Wolcott Historical Society News - January 2012
By Florence Goodman
In this edition I will begin a multi-part series of the history of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., which will include Companies One, Two, and Three. This will be a chronological historical development of all three companies showing the devotion and commitment of members and their families to each company. Throughout the development of each fire company this brotherhood shines through.
Sometimes we take for granted our public safety departments. We assume they have always been there and will respond whenever their service is required, but there was a time when Wolcott did not have the public services that we have today. Prior to 1934 our town had no fire protection for its residents; that is until several safety-minded individuals from the Hitchcock Lake area decided to change all that. It was October 29, 1934 when the Hitchcock Lake Fire Department was formed and Edward Pracny was elected its first Chief. The members of the newly formed company purchased all of the equipment they needed with their own money and stored it at their homes.
They had not yet purchased a fire truck so when the first fire call came in at 5:40 A.M. on December 3rd of that year, the men had to carry the fire equipment in their own cars to the lakefront cottage owned by Henry McCann near Alma Avenue.
One year later on January 14, 1935, the Hitchcock Lake Fire Department applied for a charter and changed their name to the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department No. 1, Inc. After much fundraising and donations from the townspeople enough money was raised to acquire a small wooden structure to serve as the firehouse. This structure was located on the corner of Samuelson and Central Avenues and was just large enough to house a rebuilt Model "A" truck purchased by the members.
On March 12, 1935 for the first time in the history of the town of Wolcott a siren was heard for a general alarm fire at Todd's Sawmill on Todd Road. In these early years fires usually destroyed wooden structures because of lack of equipment, lack of a water source, and insufficient response time. The men who responded to these fires did so with concern and enthusiasm and did the best they could with the available means.
The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Band was formed on August 19, 1938. The dedicated members of the band played in parades around the state in various cities and towns. A large bass drum from this band is housed at the Museum of the Wolcott Historical Society.
In 1939 the Company was able to purchase a new Dodge truck chassis to replace the old Model "A." The men worked night and day to build a body on the truck and install state of the art firefighting components on it, which included a 250 gallon-per-minute, pump.
Also in 1939 in the northern section of town, a group of men in the Cedar Lake area got together and formed the North End Fire Association. The men immediately began raising funds to purchase equipment, which they stored at their homes and brought to the fire calls in their own vehicles. James Cummings (1939-41) was elected the first Chief and was later followed by Ray Dieters (1941-43).
In 1940 Edward Theriault took over as Chief of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 and then in 1941 with only $50.00 in their treasury, the members of Company 1 voted to build a new fire station. This monumental task was accomplished through hard work from the members and donations from the townspeople. Chase Brass and Copper Company donated an old brick building on County Road to the Company and the men tore it down brick by brick and used the bricks to build their new structure. The new building was dedicated in June of 1942 with only a small mortgage remaining on it.
In 1941 the men from the North End Fire Association built a two-bay wooden garage on North Street on a 50' X 50' lot donated by the Mad River Company. The men worked evenings after a full days work at their paying jobs to complete this structure that was located where Company #2 now stands. The North End Fire Association then purchased a used American La France fire truck with solid rubber tires from the town of Litchfield for $35.00.
In 1943 the North End Fire Association elected Joseph Lewandoski (1943-1945) as Chief, and purchased a Ford chassis on which the men built a brush fire truck, but that year turned out to be a sad one for the Company. On June 3, 1943 fire destroyed their building and the two fire trucks inside. This did not dampen the spirits of these dedicated men because that very evening at the North School located next door, they voted to rebuild the firehouse. In the months after the fire, their property was expanded by a donation of an adjacent lot by James McCulluer and Joseph Donavan.
After receiving $4400 from insurance money, plus monies raised from raffles, dinners and carnivals, a new 30' X 50' fires station with a second floor was completed, and building a new modern fire station had become a reality. They purchased another fire truck, a new American LaFrance Ford chassis pumper truck, which was delivered in January of 1944. This vehicle was equipped with a 500-gallon per minute pump and 1000 feet of 2 and1/2 inch hose. On March 17, 1944, a square dance was held to celebrate the opening of the new fire station, which was completed, with a debt of only $9000. In 1945 Gordon Culver (1945-47) became Chief and Wilfred Courtemanch (1947-49) followed him in 1947.
