In 1950, when the members of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, realizing the Town was on a fast track, with seemingly non-ending growth, voted to expand the current Department of two Companies (#1 & #2), to better protect the community. So and era was started. Therefore, at its first meeting, the membership formed what is known today as “Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Company No. 3, Inc.”. That day was October 27, 1950. At that time, the Company only existed of an old ambulance converted to an emergency truck, and $1.38 in the treasury, much of it raised from a penny collection. The Company was stationed out of the former Smitty’s Garage at the corner of Mad River Road and Wolcott Road. In need of a fire apparatus, the members held many fund raising events to raise money for their first big purchase. That day came on November 15, 1951 when the membership purchased a 1919 American Lafrance from the City of Waterbury for $300. Does not seem like much, but at that time it was a big investment. The truck was a chemical chain driven truck that was converted into a workable piece of equipment.
With truck in hand, the next big task was to concentrate on finding a permanent home for W.V.F.D. Co#3, Inc. That’s when Lena Cole and Grace Webber of Wolcott came into the picture. On July 26, 1951 they generously donated a piece of land located on Munson Road. But due to unsuitable soil for building construction, on May 1, 1954 the property was turned back over to the original owners, with a big heartfelt thank you. Soon after, a piece of land where the present firehouse is located, at the corner of Lyman Road and Potuccos Ring Road was discovered. The property, which consisted of a barn, was purchased from Mr. McCormack. The membership tore down the existing barn, leaving the foundation, making way for a new three bay firehouse. At that time, the firehouse consisted of the present three bays, and a meeting room, which was constructed atop the remains of the old barn foundation. The firehouse was constructed with the help and generosity of many of the then townspeople. Everything from the drilling of the well provided by Romeo Nigro, to the roof timbers provided and assembled by Louis Albert. At that time, the entire roof was assembled on the ground and hoisted atop the firehouse.
With the new firehouse completed, the membership was now able to mortgage the building to finance the purchase of additional apparatus. So the Company purchased a 1942 U.S.A. from the Gorman Fire Equipment Company of Boston, Massachusetts. The truck was converted from an old Army truck and outfitted with a 750-gpm pump and an 850-gallon booster tank.
With the two largest tasks accomplished, the membership set out to fulfill its duties to the Town. Many hours of training and equipment maintenance was performed. All this in-between responding to fire calls. The membership soon discovered that training and maintenance was costing money. Money they did not have. Therefore they soon needed to look elsewhere for the needed funds. These funds were soon obtained through various fundraising efforts. Everything from the first fundraisers of weekly bingo games and the sale of Christmas wreaths, to Polka Fest (“Music On The Mountain”), spaghetti dinners, steak and lobster dinners, and the current Roast Beef Dinner were organized. From there, money was raised to offset the costs for equipment, maintenance, and the building addition. See, when the dinners were first organized, the firehouse did not consist of a kitchen. Therefore, the proceeds from the early fundraisers were needed to construct the required facilities.
Construction on the addition began in late 1955. The plans included a big portion of the existing kitchen, and an office that is now occupied by Rescue 1. The members would purchase cinder blocks during the week, with whatever money was available, and purchase cement, with there own money, for $0.80/bag. The addition was soon completed, with the exception of the kitchen appliances, in late 1956 early 1957. The company just did not have the additional funds to complete the project. So in 1959, their entire effort came to fruition, the addition was complete.
Now, with apparatus, a new building, and the proper fundraising needs, the membership set out to add additional apparatus to the fleet. Therefore in early 1959 a truck committee was formed, and on December 21, 1959 at a special meeting, the membership voted on purchasing a new 1960 Howe Model 7-F truck on a GMC Model BV6011 chassis. The vehicle was to be equipped with a 750-gpm pump and a 1000-gallon tank. The cost of the vehicle was $16,700, much of which was obtained through fundraising efforts and others through another mortgage on the firehouse. However, due to a strike by the Howe Company, delivery of the truck was delayed until September 1960. On September 21, 1960 the truck was given the designation as W-8 and put into service.
The company once again, set out to increase the size of the fleet, by trying to better serve the Town. At the March 17, 1965 meeting another truck committee was again formed to look into the purchase of a new vehicle. Back then, with the vast areas of open land, unlike today, there were many brush fires, and the vehicles currently owned by the company were not capable of leaving the roadway to assist in the extinguishing of these fires. So it was voted to approve the purchase of a new 1966 4-wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon model W-300 from the Schectmann Motors, Inc Company of East Hartford. Upon delivery of the truck, the membership took it upon themselves to design and outfit the truck as they saw fit (i.e. pump, tank, and equipment). So in July 1966 the truck was finally completed and put into service with the designation of W-12. The trucks primary use was for brush fires and car fires, and is still in service today.
