was a 1938 Ford patrol truck.
and TOB Forest Fire Department 1937 Ford COE was the first brush breaker on Cape Cod.



The "First" of Cape Cod's Brush Breakers.
Built by the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department in 1937 on a Ford Chassis.
It was built at Carl Starck's Garage on Main Street, Osterville.
Designed by T.O.B. Forest Warden and Centerville-Osterville Fire District Chief Bernard .S. Ames
it had all wheel drive, an 800 gallon water tank, steel bars, and a Leonard fire pump.
This unique apparatus was badly damaged by its first major fire, in Hyannis on May 5, 1937,
even before it was officially in service. It was rebuilt and served until 1952 at the
Osterville Fire Station.

Photo showing early trials or training with the new brush breaker in 1937.

The 1937 Ford brush breaker was called to one of its first fires before it's paint  had even dried.
This fire in the Ridgewood Avenue area of Hyannis on May 5, 1937 burned over 2000 acres into the Cummaquid area of town.
This newspaper clipping shows the raging fire as it destroyed the brand new brush breaker.
The truck was rebuilt and served until 1952.

1937 Ford brush breaker in Osterville.


Early forest fire department apparatus in most towns was a pickup truck with a supply of fire extinguishers,
pump cans, hand tools, and brooms.  Eventually small tanks and pumps were installed on these small apparatus.

1930 Forest Fire Truck from Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard

Plymouth forest fire truck c.1930s.
(Plymouth FD collection)

Plymouth forest fire truck c.1930s.
(Plymouth FD collection)

Plymouth Engine 6 with fire extinguishers c.1930s. .
(Plymouth FD collection)



This photo shows a Massachusetts Department of Conservation truck c.1920s
drafting water from a bridge. This would have been one of the early forest fire trucks
operated by the state to assist communities, some of which had little for fire equipment at the time.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Forest Fire Services operated a number of these 1939 Ford 1-1/2 ton cab over fire trucks.
Each truck had a 400 gallon water tank and a PTO pump, and carried about 2000' of hose. 
The Sandwich truck remained in service until 1966.

Several of the State trucks were assigned to the Cape area.  One in Brewster
at the state forest, one in Sandwich, and one on the Vineyard.  The Sandwich
truck was later stationed at the Buzzards Bay Fire Station c.1941. (above).

State fire truck can be seen on the left.

One of the 1939 era Massachusetts Department of Conservation fire trucks
at the Roland C. Nickerson State Forest in Brewster.


1939 State Forest Fire Truck at Pocasset (Bourne) Fire Station.

One of the former State 1939 Ford 1-1/2 ton forest fire trucks.turned up in the 1990s
and it was hoped that the vehicle could be refurbished.  It did not turn out that way.
These photos taken at Shawme Crowell State Park.

This 1939 Ford Forestry Truck was recently salvaged and brought to 
Shawme Crowell State Park to be refurbished.

A number of these 1939 style Ford fire trucks apparently served across the state.














More Pages of Brush Breakers

Page 1 - 1920s - 1930s - First Brush Breaker
Page 2 - 1920s - 1930s - Forest Fires / Memorial
Page 3 - 1920s - 1930s - Fire Towers / Patrol Plane
Page 4 - 1930s - Early Brush Trucks / Breakers
Page 5 - 1930s - 1950s - First County Brush Breakers  
Page 6 - 1940s - 1950 - Early Brush Breakers
Page 7 - 1950s - Second Generation Brush Breaker
Page 8 - 1950s - Brush Trucks
Page 9 - 1950s - 1960s - Second County Brush Breakers
Page 10 - 1950s - 1970s - Breakers and Patrol Trucks
Page 11 - 1960s - Brush Trucks and Fires 
Page 12 - 1960s - Fires and Brush Breakers
Page 13 - 1960s - 1970s - Third Generation Breaker
Page 14 - 1970s - County & Town Brush Breakers
Page 15 - 1970s - 1980s - Brush Breakers & Tankers
Page 16 - 1980s - Breakers & Fires
Page 17 - 1990s - Brush and Forestry Trucks
Page 18 - 1990s - Brush and Forestry Trucks
Page 19 - 1990s - State Forest Fire Apparatus
Page 20 - 1990s - 2000s - Brush Breakers
Page 21 - 2000s - Breakers and Tankers
Page 22 - 2000s - Brush Breakers & Tankers
Page 23 - 2000s - Newest Breakers
Page 24 - 2000s - 2005 Brush Season
Page 25 - 2000s - 2006 Brush Breakers
Page 26 - 2000s - 2007 Brush Breaker Training
Page 27 - 2000s - 2008 Tankers & Forestry Units
Page 28 - 2000s - 2009 Breakers
Page 29 - 2010s - 2010 Brush & Forestry Units


Related Links

Massachusetts DCR - Bureau of Forest Fire Control
Forest Fire Lookout Association
History Early Fire Towers
Massachusetts Fire Tower Locations - Plymouth Brush Breaker Drill April 2006 - Plymouth-Wareham Brush Fires May 2006 - Sandwich Fire Tower 2006

Robert Winston Article on the
Fire Season in Eastern & Southeastern, Mass
Posted May 23, 2008

Falmouth Fire Rescue Training Division
Presents Breaker Training

At Crane Wildlife 2007
Falmouth Fire Rescue Department
presents Chief Farrington's Brush Fire class

Filmed 2007

Photos in this series are from various sources
including fire department and personal collections.