Early in the 1900's there seem to have been several fires that reached newspapers and so are found in scrap books. In 1905 "Mrs. Sarah Clark and son Burt moved into their new home that replaced one lost by fire". The largest single loss was that of the Congregational Church Nov. 4, 1906, that had been built in 1841. More is remembered about a dance that "warmed" the new barn Mr. Griswold built, than of the fire that burned his old barn. Some of the grass or brush fires spread, causing burns of heart attacks, at at least one, threatening Mrs. McDermott's on Waterbury Rd. brought help from the Waterbury Fire Department.
About 1931 a group of citizens wanted to start a volunteer fire department. Mr. John Bergin became interested and invited men to meet at his home on Clark Hill. They elected Eugene Lewis Captain. They felt that with no fire house or equipment a "Captain" rather than a "Chief" was appropriate. This was during the big depression and men were working on the roads for 40cents an hour and glad to get that. They saw parts of the town that otherwise might have escaped notice. They discussed the loss of so many buildings. According to a copy of the by-laws "Hose Co. No. 1" was organized May 18, 1938. Eugene Lewis was Captain and Ernest Bernier Jr., Secretary. No complete list of members is available at the present time. The men sponsored dances in the old Chapel School after the Community School was opened. They renovated the building, enlarging the cellar, and installing a furnace. In about three years they cleared $300.00. The town of Branford had a fire truck for sale for $500.00 so the fire company applied to the town for an additional $200.00 but were turned down. Sometime later the Naugatuck Chemical Company had a good piece of equipment and again an appeal was made to the town to help buy the truck, but the money was not available. About this time fire destroyed the home of Harold Norris on Straightsville Rd. and the report includes "the Naugatuck company was summoned, but was too late. Everything was destroyed...Remember that a short time ago an appeal for funds to purchase equipment was turned down at the town meeting!"
Saturday morning November 29, 1941 the stone building of the Congregational Church burned and was a total loss. Cheshire, Waterbury, Naugatuck Fire Departments came to our assistance and prevented the spread to other buildings in the center. The day of the fire a petition was started in Ray Chandler's store to call a special town meeting to authorize the selectmen to purchase a FIRE TRUCK. The voters were concerned and wanted protection. The meeting was held, and the selectmen were given power to buy a fire truck, which was Seagraves Pumper. It was delivered in May 1942 and was equipped with a 500 gallon tank 1000 feet of 2 and a 1/2 inch hose and an additional 500 feet of 1 and 1/2 inch hose. After delivery they realized that they had no place to store the truck. Carl Weyand offered his garage until the Prospect Fire Department could build a fire house.
The town acquired land from Rob Arrol. Eugene Lewis drew up plans for a fire house. The town voted to erect the building of cinder blocks, large enough for two trucks. They bought the cinder blocks and lumber for the roofing but wanted the Volunteers to erect the building. Joseph Goggin, Harold Chapman, Ray Chandler, Merrit Walters, Eugene Lewis, Thomas Plumb, Carl Canfield, were among those who started to lay the cinder blocks. The work progressed slowly, as most of the men were employed at war work, and only spend a few evenings a week at it. Outside help was employed to finish the building, in 1942.
It is related that the first fire the Department were called to was a chimney fire. They had no equipment at this time, but grabbed a couple of boxes of salt. One man on the roof, one at the stove, and the fire was successfully extinguished. Also, the truck was used, and the siren called a crew, in February 1943 the Grange Hall was extensively damaged by a fire. The 500 gallons of water was not adequate and once more we called on our neighbor Cheshire. Realizing the need for water to fight fires with, the department started on a money raising campaign.
