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~ The Story of Cape Cod's Unique Forest Firefighting Apparatus ~

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Original Feature Posted January 2001 - Feature Rebuild August 2022
Page Updated September 11, 2022

~ Forest Fires and the Forest Fire Apparatus Used to Fight Them ~






1 - Cape Cod & The Islands
2 - The Fire Season
3 - Fire The Woods
4 - Forest Fires Threaten Communities
5 - Forest Fires Kill
6 - Some Historic Cape Cod Forest Fires
7 - Spotting Fires - Fire Towers
8 - Spotting Fires - Air Planes
9 - Spotting Fires - Patrol Trucks
10 - Fire Prevention - Smokey Bear

11 - In The Beginning - Fighting Fire by Hand
12 - The 1920's - Brush Trucks 1920 - 1929
13 - The 1930's - Brush Trucks 1930 - 1939 - First Brush Breakers
14 - The 1940's - Brush Trucks 1940 - 1949
15 - The 1950's - Brush Trucks 1950 - 1959
16 - The 1960's - Brush Trucks 1960 - 1969
17 - The 1970's - Brush Trucks 1970 - 1979
18 - The 1980's - Brush Trucks 1980 - 1989
19 - The 1990's - Brush Trucks 1990 - 1999
20 - The 2000's - Brush Trucks 2000 - 2009
21 - The 2010's - Brush Trucks 2010 - 2020
22 - The 2020's - Brush Trucks 2020 - Beyond

Main Index





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     The land known as Cape Cod is a bent arm shaped peninsula that protrudes off the Southeastern coast of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean. It was formed sometime around the end of the last Ice Age (approximately 15,000 years ago). A number of islands, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket were also formed at this time.

     As the ice retreated, what was left behind was a lot of sand and rocky soil that formed the terrain we know today. The Cape is about 65 miles from the Cape Cod Canal to the tip of Provincetown. It varies in width from as much as 20 miles to less than 1 mile wide. The highest elevation is about 306'. All together, Cape Cod is about 339 square miles of land. The land is covered by many bodies of water including fresh water lakes, ponds, rivers, and bogs. Along the mostly sandy shoreline are many harbors, bays, and marshes.

     Martha's Vineyard Island is very similar geologically. It covers about 96 square miles, with about 20 miles in length and a highest elevation of 311'. Nantucket is about 47 square miles with an elevation of only about 30'.

     Just "off Cape" on the mainland side of southeastern Massachusetts, are a number of towns within Plymouth County that also have very similar geology.

     The Cape Cod and Islands area experiences all 4 seasons. Being surrounded by water, the area is often affected by the differences in water temperature and air temperature. Not far off the coast, the Gulf Stream flows from off the Carolinas northward and then to the east just south of the Cape and Islands. Weather systems and winds tend to come from the south or west and move over the Cape to the east. Prevailing winds, particularly in the spring and summer come from the southwest.

     Winters are sometimes mild, influenced by the warmer waters around the Cape, but can also be long and bitterly cold with snow and ice staying for months. Severe weather can include "northeasters" which may last several days, blizzards, and prolonged cold spells which have been known to even ice over salt water.

     Spring weather sometimes begins as early as February, but typically the spring and typical "fire season" goes from March to about May. It is the warming, drying, and windy conditions that historically brought major fires.

     Summer is often moderated by the effects of being surrounded by water. Prevailing southwest winds and on shore breezes make the hottest days pleasant.

     Fall is sometimes the most pleasant part of the year, but is also sometimes a time of fire concern.

     The soil, terrain, and weather all effect the types of vegetation in the area. The Cape & Islands area has always had grasses and marchlands along the coast. Thick under brush is common as well. Forested areas are thickly covered by pitch Pine trees and scrub Oaks. In areas that also have thick under brush, the "fuel" combination has created highly flammable and fast moving fire conditions.

     The 15 towns that make up Cape Cod are all within Barnstable County. Each town is made up of a variety of villages and communities.

     When looking at Cape Cod, there are a few ways to look at it. One way is by its general geographical regions, which are also influenced by various differences in geology, terrain, vegetation, and weather.

     UPPER CAPE. The area closest to the mainland of Massachusetts is considered the Upper Cape area. It includes the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, and Mashpee. In the middle of this region is the Massachusetts Military Reservation (aka Camp Edwards, Otis Air Force Base, MMR, and more recently Joint Base Cape Cod. The Upper Cape is the widest, most forested part of the Cape. Historically many of the largest forest fires have been in this area.

     MID-CAPE. The middle part of the Cape, between the Upper Cape and the elbow where the Cape bends northward, includes the towns of Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Dennis, . Plenty of major fires have occurred in these towns over the years, but they tend to be more thickly settled these days.

     OUTER CAPE. To the east of the Mid-Cape area are the towns of  Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans. This area shares many of the characteristics of the Mid-Cape.

     LOWER CAPE. The Lower Cape, which is actually higher than the rest of the Cape, actually describes the narrowest part of the Cape. It includes towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. The Cape Cod National Seashore is also a major part of this area. One of the challenges to this part of the area is the response time for assistance which can only come from one direction.

     The Island of Martha's Vineyard is also considered Dukes County. It is made up of several towns including Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head). Chilmark, West Tisbury, Tisbury, Oaks Bluffs, and Edgartown. The center of the island includes a large forested area.

     The Island of Nantucket is the single town of Nantucket and its own County of Nantucket.

