On January 28, 1966, a large gas explosion and fire occurred at the Hotel Paramount in Boston. The Paramount was located at Washington and Boylston Streets. Eleven people tragically lost their lives as a result of the fire, with more than 50 people injured.
It was a cold winter night in January. Just after 6:30 pm, without any warning, a huge explosion occurred at the old Hotel Paramount in Boston's Theater District. The explosion blew out the floor of Leonardi's Cafe on the first floor, with the sidewalk collapsing into the basement. People were tossed into the air and then down into the cellar, with some victims immediately crushed to death by debris.
The fire quickly spread to many parts of the building. Hotel guests were trapped in the upper floors, with at least 10 people rescued by ladder. Fire fighting was impaired by ice as the water was freezing almost instantaneously, and by debris that blocked access to some parts of the building.
The January 30, 1966 New York Times describes the disaster: "The explosion, believed to have originated underground, tore a 60-foot hole across the sidewalk and street in front of the hotel. Flames, apparently fed by gas, spurted 20 to 30 feet high for several hours.
Six of the dead were found in the cellar of the bar. The bodies of three other persons, who had apparently been overcome by smoke, were found in the lower floors of the Paramount Hotel.
By mid-afternoon today, none of the bodies had been officially identified. Most of the residents of the two small, inexpensive hotels are transients [the Hotel Plymouth was right next door to the Paramount]. The area is usually crowded with servicemen and out-of-towners. The explosion is believed to be caused by gas, and the state fire marshal's office opened an investigation."
An article by firefighter William Noonan describes a spectacular rescue by one of Boston's many brave firefighters: "A woman was seen in the basement area, as the sidewalk was blown away. Heavy fire was showing in this area. Firefighter Bill Shea of the Rescue Company jumped into the basement with total disregard for his safety. The woman was unconscious and pinned by a beam, only her head was out of the water. She was not only in danger of being burned but also drowning. He managed to get the woman up, and with the help of other firefighters a ladder was dropped into the basement and Firefighter Shea brought this person to safety. Firefighter Shea was burned about the ears and hands and was transported to a hospital and would remain off duty for weeks."
A subsequent investigation determined the cause of the fire to be a circumferential crack in an 8" gas main on Boylston Street. The gas had leaked into the basement, and then permeated up the elevator shafts. It is believed an elevator motor ignited the gas, with flames shooting up the elevator shafts all the way to the roof as the gas employed them like flues.
Methods of detecting gas leaks, as well as procedures for turning gas lines off during fires, were revised after this disaster to reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.
A freak accident occurred years later in East Boston that was caused by failure of a gas regulator, resulting in a massive gas surge through the system.
Old Hotel Paramount Explosion & Fire
17 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116