Listener Roberta "Bobbie" Brown recently emailed the Curiosity Desk, after reading a story in the paper about Boston firefighters. In the piece, the author referred to them as "jakes." She wanted to know where that term comes from and how it came to refer to firefighters in the region.
Like our curious listener, I too have seen firefighters called “jakes” in the papers. And I first wanted to find out if "jake" is a term that firefighters themselves actually use. For answers, I headed to the Dedham Fire Station on Washington Street.
"It’s a compliment in the fire service when someone calls you a good jake," said Dedham Deputy Fire Chief Fred Loewen. "It means you know your job, and you’re doing your job."
And has Loewen been called a good jake?
"Of course I have," he said, smiling. "And I’ve called many of my brothers good jakes."
As for the term's origin, I asked fireman Steve Raftery, who has been with the department for 30 years.
"My father was a firefighter in Boston, and I heard him use the expression, but never really where it came from," said Raftery.
It was suggested that perhaps firefighter Joe Riley would know.