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South Boston Online
  Friday, March 6, 2015
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xtra xtra!
Paul Christian to Be Feted
By Rick Winterson

     All of us have had dreams of “what we’re going to be when we grow up.”  Well, Paul Christian made his own dream come true.  From his earliest years, he looked up to the firefighters of South Boston – names so well known they don’t need repeating.  In January of 1968, he joined Ladder 1 in the North End.  That turned out to be the busiest year in department history, with huge fires at Long Wharf, the Summer Street rail yards, and South Boston’s Blinstrub’s Village.  And Christian loved the work so much that he never once looked back until he retired in February.

     Paul Christian is a lifelong resident of South Boston.  He is the son of Dorothy (Johnson) and Henry Christian. He has a brother, Ed, and a sister, Claire (Cronin), both of whom have also just retired.  Ed resides in Plymouth; Claire, over in Savin Hill.

     His academics started at the Perry School and then the Gavin.  He graduated from Boston Technical High.  He’s a Northeastern engineer, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Professionally, Christian trained at the National Fire Academy in Emmetsburg, Maryland, taking a course of study in Executive Fire Officer Development.

     Soon after being assigned to Ladder 1, he was sent to Engine 43 and then to Ladder 20 in the old station house on Mass Avenue.  In 1973, he made Lieutenant and was assigned to Tower 1 in the South End.

     That was a big year for him.  He and Kathleen Mahon became husband and wife in 1973.  She came from Pembroke and was the daughter of a Boston firefighter.  If you guessed that they met at Florian Hall, you would be right.  According to Christian, “My friends introduced me to the prettiest one at the party.”  They have three children – Paul, Jr., James, and Kelly (Anastasio).  Kathleen Christian is a bookkeeper and administrator in a dental office.

     After a career spanning almost four decades, there are many, many memories.  His first night on Ladder 20, Christian rescued two people from an upper-story fire on Washburn Street.  The next summer, he rescued a drowning man off the L Street Beach.  With Gerry Molito, he co-chaired the Vendome Memorial project.  His service as a Relief Fund trustee extends for more than 25 years.  And there has been sadness, too, like the discovery of four homeless individuals who died after trying to heat the inside of a truck trailer on C Street with a space heater.

     Like any firefighter, he often measures time by the dates of major fires.  Christian harks back to the relatively recent fires in South Boston, and Orient Heights, and to the blaze in Chinatown back in 1989.  He recalls the fire on the aircraft carrier Randolph.  Fires, and the accompanying injuries and deaths, are at low points these days, but they still occur and are still serious events.

     As Commissioner, Christian brought in several improvements.  Among them are a totally new radio system, lighter bunker gear, more aerial platforms, and foam-equipped apparatus.  He created a Special Operations Command for HAZMAT emergencies and terrorist-related incidents.  He is firmly convinced that the Boston Fire Department is the nation’s best.  Christian says, “I inherited a great department, and I hope I passed it on a bit better.”

     Retirement will be busy.  Already, Christian is known for his historical work, which has resulted in several publications and presentations.  He intends to devote his time to continued research into the history of Boston, South Boston, and the Boston Fire Department.  Among his historic gems is description of the original fire alarm system in Boston, which was the first in the country.  It was battery-operated and quite sophisticated.  The red fire boxes you can still see around the city are modernized parts of that original system.

     And don’t forget to bid Paul Christian a long, active retirement at his party on Friday, June 2, at the Boston Teachers Union Hall.  Get your tickets in advance.   

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Retired Boston Fire Commissioner Paul Christian takes a break from his historical research.