Every attempt was made to keep the fleet up and running ready for action at anytime. This came to be a difficult task. Apparently the 1942 U.S.A. they purchased, was having constant mechanical failures. It was getting to the point that the vehicle was to costly to keep on the road. So in 1968, yet another truck committee was formed to look into the purchase of a replacement truck. At the October 1968, meeting, it was voted to order a new truck. The truck was to be a 1969 GMC chassis with a body and tank to be purchased from the Oren-Roanoke Corporation of Virginia. The truck was to be purchased for $50,000 from the Gowans-Knight Company of Watertown CT. The truck was equipped with a 1000-gallon tank and a 750-gpm Two Stage Centrifugal Midship Mounted Pump, and a pre-connected in-line foam inductor proportinator for Hi-Ex Foam. The truck also had another innovative design that was unique to the New England Area. The truck incorporated a platform mounted pump control panel. This gave the pump operator full-view and control of the incident and truck. Delivery of the truck was not until August 1969, at which time the truck was given the designation of W-7 and put into service.
In 1970, a great blow was dealt to the membership of Company #3 and in fact the Department as a whole. The State Legislature passed a law that any firefighter with hypertension could no longer serve as an active fireman. The decision for the ruling was based on the fact that hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, was a leading cause of heart attacks, and the law was passed to protect the lives of current and future firefighters. So much of the current roster at that time was drastically reduced. Imagine performing a function you loved doing, giving it everything you have, and feeling a great duty to your fellow residents, and then being told you have to be removed from the active duty list. Many of those members, who were asked to step-down, gave this company everything they had, including time and money. Much of that time away from their families to build this great Company of ours.
On April 25, 1974, W-12 was involved in a near fatal accident. While enroute north bound to a brush fire on Kilmartin Avenue, in the vicinity of 1414 Wolcott Road, a motorist traveling in the south bound lane crossed the centerline nearly striking the vehicle head-on, and causing it to rollover several times. The firemen aboard W-12 were lucky enough to only sustain minor injuries, including the motorist that caused the accident. The rear axle was ripped from the vehicle including severe damage to the drivers’ side. The membership at that time voted to repair the vehicle. If they only knew the number of additional re-builds W-12 would see in the future. The re-build consisted of installing side-packs for equipment storage, larger pump, generator, and the addition of extrication equipment, and put back into service. See, in previous years, the Police Department was responsible for motor vehicle extrications. The officers carried porta-powers, chains, and miscellaneous equipment. They even used tow-trucks to assist in removing doors. It was the Company’s desire to seek improvement in this operation. So between the Police Department and the Fire Department, they witnessed a demo of the Hurst Tool, or what many people call the “Jaws of Life”. From there, it was decided amongst all to purchase the tool and house it at Company #3, hence the first extrication equipment in Town to be put in-service. It was gracious of a local non-profit organization to donate the money for the tool. Therefore, in August 1978, the Hurst Tool was placed on W-12, along with a portable hydraulic pump.
With the number of trucks increasing, along with the size, the membership then looked into another addition to the firehouse. So during 1976, plans were put together to construct an addition to the rear of the firehouse (everything form back bench all the way to the furnace room. During this year, Building Permits, along with a variance from the Town were obtained, to commence construction. The membership then started construction. Contractors performed much of the work, with a significant amount of labor from the membership. In fact, on Fathers Day 1977, many of the dads spent the day hauling block and mortar to the masons to construct the current back wall of the firehouse. The membership, as was customary in those times, filled the walls with empty bottles and newspapers to create a so-called time capsule. The firehouse was completed late in 1978.
