Wolcott Historical Society News - April 2012
By Florence Goodman
This month, I'll conclude our journey through the development of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Incorporated, "For the protection of life and property in the Town of Wolcott." In review, we ended last month in 1982 when the Town allocated funds to purchase three tankers and a ladder truck for the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department. This marked the first time in its history that the town was asked to purchase fire trucks. This significantly improved the fire service to the Town by replacing an aging fleet of tankers.
The new trucks were put into service over a two-year period with each Company receiving a new 1983 FMC tanker that had 2000-gallon supply tanks with 1000-gpm pumps. The 1983 LTI Tower truck had an 85ft rear platform ladder mounted on a Duplex cab and chassis, which was to be housed at Company #3 and would replace the "Queen."
In 1984, Company #3 under the supervision of Deputy Chief Robert Beval Sr. discussed the need to replace a vehicle because W-8 (Howe) was no longer safe for firefighters to ride on the back. It was voted to purchase a 1984 GMC with a 750-gallon tank and a 1250-gpm pump for $55,000, which was paid for through fundraising and a small loan. This vehicle was larger so the Hurst Tool and all the required equipment that goes with it were moved to this new truck.
Also in 1984, Company #2 found themselves lacking space to house their new truck so they sold the brush truck (W-10) and used the money to purchase a pre-fab building to house the new vehicle, which was delivered in May and would be called (W-5).
In June of 1984, Assistant Fire Chief, Phil Culver took over as Fire Marshall to fill the position left vacant by retiring Paul Spooner who had served in that position since 1965. Paul Spooner was Company #2's first 50-year member.
Deputy Chief Don Gawitt of Company #2 met with Town officials in the spring of 1986 to discuss acquiring a truck that the town was discarding. The truck was purchased for $1.00 and then completely redone as a brush fire truck; it was put into service in1987. In October of 1986 Brett Morrone began his term as Deputy Chief, a position he would hold for five years. Brett was the youngest person to hold this position at Company #2.
By 1989, W-8 at Company #3 was too small to hold all the required equipment and personnel needed for the safe operation and extrication of occupants in motor vehicle accidents. The Company members voted to purchase an additional vehicle, a 1989 Ford Econoline Van, with a Reading Rescue body to hold the men and equipment. The $54,000 truck was funded totally by Company #3 with a bank loan. The truck was put into service in 1990 and was continually updated with the necessary tools for almost any rescue. Company #1 was in need of a new engine in 1989 so Engine 2 was put into service at that time and became the "first-due" engine to all fires within the district.
In 1990, Company #1 completed a major addition to the firehouse, which included the addition of two bays, added to the back of the house and a new meeting room, which joined the original meeting room on the second floor. Also in 1990, William Soeters from Company #3 was elected as Chief of the Department and Chuck Marsella of Company #1 was elected as Assistant Chief. They served in these positions until 1994 when Chuck Marsella replaced William Soeters as Chief of the Department, a position he would hold for eight years.
In 1990, Company #3 realized the need for more office space for officers of the Company and a separate place to house their Rescue Truck so in the fall of that year, members started construction on a new addition. The existing office and restrooms were demolished to create the new bay for the Rescue Truck and a second floor was added above the kitchen to provide the additional office space, and a new bathroom with a shower. A boathouse was also added on the back to house the boat, an oil tank, and provide additional storage space. The addition was completed in 1991.
In 1991, Mike Block was elected as Deputy Chief of Company #2, replacing Brett Morrone and Donald Maurice was voted in to replace Dick Cepelak who had served for a total of fourteen years as Deputy Chief of Company #1. Deputy Chief Maurice dedicated much of his life to the firehouse, his fellow members and especially W-4. The following year, Randy Watts took over as Deputy Chief of Company #3, a position he would hold until 1994 and then again from 1996-98.
By 1993, members of Company #2 began clearing land behind the firehouse to build a Pavilion for company and department outings. This Pavilion was dedicated in 1994 to the former Department Chief, Fire Marshall and Company #2 Life member, Paul Spooner who was the Company's first 50-year member. Kyle Dunn became Deputy Chief of Company #2 in 1994 and they retired Engine 10 (W-10). Also at this time, Phil Culver stepped down as Fire Marshall and Russ Emons of Company #1 took over that position, which he held for sixteen years.
Also in 1994 members of Company #3 voted to purchase a used 1987 Chevy Suburban that would transport equipment and personnel to and from fires. This vehicle was used until 1998 when they were able to purchase a new Suburban to replace it.
Several problems arose for the Department in 1994. The trucks (W-3, W-5, W-7) that had been purchased in 1983 through the bond issue were aging, as well as, W-8 at Company #3 could no longer be used to transport firefighters on the back of the vehicle because of a new OSHA regulation that banned this practice. Therefore, two committees were formed. One committee had representatives from each Company along with Chief Chuck Marsella with a goal of replacing the aging tankers. The second committee was from Company #3 and their goal was to replace W-8. After months of meetings and discussion it was decided to choose something called a glider package. This allowed them to use the existing trucks' engines, pumps, and rear trans-axles, and transmissions and mount them on the new trucks that would have larger cab occupancy and more equipment storage. A referendum was held and passed; this allowed them to purchase the tankers and W-8, which they did over a two-year period. W-8 arrived in November 1995 and the last truck, W-7 was put into service in June 1996.
In 1995, the firehouse at Company #2 was renovated. They replaced a corrugated metal shed, which was attached to the west side of the firehouse (it housed Tanker 5) with a new two-story building that included more office space, a larger day room, a communications room and a kitchen. They also placed a new roof on the entire firehouse. Since Tanker 5 was thirteen years old they chose to refurbish it while construction on the building was taking place. The old style body was replaced with a new one that safely held ten firefighters inside.
