Louis Tobia Jr.’s Italian grandfather, who founded the New England Casket Company on Bennington Street in East Boston more than 75 years ago, invented the ‘Concord Casket.’ Retailing for around $25,000 it became the casket of choice for the rich and famous and the likes of Muhammad Ali, Heath Ledger, Walter Cronkite, Joan Rivers and Tip O’Neill all were all reportedly interred in the Concord.
Since the leader Tobia founded the company it has been a widely successful business that manufactures handmade caskets for sale to distributors that in turn sell them to families.
On Friday afternoon the longstanding local family-owned company that employees over 100 people went up in a blaze that completely gutted the business’s manufacturing plant and showroom.
The first alarms for a fire on the roof of the plant sounded at around 3 p.m. For a few hours Boston Firefighters tried to extinguish the flames that seemed to be contained to the casket company’s roof.
However, Tobia later explained to reporters at the scene that one of the plant’s furnace exhaust pipes started the fire. Because the fire was above the building’s water sprinkler system the system was never activated.
Flames and burning debris began falling through the roof and into the plant below that contained mostly highly flammable lumber and chemicals for varnishing caskets.
By early evening the fire had spread to a very rare 9-alarm blaze as fire stations from across the city rushed to Eastie to contain the blaze.
The huge building, which abuts the MBTA Blue Line between Orient Heights and Suffolk Downs train stations, is close to 100,000 square feet and burned for nearly 12 hours.
The fire forced the suspension of the Blue Line from Airport MBTA station to Wonderland station until Monday morning.
More than half of all on duty Boston firefighters from across the city fought the inferno into the early morning hours and the heavy thick black smoke could be seen from as far away as Lynn. The smoke and wind conditions forced the City to evacuate a portion of the hill around Orient Avenue. Officials feared the burning chemicals inside the plant was causing toxic conditions in and around the fire.
Luckily, at around 10 p.m. a passing strong thunderstorm dropped a significant amount of rain and hail on Eastie–helping firefighters get the situation under control.
By Saturday morning the fire was under control and Boston Fire Commissioner Joe Finn was back on hand after spending the entire night at the blaze. Finn surveyed the damage and said the fire most likely caused over $1 million worth of damage.
Demolition crews were on hand in Eastie as early as Sunday and began razing the skeletal remains of the casket company.
“There were so many departments and agencies that helped us at this fire,” said Commissioner Finn. “Training pays off when presented the challenges this fire had. It cannot be overlooked that first class fire apparatus, proper protective gear and most importantly a fully staffed department putting “Boots on the Ground” make the difference. It was a tremendous, professional effort by our firefighters in East Boston. There was excellent command decisions protected this densely populated neighborhood as firefighters have worked over 8 hours and counting battling this 9 Alarm fire storm. I’m Grateful for the incredible bravery and hard work of our first responders that battled this fire in East Boston. Finally a thank you to the many city and town fire departments that protected Boston (Friday). I know you spent several hours in our City and I appreciate your efforts that proved seamless when it mattered.”
Local residents launched a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/new-england-casket-co?fbclid=IwAR3dA4eW3W_uSfE7WCsFlNbGJamGbhiMoVf5etXUA5qPDA3uNWVmSLacJe8 with the help of raising a goal of $50,000 for the employees of the casket company that are now without work.
“We are raising money to support the workers of the New England Casket Company whose building at 1141 Bennington St. burnt down o in a 9-alarm fire,” read the GoFundMe post. “Louis Tobia Jr., the company has been providing jobs for the community for over 75 years. Some employees have worked there for over 40 years.” The post added that all funds raised will go directly to the employees who are now without jobs due to this unfortunate accident.