With a larger firehouse, the membership hence looked into the purchase of a ladder truck. Many times the membership discussed it during meetings, but it wasn’t until 1978, when the membership finally voted to purchase a used 1942 American LaFrance Shark Nose (aka “THE QUEEN”) from the Bristol Fire Department for $1000. The truck was equipped with a 65ft ladder, V-12, and an open cab. With the firehouse not yet completed, a place was needed to store the vehicle. Migliaro’s Service Station graciously allowed the membership to store the vehicle until such time as the addition was completed. While enroute from Bristol, after purchasing the vehicle, the engine spun a bearing. So while the addition was being completed, the membership worked on rebuilding the engine. Upon completion of the addition, the ladder truck was brought to the firehouse, given the designation of W-1, and put into service on February 19, 1979. It was later that same day that it responded to its first call, mutual aid to the City of Waterbury for a church fire on Cherry Street Extension. Throughout its service life, it responded to many calls and served the Town well. Though I did hear it used to be pretty hair-raising with the ladder fully extended, attempting to put water to a fire, what with the ladder swaying form side to side.
In 1982, the Company suffered an unfortunate accident. On August 15th, a fire took place in the downstairs building. The downstairs suffered significant damage along with the meeting room. If it was not for the quick actions of the first arriving members, removing the apparatus from the heavily smoke filled truck house and using the trucks to put the fire out, the firehouse could have sustained significantly more damage. Fortunately none of the apparatus, equipment, or other parts of the firehouse were damaged. After the incident the membership pulled together and repaired the damage to as good as new.
The year was 1983, and between purchasing new vehicles the Company decided to purchase the vacant lot adjoining the firehouse. The lot was purchased for two reasons: 1) in the event that expansion of the firehouse was needed, 2) to accommodate the memberships parking needs.
Next, the Department as a whole was in need of replacing the aging tanker fleet (W3-W5-W7). A committee from all three Companies was formed to look into developing plans and specifications for the trucks. Due to the significant cost increase in apparatus, the Department, headed by Chief William McKinley, approached Mayor Fish to develop a plan to phase in all three trucks over numerous years. The Town asked the Fire Department to submit their full request and voted to put the expenditure to a Town referendum. The referendum totaled just over $1 million, and included the three replacement tankers, a replacement ladder tuck, the old cascade bottle system, and five generators (one each for the three Fire Companies, Police Department, and Town Hall). The referendum passed, and the complete order of fire apparatus was placed with the Gowans-Knight Company of Watertown CT. At that time it was the largest order ever for Gowans.
The trucks were slowly and eventually put in service over a two-year period. The tankers were 1983 FMC’s with Duplex bodies, a 2000-gal supply tank, and 1000-gpm pumps. The ladder truck was a 1983 LTI Tower, with an 85ft rear platform ladder, mounted atop a Duplex cab and chassis. The purchase was a worthwhile investment for the Companies because it replaced the aging fleet of tankers, and significantly increased and improved service to the Town as a whole. It was decided to sell the old “Queen” and replace it with the LTI. The “Queen” was taken out of service and the Tower (W-1) was put into service in March 1984 (the “Phatom” struck sometime later). Prior to the arrival of the new ladder, the firehouse had to partake in some major alterations just for the ladder to fit. The existing ceiling in the truck house was raised, and new larger more weather efficient garage doors replaced the old red wooden ones. Since then, the truck has been used for many fire situations and the unforgettable Santa runs. The Santa runs were and still are a trip the fireman take one day every year, to pass out toys for children of the members.
The next project, which always seems to be never-ending, consisted of replacing W-8 (Howe). The year was 1984, and after repeated attempts to re-weld the rear of the truck back onto the vehicle, it was decided that the vehicle was no longer safe for firefighters to ride on the back. So with the company now in a bind, the membership approached Gowans-Knight Company of Watertown CT. looking for a truck in which they could get an immediate delivery of. Gowans brought a 1984 GMC, with a 750-gallon tank and a 1250-g.p.m. pump, to the company for inspection. It was decided then to purchase the vehicle for $55,000, using fundraising monies and a small loan.
With the rising number of motor vehicle accidents, and the car companies consistently changing the materials and design of these vehicles in an attempt to increase safety, fire departments needed to follow suit and keep up with the increasing number of tools and equipment needed to assist in the safe operation and extrication of their occupants. The Hurst Tool was moved to W-8, because there was more room to hold some of this equipment. Soon, there was not sufficient room to hold all the required equipment, and therefore a committee was formed to look into the purchase of a rescue vehicle. In 1989, the company voted to purchase a 1989 Ford Econoline Van, with a Reading Rescue body to hold personnel and equipment. The truck cost $54,000 and was funded totally by the company with a small loan from a local bank. The truck was put into service later that year, and since then has been consistently updated with the tools needed to perform just about any rescue needed.