From 1995-96, Fred Milton Sr. was elected and served as Deputy Chief of Company #3. From 1996-98 Randy Watts took over that position and from 1998-2000 Francis Bonvisuto filled that position.
In 1998, Thomas Franek moved into the Deputy Chief position at Company #1, but in early 1999 Donnie Maurice returned to that position. In 2000 Carl Salmon took the helm as Deputy Chief of Company #3, a position he still holds today. Also in 2000 Company #1 decided to convert their large upstairs meeting room into a more useable space by reducing the size of that room and adding several small offices.
In 2001, Kyle Dunn, who had been Deputy Chief of Company #2 moved up to Assistant Chief of the Department and David Clavette was elected as Deputy Chief of Company #2. In 2002 Kyle Dunn took over as Chief of the Department and Dennis Dean was voted in as Assistant Chief, positions they still hold today.
By 2002, Company #1 decided to renovate the two small bays in the front of their building by transforming the old dispatch room into an open space for the rescue boat and to build a new dispatch room where their old galley kitchen had been. Company #1 also purchased a new Chevy 2500 pickup truck (U-1) with all the necessary firefighting equipment.
On April 8, 2003, after firefighters from Company #1 had completed a fire call and gone home, their Deputy Chief Donnie Maurice suffered a heart attack and collapsed at the firehouse. Donnie passed away doing what he loved, but family and fellow firefighters were devastated from this loss. Donnie became the first and only Line-of-Duty Death in the Company #1's history. David Pineau who was Captain at the time of Donnie's death stepped into the role of Deputy Chief of Company #1. He held the position until 2006. During his tenure the Company replaced the old brush fire truck, W-2, with a former US Navy vehicle, a 1987 Chevrolet 1-1/4 ton truck and added a 500-gallon water tank, 250-gpm pump and the required brush fire extinguishing equipment. This new truck was designated B-1.
In May 2005, Company #2 replaced W-10 (retired in 1994) with Rescue 2, a heavy Rescue and Mobile Command truck.
In the fall of 2006, Charlie Johnson took over as Deputy Chief of Company #1, a position he held for two years. During that time the firehouse went through two more renovations. The first was to the main kitchen, which was finished in time for the 2007 roast beef dinner. The next renovation to Company #1 was in 2008, which was to the large bay on the side of the firehouse. The exterior metal staircase on the side of the building was removed and the doorway sealed up. All new energy-efficient lighting and a dropped ceiling were installed and new paint was added to the walls. This addition was completed in time for the delivery of the new Engine 4. This vehicle was a 2007 state-of-the-art engine, equipped with a 1000-gallon water tank, a 60-gallon integral foam tank, a 1500-gpm-water pump, and a 25 ft. telescoping on-scene overhead light, which could handle all types of rescues. This engine was also equipped with the latest scene lighting, extrication, Haz-Mat, and firefighting tools and was ready for service. This now became the first due engine for all in-district calls. The replacement of Engine 4 was bittersweet for Company #1 because it marked the LAST of the apparatus that the Company had purchased with its own monies. In 2008, David Pineau was voted in as Deputy Chief of Company # 1, a position he still holds today.
The year 2010 saw Larry Rossi take over as Deputy Chief of Company #2, a position he still holds today. Another major renovation project got underway at Company #2 in 2011, which was funded, with a grant from the State of Connecticut with the help of State Senator Sam Caligiuri. This addition was made to the rear of the building in order to house Rescue 2. Prior to this addition, Rescue 2 had to be parked behind Tanker 5, which slowed down response time for certain types of calls. Also in 2010 Jim Frageau replaced Russ Emons as Fire Chief.
As one looks back over the last seventy-eight years of history of the Wolcott Volunteer Department, you can't help but realize that we have been very fortunate to have so many brave and dedicated men and their families who took the initiative to get it all started and then continue the saga to present times. These men and women are comprised of homemakers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and other professionals who have made it possible to keep their buildings and vehicles in top-notch shape with minimal cost to the Town. Their time and dedication is priceless, and I for one now have a whole new respect for ALL of them and I can't thank them enough for their time and effort.
I know that I have learned a great deal about our Fire Department while writing these articles and I hope you did too. I would also like to state that there is probably information that I may have inadvertently omitted and if so, PLEASE feel free to call me so I may add it to this article.
(Information from this article was taken from 25th Anniversary WOLCOTT VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC., 50th ANNIVERSARY, Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department #1, 1934 - 1984, 75th Anniversary WOLCOTT FD 1, 1934-2009, history by Dick Cepelak and Scott Conway and an interview with Dick Cepelak and Scott Conway, Company #3 History author unknown, Wolcott Fire Dept. Co. #2, 1939-1989 Years of Remembrance, author unknown, 25th Anniversary 1950-1975 Wolcott Vol. Fire Dept. Co. #3, and an interview with Fred Milton Sr. and Robert Belval Sr. and information from Larry Rossi, Company #2 and Kyle Dunn, Fire Chief.)
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/).
Adolph Birkenberger of Company #3 served as Assistant Chief from 1965-77.
Company 3: 2000 picture of Company #3 - "The Fight'n Third"
Paul Spooner was Company #2's first 50 year member. He was also Department Chief and Fire Marshall.
Life Member of Company #1 - Howard Kraft - 61 years
Life Member of Company #1 - Joe Winkler - 58 years
Life Member of Company #1 - William McKenna - 59 years
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.