In Billy Simpson’s Journals, Leo Stapleton moves his chronicle of the Boston Fire Department forward by going back to the BFD’s past. District Fire Chief Donald Holden’s closest friends on the job are tired of him hoarding the advice he’s been getting from his mentor, Chief Billy Simpson, over the years. It’s time to share the wealth!

Donald arranges a lunch with his cohorts and Billy. They just want him to talk; they just want to listen and learn. Simpson’s detailed recollections of his early years on the job are so enlightening that they ask if they can meet on a regular basis. Billy agrees to their request.

To prepare for the meetings Billy reviews the personal journals he kept during his long career. It’s all there in the journals: ship fires, tunnel fires, warehouse fires, pier fires, high-rise fires, entire neighborhoods of triple-deckers blazing; civil unrest and riots, Boston fire fighters being stoned and shot at by the people they were sworn to protect; the most destructive wave of arson any American city had ever experienced, while the BFD was being systematically decimated by budget cuts and layoffs, and then, under new leadership, the gradual rebuilding of the Boston Fire Department’s equipment, manpower and pride.

Billy Simpson’s Journals is an informal history of four decades of the American fire service.

Available now on

Close Menu