     The mainland side of Cape Cod is Plymouth County. The lower part of Plymouth County, closest to the Cape, includes the towns of Plymouth, Carver, Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett, Middleborough, Lakeville, Rochester, Plympton, Kingston, and Duxbury. Myles Standish State Forest is a large forest right in the middle of this area.

     Historically, these towns have had many large forest fires and have utilized the same types of forest fire apparatus as the Cape. Often, Plymouth County and Barnstable County have provided mutual aid support to each other many times.


     There are other areas that have similar geological conditions that also utilize a variety of forest fire apparatus similar to the Cape. Bristol County is also in southeastern Massachusetts. Long Island, New York has historically experience very similar fire conditions and uses their own style brush trucks.

     In areas that have different geology, with steeper hills, more rocks, or larger older trees, the conditions may not favor use of this type of apparatus.


Rocks left behind by glaciers on Cape Cod

Pitch Pine forests cover large areas - Myles Standish Plymouth

Thick fuel can spread fires and make access difficult

Clear fire roads and natural clearings are important


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     The traditional "fire season" is the time of year when brush and forest fires tend to grow and spread the fastest. In the Cape & Islands area this tends to be in the spring, essentially March, April, and May each year.

     That is not to say that large fires have not happened at other times of the year. They certainly have many times. But typically, as winter ends and new growth begins, the conditions for brush and forest fires increases.

     When all the conditions come together; warm weather, dry conditions, stronger winds, and some form of ignition, the Cape Cod area can experience some of the more severe fire conditions in the country. Fires have been documented to have burned dozens of acres of land in minutes. Plenty of fires have blackened hundreds, or even thousands of acres of land. Some fires have been as large as 25,000 acres.



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     The native people of the area recognized the danger of out of control brush and forest fires long ago. One of their annual traditions was to "fire the woods" in their area to prevent larger fires from happening.

     By setting smaller (controlled) fires in the lower, thick brush, they were able to burn off much of the fuel that larger fires count on. Once the ground cover is cleared of its flammable fuel, flames are no longer able to reach the higher parts of the trees.

     The use of "prescribed burns" and controlled burns continues today in some cases as the principles learned many years ago are used to reduce fire threats.

     The clearing of fire roads to enhance access and response times was also always an important part of the spring. Large trees fallen across paths and fire roads can greatly increase the odds of larger fires. Many communities operated forest fire patrol crews annually that would make sure these roads were clear.



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     Large brush and forest fires provide a number of threats to communities. In addition to blackening areas of forest, wild fires threaten homes, businesses, and the property of residents. The larger fires are very difficult to stop and will often consume whatever is in front of them until they reach a natural clearing, barrier, or change in weather.

     One Cape Cod fire, in 1887, burned some 25,000 acres of forest from the Pocasset section of Bourne to Sandwich. At the time, one of the largest industries on Cape Cod from 1825 to about 1894 was the Sandwich Glass Company. The impact of the 1887 forest fire destroyed much of the wood needed to fire the furnaces at the factory, ultimately leading to the demise of the company and what it contributed to the community.

     In May 1964, a large forest fire in the Carver area blackened about 5,500 acres and burned approximately 30 cottages.

August 1907 Cape forest fire viewed from Onset

1950s fire in the Plymouth area threatened many homes



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A Tribute - Firefighters Memorial in Sandwich

     On May 4, 1937, a forest fire near Mast Road in the Plymouth Pine Hills area took the lives of 2 Plymouth firefighters. They were trapped by a rapidly moving fire when the wind direction changed causing the fire to sweep across Sandwich Road. Both men were badly burned and are believed to be the first firemen to have died in Plymouth. Many others barely escaped, some with severe burns. Killed in the fire were:

     Herbert R Benton, age 38
     James H Devitt, age 20


About a year later, on April 27, 1938 one of the worst fires ever on Cape Cod claimed the lives of 3 firefighter. At the time, there were a number of forest fires burning in Barnstable County and Plymouth County. The Cape had sent some apparatus of Cape to Plymouth when a fire broke out in Sandwich near what is today Route 130.

     Bourne Deputy Chief Clarence Gibbs took a crew of young men, volunteers, to help him fight the fire in the woods. A 40 mile per hour wind fanned the flames and the crew soon became trapped by the fire. All received severe burns and died as a result. Today a simple Firefighter Memorial stands alongside Route 130 in Sandwich near where they were killed, so that their names will never be forgotten.

     Thomas B Adams, age 43
     Gordon King, age 34
     Ervin A Draper, age 28

Firefighters Memorial Route 130 in Sandwich



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While there have been many "Great Fires" (conflagrations) in some of the largest cities of the world, there have also been many large forest fires. Some of these were in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

A forest fire started by an early morning lightning strike in 1780 caused a forest fire that produced so much smoke in the sky west of Sandwich that it was described as "The Dark Day."

1887 - 25,000 ACRES
The forest fire that eventually brought down the Sandwich Glass Works, burned 25,000 acres of forest in Bourne and Sandwich in 1887. The Glass company was a major Cape industry between 1825 - 1894. The forest fire destroyed about 600 cord of stacked wood at the Sandwich factory, as well as several stands of oak and pine ready for cutting that would be used to fire the furnaces. The company was then forced to purchase and burn more expensive coal. That, and a labor union strike are blamed for the end of the company.

1900 - THE GREAT FIRE OF 1900
A forest fire that started in Carver on September 12, 1900 burned all the way to the shores of Cape Cod Bay. The fire was driven by strong winds, the remnants of the great Galveston, Texas Hurricane. The fire burned 4 miles in one 30 minute period. It destroyed many structures along the way.