The selectman had charge of the truck and fire house, and they called the department "Prospect Hose Co. No. 1". Many of the members were working odd hours, some out of town, some had enlisted. There were not too many good day men left. There was a need for an expanded group of men and equipment. Re-organization seemed desirable. July 25, 1945 the 1st Selectman, Lloyd Perry appointed Carl Canfield temporary chief. A new company of 40 men was formed, that included many of the original Hose Co. Carl Canfield, Roger Fournier, Ray Chandler, and Eugene Lewis had petitioned for an open election with all men in the community eligible for membership. An overwhelming vote at a town meeting supported the new company, which was formed August 16, 1945. Burton Roy Hubbell Sr. was elected Chief. He had had experience in Naugatuck. He held this position for a year and a half. The town voted to turn the truck and building over to the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department, with no strings attached, for the sum of one dollar. On September 11, 1945, Mr. Albert Reichenbach drove Albert Allen and George Cowdell to Hartford, to the Secretary of State's office, and had the Fire Department incorporated. THE PROSPECT VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT came into legal existence.
The need for additional money for additional equipment continued with the new company. The show "Down Homers" netted $350.00. Dances, suppers, sales of fireworks helped. When $700 had been collected a Chevrolet truck that carried water was bought from Ray Hine in Cheshire.
Because of the war a siren had been installed on the roof of the old center school house (now Historical Society). It was originally owned and operated by Civil Defense. After the war the siren was turned over to the fire department. The system was enlarged. Additional sirens in strategic parts of the town, with best location decided with trial and error, give warning of fires. The daily tests are no doubt annoying to some but continue to be valuable. Two fire phones were added and they were manned 24 hours a day by Ruth Hotchkiss and Anna Plumb. Later two more were installed, one at Joe Welton's and one at Ray Chandler's.
The Chevrolet truck was used for about 2 years and then a Ford dump truck was bought and bodies transferred. Another pump was installed and the old truck used for brush fires and extra water. The Prospect Volunteer Fire Department bought the old ladder truck from the Naugatuck Fire Dept. for $125.00. The ladders alone were valued at twice that amount. Then the problen of storing this truck arose and Carl Canfield offered storage space in the Edgar Wallace barn on New Haven Water Co. property. This old truck was polished up and is still driven in parades. In 1948 Mr. Canfield, who was a Captain of the Department, had been instrumental in securing a gift to the town of about 4 and 1/2 acres of land at the intersection of Coer Rd. and Rte. 69 from the Water Company for a Recreation Field. Fireman spent many hours clearing the land and cutting trees, with the help of the Lion's Club and some young people. Eventually in order to free the firemen of work on their own project the town hired the completion of the park.
The original firehouse could not be extended as the town did not own enough land. Again, Carl Canfield came to the rescue. In 1950 a little over an acre of land at the intersection of Center St. and Rte. 69 was secured from the Water Company. Sale of fireworks and other activities had netted a little over $10,000.00 toward the building. The land was to be used for the fire house only, or the land would revert to the Water Co. The members cut brush and trees and had to extend the lot 12 to 15 feet in the rear. Nich Cocchiola donated the services of two trucks and a power shovel. Merrit Walters, Edmond Canales, and Ray Chandler each gave dump truck services. Plans were drawn for the new building and it was let out for bid. Edward Nelson, a local contractor was the low bidder. The town gave the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department a mortgage for working funds which was repaid over a period of years. The construction in 1950-1 resulted in the 5 bay fire house we see today. The town uses the earlier building for a town garage. An open house for towns people and neighboring fire departments was held showing appreciation for the help that had been given.
The town continued to grow and the need for services increased. Some of the earlier members withdrew owing to work, moving, or health. Many new public spirited citizens joined. Some were 2nd and perhaps 3rd generation of members of Hose Co. No. 1. A need for ambulance service for the town developed and the members bought Packard Ambulance that the Waterbury Hospital had for sale. It was reconditioned and housed in the new firehouse. Fifteen members of the department enrolled in a first aid course conducted by the State Police in Bethany. Later the Red Cross sent instructors from Waterbury and classes were conducted to which all residents of Prospect were welcome. At the time of this writing we have a number of men who have continued and received Emergency Medical Training in Waterbury Hospital.
When the Packard Ambulance needed repairs an almost new Cadillac was purchased from the New Haven and New York Ambulance Service. This 1966 Cadillac Ambulance is now PT#6 and has been completely refurnished and painted since the 1974 purchase of PT#8 a Dodge Van type ambulance.
