Paul F. Cook, 89, distinguished district fire chief, veteran

Mr. Cook, who helped fight the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, was proud that no firefighters died at the scene of fires during his tenure as district chief, which began in 1971.
Mr. Cook, who helped fight the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, was proud that no firefighters died at the scene of fires during his tenure as district chief, which began in 1971.

Paul F. Cook’s fascination with the Boston Fire Department began when he was a boy and his family’s home was near the Jamaica Plain firehouse, which came to symbolize his dream of fighting fires.

He started spending time at the firehouse when he was 10, as what was known as a working spark, an unofficial position that included listening to fire calls on the radio and rolling up hoses. When most boys and girls were saving nickels for ice cream and movies, Mr. Cook saved his pennies for bus and train rides to fire scenes. He scanned the Boston Post’s pages of daily fire records, cutting out every fire clip and pasting it in a scrapbook.

In his memoir “Ready to Roll . . . Ready to Die,” he noted that he answered only one question wrong when he passed the exam to join the Fire Department. He called joining the department “the happiest day of my life.”


Mr. Cook, a retired Boston district chief whose involvement with the department dated to before the Cocoanut Grove fire, died Aug. 4 in his Westwood home of complications of prostate cancer, which had metastasized to his bones. He was 89 and served in the Fire Department for more than four decades.

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In 1988, Mr. Cook received the Award of Recognition when he was a district fire chief with the communications division’s planning and logistics section.

“In addition to his multiple duties as director of Civil Defense, Chief Cook has successfully developed and completed numerous programs,” the citation said.

The citation said that among his accomplishments were improving fire protection services at Boston’s LNG facility and water supplies for firefighting throughout the city. He also improved fire protection at all MBTA sites and the Sumner and Callahan tunnels.

Mr. Cook wrote his memoir “Ready to Roll . . . Ready to Die” upon retiring in 1988.


“I’m sure he missed fighting fires,” said Joe Fitzgerald, a friend who met Mr. Cook through church. “When there would be a local fire, he would go out and see how they were fighting it. He was always interested in it.”

Mr. Cook’s wife learned early how strongly he felt about the Fire Department. He met Dorothy Neagle in 1938, and they often walked home from school together, with Mr. Cook carrying her books.

“One day when we were walking home, Paul pointed across the street and he said, ‘That’s my first love, the firehouse,’ ” she recalled. “I was looking around to see where another girl was standing.”

He liked to tell friends that after marrying her, he threw away his encyclopedia because his wife knew everything. They celebrated the anniversary of their first date every year.

They graduated from Jamaica Plain High School in 1941, and Mr. Cook attended what is now Bentley University, intending to become an accountant.


Leaving Bentley to enlist in the US Army, Mr. Cook served as a cryptographer with the 3110 Signal Service Battalion, cracking codes during World War II and working with secret information.

‘Paul didn’t just see some of the most glorious American history during World War II. He had a role in it.’

“Paul didn’t just see some of the most glorious American history during World War II,” Fitzgerald said. “He had a role in it; he was part of it.”

Mr. Cook was first stationed in Plymouth, England, and was wounded by shrapnel during an air raid. The injuries were not serious enough to send him home, and he later served in Normandy with General George S. Patton’s Third Army. Mr. Cook also participated in the breakout from Normandy at Avranches, the liberation of Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge.

“My father was given a portable code machine in the field that was built with a thermite bomb,” said Mr. Cook’s son Jonathan of Mansfield. “He swore to pull the pin if captured, and the code machine and the cryptographer would disappear.”

While home on a weekend pass in September 1943, Mr. Cook and Dorothy became engaged, and they corresponded by daily letters through the rest of the war.

“Paul just looked on the war as another experience,” she said. “Certain things he saw in the war tempered him. He saw man’s inhumanity toward man.”

In February 1946, Mr. Cook was discharged as a technical sergeant and went home. He had brought the department’s entrance book with him to war and studied diligently for the exam while overseas. Back home, his first priority was to pass the exam and become a firefighter.

He and Dorothy were married May 3, 1947, and he joined the Fire Department the same year.

During his time as a working spark, before joining the Army, Mr. Cook helped fight the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, which killed 492 people. Only 19, he was at the scene for hours and later carried bodies out of the destroyed building.

Mr. Cook was promoted to lieutenant in 1957, captain in 1967, and district chief in 1971. During his tenure as district chief, he was proud that no firefighters died at the scene of fires, and only one was seriously injured.

A service has been held for Mr. Cook, who in addition to his wife and son leaves two other sons, Bruce of Westwood and Frank of Attleboro; a daughter, Janna Peterson of Sharon; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Devoted to the churches he attended, and a devout Christian, Mr. Cook had served in various capacities, including as a deacon, Sunday school superintendent, Bible study leader, and on the board of trustees at three area churches.

“Religion was a way of life with my dad,” Jonathan said. “He tried to always be upfront and honest.”

Jasper Craven can be reached at