July 31, 1909 Forest Fire in Cataumet, Bourne

1923 - 25,000 ACRES
On May 30, 1923 a fire began in the woods in Pocasset village. By the end of the day, it was thought that the fire was out. By morning however, it picked up again and burned throughout the day. Once again, it was believed to be out at the end of the day, only to flare up again the next day. For 7 days, the fire continued to burn its way from Pocasset to Sagamore, Sandwich, East Sandwich, and South Sandwich. Some 25,000 acres were burned over.

1937 - FIRE BUG
A Fire Bug (arsonist) was blamed for a rash of forest fires in the Plymouth area in 1937. One fire burned about 300 acres from the Bourne line to Herring Pond.

     The Fire Bug may have also been responsible for the May 4, 1937 fatal Mast Road Plymouth fire. While that fire was burning, another fire broke out on Island Pond Road, and yet another on Summer Street in Plymouth. These 3 large fires, all burning at the same time, required help from departments in a 20 mile radius. Some 700 men fought the fires.

     The following day, another fire began just north of Ponds Road in Plymouth, burning to State Road. These 4 fires, burning over just 2 days, burned more than usually experienced in 5 years. Other fires that were also set, were able to be controlled with less damage.

     While many brush fires were considered accidental, caused by a train, the careless disposal of cigarettes, children playing with matches, cook fires out of control, or small fires that got away, it was often the Fire Bugs who caused the largest fires in history. They would sometimes start a fire on a back road, drive a few hundred feet and start another, and so on. These fires would quickly outnumber and out match the ability of a small number of firemen to control them.


1946 Cape Forest Fire burned 15,000 acres across 8-1/2 miles

A large Cape Cod fire brought a response from over 45 cities and towns. The fire started on Friday April 19, 1946 in Bourne not far from the Cape side of the Bourne Bridge. The stubborn fire burned for several days and nights until Tuesday April 23, 1946. About 15,000 acres were burned. Some 10 structures were destroyed. Soldiers from the National Guard in New Bedford and Fall River were among those who assisted.

     There were at least 23 other fires reported burning in eastern Massachusetts on Sunday April 21, 1946.

Fire apparatus from 45 cities and towns assisted Cape Cod


This map on the wall at the District 2 Myles Standish office shows fires.

Fire broke out around 3:00 PM on Wednesday May 8, 1957 off Cranberry Road in the Myles Standish State Forest in Carver. A brisk, strong southwesterly wind drove the fire all the way across Plymouth to the water in Manomet, about 12 miles away. Within an hour, there was a 3 mile front of fire.

     About 30 minutes before this fire broke out, a Plymouth Fire Department brush breaker had been sent to help battle a brush fire in Mashpee on the Cape. The Plymouth Chief quickly recalled that truck to return to fight the fire in its hometown. The fire would ultimately burn about 15,000 acres. Fire apparatus from Framingham to Provincetown were reportedly involved in the fire fight.

     Cape Brush trucks from Bourne, Falmouth, Harwich, Truro, and Onset, as well as many from Plymouth County departments and all State trucks across Massachusetts responded. Soldiers from Otis and prisoners from Plymouth were put to work as well as many local and state police officers. Plymouth Fire Chief Everett B Wood ordered the evacuation of more than 150 people. Approximately 6 cottages were destroyed. Over 3,000 firefighters are believed to have fought the fire.


Smoke from the Carver fire in 1964

1964 - CARVER
A large forest fire burned in South Carver on Saturday May 23, 1964.

     Two days later, on Monday, May 25, 1964 at about 1:00 PM, the Fire Tower observed a fire starting up in the Farm-to-Market Road area of South Carver. This was near where the fire burned 2 days earlier. Just 3 minutes later, the Tower observed another fire in the Suther's Marsh Road area off Federal Furnace Road.

     Eight brush breakers from Carver and Plymouth responded to the Suther's Marsh fire. Other apparatus, from Wareham responded to the fire in Myles Standish. The Suther's Marsh Road fire was controlled within about 2 hours, but the other fire continued to gain headway and had grown much larger.

     The fire continued to burn eastward towards Charge Pond and Camp Cashalot at Five Mile Pond and Little Long Pond. The fire jumped the Agawam River and burned  to White Island Pond. Plymouth Fire Chief Arthur Lamb chose to make a stand at White Island Pond to try to block the north end of the fire and at Shangri-La Shores near Glen Charlie Road to the south. About 1,000 men fought the fire as 30 mph winds and extremely dry conditions resulted in the fire destroying about 5,500 acres and some 20 cottages.

One of the structures destroyed in the Carver Fire


The May 1, 1965 fire that jumped Route 6 in Sandwich

The conditions could not have been worse on May 1, 1965. It had been dry and warm. Temperatures were about 75 degrees. A prevailing southwest wind was bowing at about 35 mph. The Fire Hazard was classified as HIGH.

     At about 12:54 PM, the Fire Towers picked up a smoke out on the base (Camp Edwards/Otis Air Force Base). The fire was lined up in the vicinity of Forestdale - Pocasset Road near the impact area. The fire quickly progressed and went on to jump the Mid-Cape Highway (Route 6). The following transcript was provided by Gordon Peters.

12:54 hrs   - Brush Fire is Reported on the Base in area of
                    FORESTDALE - POCASSET ROAD

13:01 hrs  - The BOURNE FIRE TOWER Reports the fire is MOVING FAST.
                   Otis had 2 Breakers Responding.