The fleet of trucks had been improved constantly. A tank that would carry 2200 gallons of water, and was referred to as a "portable hydrant" had been added. Now we were ready for NEW equipment. The town gave the backing to buy two new pieces of apparatus. Bids from American La France Seagrave were the lowest. $24,000.00. The Prospect Volunteer Fire Department was to pay back the load in yearly installments. Up to this point the department had been self sustaining. Now the town put $500.00 in the budget, and that has since been increased. It took a year to have the new trucks built ready for delivery. Then four members of the department, Chief Ray Chandler, John Chatfield, Irving Peck, and Louis Normand went out to the factory in Columbus, Ohio and drove the trucks home. WHile at the plant they saw every stage of manufacturing and assembling the trucks. It was a memorable experience. An open house was held Dec., 1957 to display the new equipment.
After the two new pieces of apparatus were in use the Ford truck was advertized for sale in the Fireman's Bulletin and a man from Rhode Island came to see and test it. He had a large estate in Rhode Island, and bought the truck and drove it back to his home.
Some changes in trucks and their equipment have been made as necessity arose. A complete list of the Prospect Fire Department trucks, as of August 1975 is given at the end of this booklet.
The members wanted uniforms for dress occasions. They bought, very reasonably from the Thomaston Fire Department to begin with. Later they ordered their own, which consisted of dark blue pants with a gold stripe, white long sleeved shirts and black ties and caps. There were 30 men in uniform when they attended parades.
The local department joined the New Haven County Chiefs Association, and this outfit sponsored "fire training schools" held in Cheshire. Several men attended. They also had a training field in New Haven where demonstrated. More recently training schools have been held in Burrville. Prospect has shared with other towns in "Mock Disaster" drills.
From the first dances at the old Chapel School House, through suppers, fireworks sales, "dollar a month club", Clyde Beatty Circus, and Carnival, the department has earned its own way. While a small amount of the expenses has been born by the town, fire coverage to equal that furnished by The Prospect Volunteer Fire Department would have cost the town thousands of dollars.
As the town and Fire Department grew, an upgrading of the warning system has taken place. Through Civil Defense a radio system was installed in the fire house, trucks, ambulance and chief's car. There was a base station in the fire house and in the chief's house. Later an enlarged base station in the home of John Wioncek was on a full time base. From the early phones, answered in the homes of Ruth Hotchkiss, Anna Plumb, Ruth Chandler, and Doris Welton the system progressed. In December 1957 an article describing the department reads "the alarm system is a four-way hook-up. When a fire is reported the phone rings in the home of a chief, the firehouse, and at the residences of Mrs. Joseph Welton and Mrs. Edward Wallace. The siren button activates five strategically placed horns, and the five key women contact each five firemen. Others hearing the siren report to the firehouse." Now a radio system communicates directly with the firemen in their homes, describing the need. Two way radios are on all equipment and "walkie-talkies" furnish communication between men and dispatcher. Since the volunteer work began dispatchers have included Ruth Hotchkiss, Anna Plumb, Doris Welton, Ruth Chandler, Marcia Wallace, Trudy Vander Eyk, Joan Johnson, Olive Maher, Bernice Wilson, Dorothy Lines, Ruth and Nellie Cowdell, and Carol Palmer, Florence Gilmartin and Lorraine Murray.
After the reorganization of the department in 1945 Mr. Roy Burton Hubbell served for about a year and a half. Then Raymond Chandler was elected chief. Much of the materials for this booklet is taken from a paper he wrote shortly before his death. John Chatfield, John Gilmartin, and now Paul Murray have filled the office since.
