At about 9:25 on the night of Monday, Oct. 29, 1928, Fire Chief W.A. “Cliff” Taro sat in the passenger seat of his department car as his driver, Tony Minch, sped north on Colby Avenue in answer to an alarm. Meanwhile, the fire truck from the Riverside station barreled west on Hewitt Avenue responding to the same call.
As each raced toward the corner where the two roads crossed, a police officer standing nearby saw what was about to happen and ran into the intersection to try to warn the drivers, who mistook his frantic waving as meant for someone else.
“Blind chance directed the course of the two vehicles, and they met with a crash that could be heard for blocks, hurling firemen in every direction,” according to front-page story that ran in the next day’s Everett Daily Herald.
The collision sent the truck hurtling through the show window into Brewster’s cigar store and tossed the chief’s car 75 feet west on Hewitt.
Dennis P. Boyle, a fire department lieutenant and native of Scotland who was thrown from the truck and believed to have struck a light pole, died a few minutes after reaching Providence Hospital.
Daniel Michel, a well-known brick contractor who was standing on the curb chatting with friends about football, was struck by the truck, thrust through the cigar store window and also killed. Ironically, years before, Michel had been instrumental in organizing the Everett fire department and had been the city’s first paid chief.
Several others were injured in the accident, including two of Taro’s brothers, who also served in the fire department.
Taro, meanwhile, suffered three broken ribs and a pierced lung. He was taken, unconscious, to Providence.
The chief’s fragile condition would be front page news for the next several days as his life hung in the balance.
When he passed in the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 10, 1928, The Daily Herald carried the news at the top of that day’s front page, above the masthead.
“Death Calls Fire Chief Taro To Rest From Earthly Walk.”
“Knowledge of his death spread like a pall over the city,” the newspaper reported. “Staunch men at headquarters cried, men who have laughed at snow and ice and flame, men who have followed him by his voice alone in many a smoke-choked corridor or dry-kiln.”
Taro’s was the first “state funeral,” in city history, his body lying under sable canopies in fire department headquarters on Wetmore Avenue for an afternoon and evening attended by an honor guard. An estimated 6,000 waited in the rain to file by his casket.
His funeral rites “will doubtless be the most notable ever held in Everett,” the Daily Herald reported. Thousands more lined the streets during his funeral procession.
Taro is buried in Evergreen Cemetery. The fire he was rushing to proved to be a false alarm.
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