13:03 hrs  - The Bourne Fire Tower Updates A LOT OF FIRE THERE.

13:06 hrs  - The Bourne Fire Tower Updates LOOKS REAL BAD.
                   State Car 2 - District Fire Warden - Requests 7 or 8 Brush Breakers and
                   4 or 5 Tank trucks.
                   The Yarmouth Mutual Aid Center KCD 246 handles the request.
                    Apparatus Dispatched and Responding included:
                    County Breaker C-15 from North Falmouth
                    Sandwich Breaker B-142 from Sandwich
                    Sandwich Breaker B-143 from Sandwich
                    County Breaker C-14 from West Barnstable
                    Mashpee Breaker B-250 from Mashpee
                    Mashpee Breaker B-253 from Mashpee
                    Bourne Breaker B-130 from Bourne
                    Bourne Breaker B-128 from Bourne
                    Town of Barnstable Breaker B-216 from Osterville
                    Falmouth Tanker 35 from East Falmouth
                    Sandwich Tanker T-148 from East Sandwich
13:12 hrs  - Mashpee Fire Chief Peters Car 251 Reports ON LOCATION -
                   HE REQUESTED 8 - 10 MORE BRUSH BREAKERS - NOW!

13:12 hrs  - Barnstable County Fire Patrol Plane P-18 in the area over the fire
                  Reports 40 - 50 ACRES BURNING AND SPREADING FAST!

13:15 hrs  - Fire Reached WOOD ROAD and is SPREADING FAST.

13:15 hrs  - BOURNE FIRE TOWER put in Request for ADDITIONAL TRUCKS
                   Additional apparatus included:
                   County Breaker C-12 from Dennis
                   Harwich Breaker B-65 from Harwich
                   Barnstable Breaker B-204 from Barnstable
                   Town of Barnstable Breaker B-215 from Cotuit

13:20 hrs  - Calls made to PLYMOUTH COUNTY for
                   15 MORE BRUSH BREAKERS and 10 TANK TRUCKS 
                   PLUS ALL OF THE DISTRICT 2 TRUCKS

13:25 hrs  - The fire reached and CROSSED JEFFERSON ROAD
                   and was rapidly heading for GIBBS ROAD.
                  - A plan was quickly made to MAKE A STAND ON ROUTE 6.
                  - The State Police were asked to CLOSE ROUTE 6.
                  - A Request went out for ALL AVAILABLE PUMPERS and
                    TANK TRUCKS RESPOND to ROUTE 6 and ROUTE 130.
                  - Another Request to PLYMOUTH COUNTY for
                    ALL AVAILABLE PUMPERS & TANKS TRUCKS to Stage
                    on BOURNE/SANDWICH LINE Route 6.

13:30 hrs  - The fire was about to cross GIBBS ROAD.
                   Patrol Plane P-18 Reports DOUBT IT CAN BE STOPPED AT ROUTE 6!

13:45 hrs  - The fire CROSSED GIBBS ROAD and was
                   HEADING FOR MID-CAPE HIGHWAY.

14:20 hrs  - The FIRE JUMPED ROUTE 6 with Many Trucks on the road.

14:40 hrs  - Orders made for ALL PUMPS and TANKERS to

15:30 hrs  - The fire is FINALLY STOPPED at SANDWICH VILLAGE

22:30 hrs  - Apparatus Released from Mutual Aid

The fire burned several thousand Acres of forest in about 2:45 hours. The blackened area was visible from Route 6 for years until new growth filled in. It came very close to burning right into the most congested and historic part of Sandwich.

Photos and information on the fire came from several sources including Dennis Newman and Gordon Peters.

Otis Fire Department Brush Breaker 14 on Mid-Cape as fire approached


A May 15, 1971 fire in the Camp Squanto BSA Campground on the east side of Myles Standish burned about 165 acres. During the fire, the wind changed directions and came down on several brush trucks and crews. Two of the brush trucks, a 1955 Dodge Power Wagon and 1968 International were burned.

     Seven Plymouth firefighters were burned during the fire. More than 40 apparatus from Plymouth and Barnstable County battled the fire.

Plymouth 1955 Dodge Power Wagon Breaker burned in 1971


PAVE PAWS Fire on April 22,1988

On April 22, 1988 a major fire broke out to the west of the PAVE PAWS radar facility at Otis. The fire grew rapidly as it closed in on the facility and burned around it. Flames reached 60' - 100' in the air and thick smoke covered the area. The fire burned about 2,000 acres. Mutual aid came from both Barnstable and Plymouth Counties. Photos taken from Fire Patrol Plane P-18.


PAVE PAWS Fire on April 22,1988


1991 - 1,200 ACRES BURNED
A fire in 1991 burned about 1,200 acres in Plymouth.


A fast moving, 25 mph wind whipped forced hundred of residents to flee a fire in the Captains Country and Wind Shores neighborhoods shortly after 1:30 PM on May 8, 1995. The fire burned about 95 acres and threatened hundreds of homes in the Bourne Road area. Mutual aid came from 18 departments, including many from the Cape.



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Barnstable Fire Tower built in 1914

One of the most important factors in preventing small fire from becoming large fires is to detect them early. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of Fire Towers were erected on some of the highest hills across Massachusetts. These towers were staffed by men and women who knew the area and would keep a sharp eye out for smoke. They could often tell the difference between chimney smoke, a burning by permit or without permit fire, or an actual brush fire.

