Wolcott Historical Society News - March 2012
By Florence Goodman
This month I'll continue the chronological historical development of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. In review: we left off with Robert Hellman Sr. being elected Deputy Chief of Company 1 and both Companies 2 and 3 replacing aging fire trucks in 1968. We also learned that William McKinley was elected as the new Fire Chief of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department in 1970.
During Deputy Chief Hellman's term (1968-74) at Company 1, a 25' X 66' addition to the fire station was completed and a 1950 pumper truck (W-11) was purchased from the Middletown Fire Department. This was truly a unique piece of fire apparatus because it was a convertible. Sadly though when W-11 was responding to a call, it struck some debris on Todd Road and hit a tree. None of the firefighters were seriously injured, but it was decided that W-11 was beyond repair; the salvageable equipment was removed from the truck and the rest was sold for scrap.
In 1970 the State Legislature passed a law to protect the lives of current and future firefighters. The law stated that any firefighter diagnosed with hypertension could no longer serve as an active fireman. This law had a huge impact on our town because it drastically reduced the current roster of our Fire Department. Many of the firemen who had to step down were early members who had built the Wolcott Fire Department into what it was at that time in history. These men and their families were there in the beginning years performing a job that they loved, so this was a great disappointment to them.
Also in 1970 Paul Roberts of Company 2 began a six-year term as Deputy Chief. During that time an addition began on the firehouse to add a third bay for the 1969 Ford Pumper (W-6). The upper part of the addition contained a kitchen, two bathrooms and a small hall, which was completed by 1974. Since members did most of the work, the cost was minimal.
The year 1973 saw the opening of the Wolcott State Fire School on Bound Line Road Extension. Now the men were able to take classes, which increased their skills and knowledge of fire safety in the following areas: controlling and extinguishing gas and oil fires, ventilation, breathing, use of ladders, forcible entry, and extrication. Certified instructors from throughout the state taught the courses and the men also participated in weekly training sessions. The school became an important part of their fire training with most town firefighters graduating from the Firefighters I training program.
In 1974 John Costello took the helm of Company 1 when he was elected as Deputy Chief. During his term the membership voted to order a brand new custom pumper. This was a unique truck for Wolcott because it was diesel-powered and the color was not the usual red, but lime green. It was equipped with a 1000-gallon water supply, a 1500 gpm pump, and the latest in fire extinguishing equipment. The truck, which cost around $60,000 was delivered in 1977 and paid for entirely by Company 1. It was designated W-4, but it was usually called "Donnie's Baby" because of all the time Donald Maurice would spend maintaining it.
Tragedy struck Company 3 on April 25, 1974 when W-12 was involved in a near fatal accident. The truck was traveling north on Route 69 to a brush fire on Kilmartin Avenue when a southbound car crossed the centerline and struck it nearly head-on. All involved in the accident were fortunate enough to come away with only minor injuries, but the truck was not so lucky. It lost a real axle and sustained severe damage to the driver's side of the truck. It was voted to repair the vehicle, but numerous rebuilds would be needed in the future. During these rebuilds, members also made improvements; thus installing side-packs for equipment storage, adding a larger pump, generator, and adding extrication equipment. Previously the Police Department was responsible for motor vehicle extrication, but the Fire Department wanted to improve this operation so together they observed a demonstration of the "Jaws of Life" and decided to buy the tool and house it at Company 3. A local non-profit organization donated the funds to purchase the Hurst Tool, but it would not be placed on W-12 until August of 1978 along with a portable hydraulic pump.
In 1976 Richard Cepelak was elected Deputy Chief of Company 1; a position he would hold for fourteen years. Under Dick's leadership and with help from the Town, Company 1 acquired a surplus 4-wheel drive Army Jeep that they equipped with a 250-gallon water tank, pump, Indian tanks, brooms, and shovels. Voila, a brush fire truck was born and now they were able get to the heart of these fires; it was designated W-2.