Chief Chandler recalled several memorable fires in addition to the Church and Grange Hall buildings. "A small house on Straightsville Rd. that took the life of Mr. George Tyler; a barn on the Coleman property; much damage to the Christoffersen home; The Prospect Lockers on Salem Rd. A house fire of Plank Rd. that took the lives of Edson Sperry and Royal Whitman; The Prospect Woodworking Shop on Waterbury Rd., this was a very smokey fire and the Waterbury Fire Department was called to assist." Mr.Chandler also recalled the nights of anxiety when a "fire bug" was rampant in town. He set at least four barns on fire in the early hours of the morning. Two barns were on Plumb's farm at different times. One barn had fourteen cows and livestock in, all totally destroyed. A barn on Salem Rd. on the Voegeli farm and another on Summit Rd. on the Valesek farm. He also set one garage and two houses. With the help of the State Police and the State Fire Marshal's Office this man was arrested and sent to prison.
More recently the firemen remember the terrrible Christmas Eve snowstorm fire that took the lives of Mr. Cyr and his little daughter on Matthew St. Later several barn fires occurred. Some of the vacant buildings were vandalism. No person responsible was identified. The worst was the large barn on the property of Miss Mabel Johns. The Cheshire Department sent help to this one. This was one of the first times the "Porto-Pool" was used, while the tanker went to refill. Another bad fire was at the Texaco Station on the Rt. 69, Summit corner. Mr. Norman LaFontaine was found dead in the building. Delay in discovering fires between midnight and daylight always gives then a head start. "Reciprocal Aid" with surrounding towns, especially with Cheshire and Bethany is mutually beneficial. We have also sent help to Waterbury. Grass and brush fires we always have, and it is not often realized the time, manpower, and mileage spent meedlessly.
For the first organization of a volunteer fire department the wives have assisted. When work was being done on the new fire house in 1950 the Ladies Auxiliary of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department was formed. They organized in August, 1950 at the Chapel School house. Mrs. Ruth Chandler was elected the first president. At the time of organization there were approximately ten members.
Throughout the years the Ladies have helped the firemen in many ways. They have had sales to earn money, which has been spent for extra equipment. They furnished the kitchen in the firehouse with stove, refrigerator, dishes, siver. They had uniforms similar to the men, with blue skirts, caps, and white shirts and black ties; They marched with the men in parades. They assisted in social activities of the department; helped on many money making activities such as the carnival.
In case of serious fires, day or night, the Auxiliary have served coffee "and" to the firemen. They have purchased Scott Ait Packs for the trucks which are used be the firemen upon entering a smoke filled building, a bell for the vintage ladder truck to ring at parades, a Quickie-Saw, to use in extricating victims trapped in vehicles following an accident. They have purchased some of the ambulance equipment and are constantly on the alert to supply new needed aid in any form.
Their support at home and in the field has been varied. It is evident that the Ladies Auxiliary are of great assistance to the men of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department.
Present Equipment, August 1975: Vol. Fire Dept. of Prospect, Inc.
- Truck #1- 1957 Ford--500 gallon capacity-750 gal/min pump
- Truck #2- 1974 Ford--300 gallon capacity-250 gal/min pump
- Truck #3- 1957 Ford--500 gallon capacity-750 gal/min pump
- Truck #4- Autocar (1954) - 2800 gallon capacity-250 gal/min portable pump
- Truck #5- 1964 Ford- 1000 gallon capacity-750 gal/min pump, also high pressure pump, (800lbs)
- PT #6- 1966 Cadillac Ambulance- Completely equipped for transfer or any emergency.
- Truck #7- 1952 International 700 gallon capacity-500 gal/min pump
- PT #8- 1974 Dodge Ambulance- Completely equipped van type ambulance.
- 1915 American LaFrance- Ladder truck completely equipped with ladders up to 50 feet. Truck used for parades.
- Truck #4- is equipped with a portable tank which holds 1500 gallons of water and can be set up at the scene of a fire to supply needed water while the tanker is being refilled.
- Truck #1- is equipped as a rescue truck. Among it's equipmemt is a cutting saw which is used to cut away automobiles to extricate injured persons. Also included are jacks, chains, ropes, etc. Anything pertaining to a rescue operation is on this truck.
old records and letters
scrapbooks owned by Mrs. Carl Canfield
a paper written from Former Chief Ray Chandler
information supplied by Chief Paul Murray
by Nellie H. Cowdell, a member of the Prospect Bicentennial Commission