     The first Fire Tower used by the State was a wooden tower built by public subscription in 1897 on Shootflying Hill in West Barnstable. In 1912, a wooden watchman's cabin was built on top of the tower. In 1914, a sturdier steel tower was erected with both Barnstable and Yarmouth paying a total of $500 to construct it. At this time, about 1 mile of telephone cable was also laid enabling telephone service for the first time. The first radios in Fire Towers were installed in about 1937.

     Eventually more Fire Towers were built. On Cape Cod there are towers in Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, Barnstable, Dennis, Brewster, and Wellfleet. There is one on Martha's Vineyard in West Tisbury.

     In Plymouth County there are towers in Plymouth, Carver, Middleborough, Kingston, Hanson, and Norwell.

1913 Map of Massachusetts show the Fire Towers at that time

Fire Tower Observer keeps a close eye out for smoke

Spotting a smoke while it is still small

In the center of the watchmen's cabin of the Fire Tower is a circular table, with a map covered by a piece of glass. The map includes compass bearings 0 - 360 degrees. A center mounted ALIDADE is used to visually "Line Up" a smoke observed out the windows. That line, or compass bearing, can then be reported by phone, or radio, to other fire towers, patrol trucks, or area fire departments. The idea is to have at least 2 lines that cross and help pin point the location of the fire.

Where two lines cross shows where the fire is located




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Barnstable County Fire Patrol Plane P-18 in 1960s

The use of airplanes to spot fires probably began soon after the first plane took off. There is a photo, believed to have been taken on the Cape, of a by-plane circling a column of smoke probably in the 1930's or 1940's. In the1950s, Barnstable County and Plymouth County both acquired Fire Patrol Planes.

     The simple, light duty aircraft had room for a pilot and observer. The plane was equipped with a fire radio and could communicate with Chiefs and others on the ground to provide guidance, directions, or warnings while circling over fires.

     The Barnstable Fire/Police Patrol Plane was called "P-18" on the radio. In Plymouth County, their plane was known as "1-0"  (One Oh). The Barnstable County plane was sold and discontinued in the 1990s. The Plymouth plane was damaged when it flipped over while landing at Plymouth Airport in October 2020.

     While not often used, helicopters have sometimes been called in to duty. Sometimes for observation and sometimes for water drops in areas that are difficult to reach.

Brush breakers and apparatus observed from P-18 at PAVE PAWS fire 1988

Brush breakers working at Otis June 1987

Plymouth County Fire Patrol plane 1-0 in 2012

A military helicopter demonstrates a water drop in a 2013 drill


A military helicopter filling bucket March 1986 Otis Fire



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Massachusetts Dept of Conservation 1922 Ford Model T Patrol Truck
Lower Cape Patrolman Henry Perry 1922 into the 1950s


The use of Forest Fire Patrol Trucks pre-dates many of the Fire Departments on Cape Cod. Before organized fire departments, some towns had appointed Forest Fire Wardens charged with responsibility for preventing fires and organizing a crew to fight fire when they were discovered. Simple pickup trucks with brooms, rakes, shovels, and water cans would patrol areas. Keeping fire roads clear and watching out for smoke was important.

     Once radios were available, fire towers could communicate with Patrol Trucks to alert them of fires. Some towns had Forest Fire Departments in addition to Fire Departments. The State also operated patrol trucks within the Counties for many years.

Early Patrol Truck in Orleans

A 1934 Chevy Forest Fire Patrol truck with Bourne Fire Department

State DOC - Patrol - 1942 Chevy Patrol Truck - Henry Perry


The 1958 Ford Patrol Truck 210 of Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department

Fires at the dump were very common

Barnstable and State Forest Fire Patrol trucks meet with P-18

State Patrol Truck assigned to Barnstable County


State Patrolman Peter Martin covered the Lower Cape into the 2000's



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Along came Smokey Bear

Following the May 1923 forest fire that burned about 25,000 acres from Pocasset to Sandwich, the State Commissioner of Conservation stated the "something was radically wrong." He was making the point that the fire should have been contained to about 1,000 acres since it wasn't even a "fire day."

     This fire was the beginning of serious efforts to reduce or prevent forest fires. Soon after the fire in 1923, the State purchased hundreds of acres of forest in Bourne and Sandwich creating the Shawme State Forest. The name was later changed to the Shawme - Crowell State Forest in 1938, honoring the long dedication of State Forest Fire Patrolman Lincoln Crowell who was killed in 1938 when his patrol truck was struck by a train in Brewster.

     "A concerted national fire prevention program (dealing with wildland fires) did not follow, until two experiments in 1928..... the Cape Cod Forest Fire Prevention experiment and the Southern Forests Education campaign.... The Cape Cod program involved 110,000 acres of scrub oak and pitch pines. The experiment was intended to compare the costs of prevention and pre-suppression, with those of suppression..." This statement in "Fire in America" by Stephen J Pyne c.1982 demonstrates how serious the forest fire situation on Cape Cod was at the time.

     Obviously, the results of the experiments and study proved that fire prevention and the associated public education was more cost effective than constantly fighting fires.

     Out of this, and other causes, came Smokey Bear and "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" in the 1940s.






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Horse drawn, hand carried

Prior to the early 1900s, fighting fires was very labor intensive. It took dozens of strong men to operate hand pumps supplying a single hose line. Steam fire engines required horses to get the apparatus to the scene. Fighting fires in the woods was primarily using tools or brooms.

     Sometimes wagons, probably horse drawn, would bring a number of water cans and some soda-acid fire extinguishers that could be used to fight brush and woods fires. This was labor intensive and minimally effective, but it was what was available.