Under the leadership of these two men, the North End Fire Association was able to pay their $9000 debt, and in 1948 purchase a White oil tanker that the men converted into a 700-gallon capacity water tanker.
In 1947 Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 ordered a new 500-gallon per minute pumper truck with a 350-gallon water tank from the American LaFrance Corporation. This truck was called W-3 and remained in service until 1984. Also at this time Company No. 1 decided to refurbish the Dodge truck bought in 1939 by adding a new 1000-gallon water tank to it. Water tank trucks were necessary for our fire companies because their water supply came from brooks, ponds and lakes, many of which were not in reach of a fire. With the addition of these trucks people who lived within a two-mile radius of the firehouse were eligible for reduced rates on fire insurance. Also in 1947 Edward Garthwait became Chief of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department No 1, but in 1948 Fred Megin, Sr. succeeded him as Chief.
By 1949 the members of both Fire Companies realized that the town was rapidly growing and in need of a third fire company in the western section of town in order to give adequate fire protection to all residents of Wolcott. Also in that year Joseph Lewandoski (1949-53) again became Chief of the North End Fire Association.
In 1950 the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 and the North End Fire Association merged to become The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. Fred Megin Sr. was elected Chief and Kenneth Benoit was elected to serve as Assistant Chief of The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. At this time, the North End Fire Association changed its name The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Co. 2. With that change the Company Chiefs now became known as Deputy Chiefs. Jack Sathory was elected as Deputy Chief of Company One and Joseph Lewandoski (1949-1953) served as Deputy Chief of Company Two.
On October 27, 1950, the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. voted to establish Company 3. At Company 3's first meeting, the membership voted to form The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Company No. 3, Inc. Their only possessions were an old ambulance that had been converted into an emergency truck and $1.38 in their treasury. They were stationed out of Smitty's Garage, which was located on the corner of Wolcott and Mad River Roads. They began holding various events to raise money for a fire truck and on November 15, 1951 the members were able to purchase a 1919 American LaFrance truck from the city of Waterbury for $300. Once they had purchased a truck their next task was to find land on which to build a firehouse.
On July 26, 1951 they thought their dream had come true when Lena Cole and Grace Webber donated a piece of land on Munson Road. But after soil tests to their dismay the soil was not suitable for building so the land was returned to the original owners on May 1, 1954. Soon after though they were able to purchase a piece of land on the corner of Lyman Road and Potuccos Ring Road from Mr. William McCormack who owned land and a cider mill in the area. There was an old barn on the property that the members tore down, but left the foundation on which they built a new three bay firehouse. The new firehouse would not have been a reality had it not been for the generosity of many townspeople; two of which were Louis Albert who donated the roof timbers, which he assembled and raised onto the roof, and Romeo Nigro who drilled the well. Once the building was completed they were able to get a mortgage in order to have more funds to acquire additional equipment. They purchased a 1942 U.S.A. truck from Gorman Fire Equipment Company of Boston. The old Army truck was fitted with a 750-gallon per minute pump and an 850-gallon booster tank. Company #3 now had their firehouse and some equipment with which they could do the job at hand, but this could not have been accomplished without the devotion and commitment of its members. Next month I will continue with the development of our town fire departments.
(Information from this article was taken from 25th Anniversary Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., 50th Anniversary, Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department 1934 - 1984, 75th Anniversary Wolcott FD 1, 1934-2009, Company #3 History, author unknown, Wolcott Fire Dept. Co. #2, 1939-1989 Years of Remembrance, author unknown, and interview with Dick Ceplak.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum is open by appointment only; you may visit the Museum by calling Carl Hotkowski 203-592-8237 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818. Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 P.M. Visit our WebPages at (http://www.wolcotthistory.org/).
Company 1's first firehouse, circa 1935.
Company 1's new firehouse, circa 1941.
Building Company 2's first firehouse, 1941.
Fire destroys Company 2 firehouse, 1943.
Rebuilding firehouse at Company 2 after fire, 1943.
Firehouse at Company 3 pre 1983.
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