With the ever-increasing complexity of running a firehouse and the need for a dedicated bay for the Rescue Truck, the membership contemplated another addition. Office space was becoming very tight. All the Department Officers including the Treasurer, Recording Secretary, and the Financial Secretary were working out of the little office constructed from the addition in 1955. The Rescue, at that time, was parked behind another truck, and any time the Rescue was needed, the members had to move the other truck first. This caused a reduction in response time where every second counts. So in late 1990 the members started construction on the new addition. The existing office was demolished along with the restrooms, to create an additional bay. A second floor was added above the kitchen where offices were constructed for the Deputy Chief, Captain & Lieutenants, and an office for the remaining officers and committees to share, along with an additional bathroom with a shower. The contractor, with a lot of the demo work accomplished by the membership, performed much of the work (its amazing what W-12 and a winch can do). Along with the new addition, a boathouse was added on back to keep the boat and oil tank out of the weather, along with some additional storage space. The addition was completed in the summer of 1991.
In 1994 the membership voted to purchase a used 1987 Chevy Suburban from Rte 69 Auto Sales. The suburban was needed to transport personnel and equipment to and from fires. The suburban was school bus yellow, and soon painted red so it looked somewhat like a fire department vehicle and not the dogcatcher. After the truck was painted, it was lettered to clearly distinguish the vehicle 1as belonging to the fire department. This vehicle was later replaced in 1998 by a new Chevy Suburban that the company now uses for the same reasons.
The year was 1994, and the trucks purchased through the 1983 bond issue (W-3, W-5, W-7) were soon starting to have problems, and W-8 outlived its useful service life. See, OSHA passed a regulation not allowing firefighters to ride on the back of an apparatus. This ruling made W-8 only a two passenger vehicle, and therefore ineffective. Two committees were formed, one committee was formed from all Companies, along with the Chief of the Department (Charles Marsella), to replace the tankers, and a second was formed from our company to replace W-8. After many long meetings and discussions, the Department Committee decided upon what was known as a glider package. The manufacturer used the existing trucks engine, pump, and rear trans-axle, and transmission (which were still in good condition), and mounted its own body to the old equipment. The trucks were outfitted with larger cab occupancy and more equipment storage. In 1994, a referendum was held and passed, to vote on the purchase of the tankers and W-8. The trucks were ordered and soon delivered over a two-year period. The new W-7, the last to be put in service in June 1996, was a 1996 E-One, with a 2000-gal tank capacity. The committee for W-8, voted on a 1000-gal attack vehicle. It was decided that this would be the first responding vehicle for our area, and therefore something that would respond quickly would be needed. W-8, a 1995 Pierce Dash, arrived on November 15, 1995 and after a brief wet-down ceremony, including a prayer by the Department Chaplain Rev. Haggard, the truck was put into service.
In 2003 it was time to refurbish the ladder truck and the firehouse would go yet under another change. The town decided to use the existing ladder by putting it on an American Lafrance cab and chassis. The truck went off to LTI in Pennsylvania for the refit and the members rebuilt the truck house raising the new roof to 18 feet to accommodate the new apparatus. The 2004 American Lafrance/LTI 85foot ladder tower arrived to a newly renovated truck house.
In 2012 the rescue truck was replaced through the towns lease purchase plan and a 2013 International with a 14 foot rescue box was built by Rescue 1/PL Customs in New Jersey. Also through a recent bond issued by the town, a new Tanker 7 was built by Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton Wisconsin.
Throughout the years, many events have shaped our Company. Many of the events I’ve tried to discuss, but surely have missed a few. Through it all I keep looking back, and if it were not for the motivation, desire, and all out dedication of the membership, this company would not be where we are today. Many family relationships have been strained over these years, what with the long nights when the members performed all their own repairs due to lack of funds, into the early morning hours. Along with having to miss many family functions responding to various calls. Many of those members have passed on, leaving us with an unforgettable legacy that will surely live on forever. However, many members within the Company, are of multiple generation families. There are many members of second-generation families, and the future sees room for third and fourth generation firefighters. Many of us should never overlook what the members of the past did to get us here and what we need to do, as a Company, to keep moving forward into the new millennium.
Wolcott Fire Department Company 3 is a volunteer fire company in the town of Wolcott, Ct. serving a community of 16,000. Wolcott has a Chief, Asst. Chief, 3 Fire Companies, and an explorer post called Company 4.
The Wolcott Fire Department averages approximately 600 calls per year and is an all-volunteer organization. The department is comprised of three companies and an explorer program.