Soda-Acid and water created pressurized fire extinguishers

As early motor vehicles became more available in the 1910's - 1920's, the ability to get to fires quicker, carry more equipment, and accomplish more firefighting with less people became possible.

Plymouth Forest Fire Department

Plymouth Fire Department Engine 6

Plymouth Forest Fire Department No.1



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12 - THE 1920'S  - (1920-1929) BRUSH TRUCKS

State Department of Conservation Forest Fire truck 1920s

The early brush trucks tended to be home made, or at least locally made, and were built to carry more water than traditional structural fire trucks at the time that had only small booster tanks. Firefighting brush and woods fires is all about having a lot of water. A variety of used apparatus sometimes was just what was needed to get the job done.

This truck carried a supply of extinguishers - Plymouth

If there was a road, fire trucks might be of use - Dennis

If a fire was deep in the woods, maybe a lot of hose would help - Dennis

A used laundry truck was a good addition to the fleet - Yarmouth

Fire trucks started to be built with larger water tanks - Yarmouth


Larger trucks replaced older, smaller trucks in the 1930's



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13 - THE 1930'S  - (1930-1939) BRUSH TRUCKS

The 1930's brought the first Cape Cod Brush Breakers

The 1930's saw the invention and development of what would be known as the Cape Cod Brush Breaker.

     Earlier trucks were typically just commercially available vehicles that were modified to carry a water tank, some tools, and some hose. The patrol trucks and early fire trucks were like this.

     What changed in the 1930's was the improvement of vehicles to carry additional weight. This enabled them to carry larger quantities of water, ideal for fighting brush and woods fires.

    The challenge was still getting to where the fire was. If the fire could not be reached by a hose from a road, it would continue to grow out of control.

     Somewhere along the line, a 1935 Ford truck was built as a "Forest Fire Patrol" truck for the "Shawme Forest" in Sandwich. The truck had some steel bars welded on it providing some protection for the vehicle and possibly getting thinking started for what was to come. Perhaps it was the beginning of Cape Cod Brush Breakers.

The 1935 Ford "Forest Fire Patrol" at Shawme Forest

The Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department's "First"
1937 Ford COE 800 gallon "Brush Breaker" at Osterville.

1937 Ford Brush Breaker built to push over small trees

As the story goes, the Barnstable Forest Fire Department traditionally gets credit for having the "First" Cape Cod Brush Breaker.

     The Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department got its start sometime around 1922 with Fire Warden Robert Cross and 1922 Dodge Patrol truck that was kept in his garage since there was no fire department in Osterville where he lived at the time.

     The Centerville-Osterville Fire District's first Fire Chief Bernard S Ames served from 1926 to 1950. Small fire stations were built in Osterville and Centerville. Two Maxim 500 gpm pumpers were bought. Soon, the Forest Fire Department was able to also park the 1922 Dodge in the Osterville Fire Station.

     Chief Ames eventually became the Fire Warden in charge of the Barnstable Forest Fire Department  as well as his position as the C-O FD Fire Chief. Next door to the fire station was a gas and service station. Up the street was a foundry that built pumps.

    In 1937, they bought a Ford COE (Cab Over Engine) 10 wheel, all wheel drive truck chassis. Working with one of the locals, Carl Starck at the service station next to the fire station, they began to build a fire truck. It was equipped with an 800 gallon oval water tank. It had a Leonard Fire Pump, built up the street, that ran on a separate motor that made the truck able to pump and roll. A large hose reel was placed behind the cab. Most significantly, some pretty heavy duty steel bars were welded to the truck in a manner that protected the truck and enabled it to push over brush and small trees. The result was the "Brush Breaker."

    The story goes on to explain that the truck has just been painted, when a forest fire broke out in the Ridgewood area of Hyannis on May 5, 1937. "The paint wasn't even dry" when the truck was sent to its first fire!

Barnstable Forest Fire Department's "First Brush Breaker's First Fire."

    For reasons unexplained (but likely a lack of experience or training), the truck stalled while going to work on the large fire. The members ran for safety as they watched the brand new "Brush Breaker" burn up at its first fire! It must have surely been a sad day watching all that work going up in flames.  The fire burned about 2,000 acres that day in a significant fire.

     The truck was rebuilt and would go on to serve ably for many years. The general design and features would be duplicated and improved on by many other departments over the years.

    The ability to respond to and reach woods fires, while small enough to be extinguished was a game changer. Brush Breakers could handle some fires and would work in teams to put out larger fires. 

Bernard S Ames in 1958 after 32 years as Chief


Sandwich 1947 Diamond T Engine 2, 1938 Ford Breaker No.3, and 1935 Ford.

     The Sandwich Volunteer Fire Department ran out of an ivy covered brick garage behind the Daniel Webster Inn, One of the early Sandwich apparatus was a 1931 Ahrens Fox mid-ship 500 gpm pumper. At some point they also took over the 1935 Ford 'Forest Fire Patrol" truck that had been at the Shawme Forest.

     In 1938, Sandwich also built a large Brush Breaker, very similar in design to the Town of Barnstable 1937 truck. It was a Ford COE built by Buffalo. It carried 1000 gallons of water. The truck was under powered with a V8 85 hp motor and only had rear wheel drive, but still managed to serve well at a lot of fires for over 27 years

Sandwich 1938 Ford Breaker No.3


Barnstable County Brush Breaker No.1 - 1939 Ford

     The Barnstable County Forest Fire Department was formed in the late 1930's. The first of a large number of Barnstable County Brush Breakers was built in 1939. It was a 1939 Ford COE that was built by A F Robinson Boiler Works in Cambridge. Mass. The truck had a 125 gpm pump and 1000 gallon water tank. The 1938 Ford had an oval shaped radiator grill.