In March of 1976, Deputy Chief, Paul Roberts of Company 2 was unable to complete his term so Jack Kelly stepped in to finish it up. In September of that same year, Kelly was then elected as Deputy Chief (1976-78) of Company 2. During Jack Kelly's term the members felt the need to improve the way they fought brush fires so they voted to search for a brush truck. They were able to purchase a 1978 Dodge Power Wagon with 4-wheel drive and a 250-gallon tank with the capability of a mini-pumper when needed. This lime green truck was designated W-10. Prior to this purchase they had to rely on Companies 1 or 3 to assist with their off road vehicles during brush fires
In October of 1976 Don Clark began to serve as Captain of Company 2; a position he held for eleven years and in October of 1977 Phil Culver from Company 2 was elected as Department Assistant Fire Chief, a position that he held for many years.
By the mid 1970s, the members of Company 3 felt the need to enlarge the firehouse once again knowing they would be adding another truck. A building permit and variance were obtained from the town throughout the year and contractors began work on the addition with help from the members. By Father's Day 1977 the members were hauling block and mortar to the masons to construct the back wall of the firehouse. They filled the walls with empty bottles and newspaper to create a kind of time capsule.
In October of 1978 Floyd Cullins (1978-82) took over as Deputy Chief of Company 2. During that time member questioned the ability of W-10 to serve as a mini-pumper. Cullins had W-10 changed over to serve solely as a brush truck, but with the ability to set up for water to fill larger pumpers when needed to assist in structure fires. This truck served the community and company well for six years.
Also in 1978 Company 3's addition was nearing completion so the members voted to purchase a 1942 ladder truck from Bristol for $1000. This V-12 truck came equipped with a 65 ft. ladder and open cab. Since the addition was not quite ready the truck was to be housed at Migliaro's Service station on Wolcott Road. While on route from Bristol to Migliaro's Station the engine spun a bearing, so while the addition was being completed members worked to rebuild the engine of the truck which would be designated W-1; it was put into service on February 19, 1979.
On August 15, 1982 Company 3 faced a setback when fire broke out in the downstairs section of their building. The quick thinking of the first responders allowed the apparatus and equipment to be removed and used to extinguish the fire. This fast action saved the rest of the firehouse and no equipment or apparatus was lost. Following this disaster, the members worked diligently to repair the damage. In 1983 Company 3 members voted to purchase the vacant lot adjoining the firehouse for the purpose of adding parking space for members and having the land available if future additions were needed.
In October of 1982 Don Gawitt (1982-86) was elected Deputy Chief of Company 2. At this time the Deputy Chiefs of each Company and Department Chief William McKinley met to discuss the future needs of the fire companies. With the town's population on the rise, private and commercial dwellings increasing, and fire equipment and apparatus deteriorating they turned to the Town of Wolcott for help. The group met with Mayor Fish to explain their dilemma and they worked together to develop a plan to purchase more modern fire trucks. Thus in 1982, the Town approved a bond issue to purchase three new pumper/tanker trucks and one new ladder truck. The 1983 tankers were put into service at each Company over a two-year period and the 1983 LTI Tower, with an 85 ft. rear platform ladder, which was to be housed at Company 3, was put into service in March 1984. This bond issue also allowed generators to be placed in each of the three fire companies, the police station and the town hall.
Since Company 3 was to house the new ladder truck, prior to its arrival at the firehouse some changes had to be made. The members raised the existing ceiling in the truck house in order for the truck to fit inside and they replaced the old wooden garage door with a new weather efficient one. The purchase of the three tankers and ladder truck marked a change in the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department; it was the first time in its history that the town was asked to purchase fire trucks for any of the three companies. Prior to this bond issue, all trucks and apparatus were purchased through fundraising or money from the members at each Company. Next month we should finish this historical journey of our Volunteer Fire Department.
PLEASE NOTE: Last month I had a 1957 picture of a woman at the newly installed switchboard. I am happy to say that I received a call from Fran Bokon who informed me that the woman in the pictures was her mother, Mrs. Marion Oliver. Marion was in charge of the Communication Center, which was located on the second floor of the old Town Hall.
(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, history by Dick Cepelak and Scott Conway, Company #3 History author unknown, Wolcott Fire Dept. Co. #2, 1939-1989 Years of Remembrance author unknown, an interview with Dick Cepelak and Scott Conway, and a phone conversation with Fran Bokon.)
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/).
85-foot LTI tower truck in 1984.
Members posing in front of Company 1 in 1970.
Fire Company 3 in 1983.
Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department fleet in 1980.
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