     The new County Breaker got its start in the new Cotuit Fire Station built in 1937-1938 on High Street. It was staffed and operated by the Cotuit Fire District members and would respond to brush and forest fires in Barnstable County and even Plymouth County. It remained in Cotuit until 1942 when it was replaced by a 1942 Ford County Breaker No.2. The 1939 No.1 was then assigned to the Falmouth Fire Department until about 1957. Ultimately it went on to serve many years with the Gay Head Fire Department on the Vineyard until about 1985. A 46 year career.


State Dept of Conservation Breaker 2-5, 1939 Ford in Myles Standish

     Massachusetts Department of Conservation built this 1939 Ford Brush Breaker for the Myles Standish Forest. It carried 1000 gallons and had a very unique look. The truck became known as Truck 2-5 and would serve until the early 1960s.


     In 1939, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts built a fleet of Ford COE Forest Fire Trucks for the Department of Conservation. The trucks were 1-1/2 ton trucks with 100 gpm pumps and about 280 gallon tanks, with lots of hose. These trucks were distributed throughout the state including 2 on Cape Cod and several in Plymouth County.

State DOC - 1939 Ford COE 1-1/2 ton - 100/280 gallon Forestry Truck 
Shawme Crowell Park - Sandwich

State DOC - 1939 Ford COE 1-1/2 ton - 100/280 gallon Forestry Truck 
Camp Squanto, within Myles Standish -  Plymouth



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14 - THE 1940'S  - (1940-1949) BRUSH TRUCKS

Bourne Brush Breakers - 1949 Ford No.8 and 1940's Chevy No.9


During the 1940s, a number of brush breakers were built. Many departments also built combination apparatus that served as engines and brush apparatus.


State Dept of Conservation 1941 Ford Forest Fire Truck
Nickerson State Park, Brewster


Barnstable County Forest Fire Dept - No.2
1942 Ford COE/Robinson 125/1000 Breaker


     The Barnstable County Forest Fire Department built another brush breaker in 1942. The truck was essentially the same design as the 1939 Ford No.1. The difference is the look of the radiator grill on the 1942 is no longer the round oval shape of the 1939. It had a 100 HP Ford V-8, 4 speed manual transmission, with Marmon Harrington 6x6 all wheel drive. It was capable of about 35-40 MPH over the road. The truck had a 1000 gallon tank and could pump about 125 gpm pump and roll. Like the first truck, this was built in Cambridge, Mass by A F Robinson Boiler Works.

     No.2 was initially assigned to the Cotuit Fire Station in 1942. At that time, the 1939 No.1 was reassigned to Falmouth. The 1942 breaker stayed in Cotuit until about 1948 - 1949 when it was moved to the newly formed West Barnstable Fire Department. It was staffed and operated by West Barnstable until about June 1957 when it was sold to the Mashpee Fire Department as their first breaker.

     Mashpee did some work to the truck, including a Ford 332 cu inch 200 Hp motor, 5 speed transmission, a 250 gpm pump, and some additional front push bars. It would go on to serve from 1957 to about 1977, retiring after about 35 total years. It took on the name "Geronimo" while serving in Mashpee.


Wareham Forest Fire Department - 1942 Ford Brush Breaker Engine 4


Plymouth County Forest Fire Department 
1943 Mack Brush Breaker 15


Camp Edwards Brush Breaker
Believed to be about 1944 Chevy Brush Breaker

     The Massachusetts Military Reservation was established on Cape Cod in 1935. Construction began on the base and a grass airfield. In 1938 it was officially Camp Edwards and the airfield was dedicated Otis Field. A small fire brigade was created during the construction and eventually included a brush breaker. By 1940-41, with WWII under way, the Federal government leased the base and rapidly built 1500 buildings and 3 paved 7000' runways in 125 days. In 1941 the Otis Fire Department had 5 stations and a considerable number of apparatus including one or two brush breakers.

     Information is a little unclear, but it appears two of the initial brush breakers were early 1940s Chevy type trucks with fairly distinct bars. The breaker above is believed to be a 1944 Chevy that served the base and then went on to serve in Bourne. The clue is the slight bend in the side rail shown in the photo above and compared to photos of the Bourne breaker.

     Otis also built a larger brush breaker, believed to be a 1944 Diamond T truck that carried about 1000 gallons.


Otis Brush Breaker - 1944 Diamond T 1000 gallon Brush Breaker

Bourne Brush Breaker - 1944 Chevy 600 gallon Brush Breaker
Believed to be one of the Camp Edwards breakers - side rail.
Served Bourne as E7 (127) for many years.


Barnstable Forest Fire Dept - 1947 Dodge PW 150/300 Brush Breaker
Served as 215 for many years in Cotuit.

Bourne Brush Breaker 8 - 1949 Ford Brush Breaker
Believed to be the first, and maybe only "new" brush breaker built by Bourne.
Carried about 500 gallons and served until about 1970.


Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.3
1949 Ford COE/Robinson 175/650 Breaker


     The Barnstable County Forest Fire Department's 3rd brush breaker was built in 1949. It was built on a 1949 Ford COE by Robinson Boiler, but was built smaller so it would fit into the Orleans Fire Station where it would serve until about 1960. It had a 175 gpm pump and 650 gallon tank.




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15 - THE 1950'S  - (1950-1959) BRUSH TRUCKS

Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.1
1956-57 Ford/Maxim 250/800 Brush Breaker



As the story goes

Marion Engine 4 - Approx 1950 Dodge / Maxim


Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.4 - 1951 Ford/Robinson 175/700 Breaker



1951 Dodge / Maxim 150/600




Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.1 - 1957 Ford 6x6/Maxim 250/800 Breaker


The 1957 International/Maynard Mashpee Engine 1 (253)
750 front mount pump / 250 pump & roll / 750 gallons
Sept 1970 photo


Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.2 - 1958 Maxim 6x6 250/800 Brush Breaker - C14







Edgartown 1956


1950s Dodge Plymouth 172








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16 - THE 1960'S  - (1960-1969) BRUSH TRUCKS



As the story goes


Barnstable County Forest Fire Service - No.3 - 1960 Maxim 6x6 250/800 Brush Breaker C13



Barnstable County - No. 4 - 1963 Maxim 250/800 Brush Breaker - Dennis


West Tisbury 1960








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17 - THE 1970'S  - (1970-1979) BRUSH TRUCKS


As the story goes

1970 Dodge PW 4x4 250/300 Forestry Truck


1971 International 6x6 / Thibault 250/1000 Brush Breaker

1973 (Approx 1966) International tractor 1000/5000 Tanker


1975 (1967) Kaiser Mil 6x6 / T Young 500/1500 Brush Breaker

1977 (1968) Kaiser Mil 6x6 / T Young 300/1500 Brush Breaker

1978 (1952) Reo mil 6x6 / Barnstable FD 250/1000 Brush Breaker





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18 - THE 1980'S  - (1980-1989) BRUSH TRUCKS




As the story goes


1980 Ford F800 4x4 / Farrar 250/750 Brush Breaker


1980 (1967) Kaiser Mil 6x6 / T Young 250/1000 Brush Breaker


1982 (1953) Reo 6x6 / 1982 T Young 250/1000 Brush Breaker

1984 International S1800 4x4/Maxim  / 1998 V-Tec refurb 500/800 Brush Breaker


1987 Ford L8000 / Firovac 1500/3000 Tanker

1988 International 4x4 / Maxim 350/750 Brush Breaker


1989 Mack RM / Saulsbury 500/2500 Tanker




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19 - THE 1990'S  - (1990-1999) BRUSH TRUCKS




As the story goes



1990 International / EJ Murphy 250/750 Brush Breaker


1991 Ford F450 4x4 / EJ Murphy 200/450/20 Brush Breaker


1992 International 4x4 / EJ Murphy 250/750 Brush Breaker


1995 (1976) Gibson Military 6x6 / 1995 Otis FD 300/950 Brush Breaker


1998 (1972) AM General 6x6 / 1998 V-Tec 350/750/15 Brush Breaker




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20 - THE 2000'S  - (2000-2009) BRUSH TRUCKS




As the story goes

2000 International 4900 / USA Tanker 1250/2200 Tanker


2001 International 4X4 / EJ Murphy 300/750/20 Brush Breaker


2001 (1971) AM General Military 2.5 ton 6x6 / 2001 VTech 25/500/20 Brush Breaker


2002 (1978) Military 6x6 5 ton / 2002 Sandwich FD 250/1000 Brush Breaker


2005 International 5600 6x6 / PolyMax Corp. 650/1000/50 Brush Breaker

2006 Sterling 4x4 / EJ Murphy 300/650/20 Brush Breaker

2008 Freightliner M2 4x4 / Bulldog 300/750/20 Brush Breaker






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21 - THE 2010'S  - (2010-2019) BRUSH TRUCKS




As the story goes

2010 International / V-Tec 250/750 Brush Breaker


2011 (2010) International 4x4 / VTEC 250/750/20 Brush Breaker


2013 International 7400 4x4 / VTEC 250/800/20 Brush Breaker


2013 International 4x4  / V-Tec 300/750/20 Brush Breaker


2014 (1996) Military 5 ton / 2013 Fire One 250/680 Brush Breaker


2016 Kenworth / Emergency One 500/2100 Tanker


2017 (1998) Stewart & Stevenson LMTV 6x6 5 ton / 2017 Fire-One 250/2000 Tanker


SANDWICH BREAKER 462 (Breaker 2)
2017 (1991)  BMY Harsco 6x6 5 ton / 2017 Fire-One 150/750 Brush Breaker


2018 (1999) AM General 6x6 / 2018 Fire One 300/650 Brush Breaker


2019 Ford F550 4x4 / BFX 100/314/7 Forestry Truck


2019 Freightliner 114SD / Pierce FXT 1000/3000 Tender



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22 - THE 2020'S  - (2020-2029) BRUSH TRUCKS




As the story goes


2020 International MV607 / Emergency One 500/2000 Tanker


2021 (2020) Kenworth T880 / Pierce 1000/3000 Tanker


2021 Peterbilt 349 6x4 / Emergency One 1000/2500 Tanker


2021 (1989) BMY Harsco 5 ton 6x6 / 2021 Fire-1 250/750 Brush Breaker


2022 (2021) Ford F550 4x4/Firematic BRAT 275/400 Forestry


2022 Ford F550 / Firematic BRAT 500/400 Forestry Truck



2022 (1998) S&S LMTV 4x4 / 2022 Bulldog 275/500 Forestry-High Water Truck