History of the Hamden Fire Department

    The Hamden Fire Department began in a manner similar to many others in the area, by groups of individuals banning together to protect their homes, businesses and neighborhoods. In many cases this consisted of a collection of assorted equipment such as buckets, shovels, and the like, stored in a centrally located space such as a barn or shed.
 
    In the 1800s, as the Hamden neighborhoods we know today were established, each area began to create their own organized volunteer firefighting organization to protect their district. At their peak, there were no less than 10 individual fire companies made up of local citizen volunteers. These dedicated groups raised funds to construct buildings, purchase equipment, and support the efforts necessary to protect the lives and property of themselves and their neighbors.
 

    There was much competition among the volunteer companies in those early days, with trophies and bragging rights to be won at annual “field days,” where the units would compete in events designed to test their firefighting prowess. Evidence of these early firefighting efforts can still be seen today, with many of the former stations converted to alternate use. The Humphrey Hook and Ladder Company’s former station, constructed in 1908 is still in active service as it nears 100 years of age.

 

    Unlike New Haven to our south, Hamden never maintained any horse drawn apparatus, instead utilizing equipment that could be moved by hand. With the extension of the trolley lines up Dixwell and Whitney Avenues, it would not be unusual to see hose cart, hand pumper or ladder rig hooked on to the back of the trolley car to be moved north or south to assist a neighbor. 

 
    Hamden acquired its first piece of motorized equipment in 1915. It was Maxim pumper, the first motorized apparatus built by that company, which was housed at the Whitneyville Station. Eventually all the early equipment was phased out in favor of a variety of new state of the art firefighting devices. Starting in 1918, the first paid personnel associated with Hamden fire fighting were hired as apparatus drivers.
 
    In 1926, the Hamden Fire Department was created under the General Statutes of the State of Connecticut. The new department brought seven previously independent Hamden volunteer fire companies under one authority. Building Inspector Charles Loller was selected as the first fire chief. Volunteer firefighters continued to be the bulwark of the fire department, with paid drivers assigned to fire stations at Highwood H&L Co. 1 (1896), Humphrey Co. 2 (1911), Whitneyville Co. 3 (1909), Centerville Co. 4 (1904), and Merritt Street Co. 6 (c. 1920). The Mix District Volunteer Fire Co. No. 7 (1924), Mt Carmel Co. 5 (1911) and the Dunbar Hill Volunteer Fire Co. No. 8 (1928) were, and remain, an active all-volunteer force. West Woods Volunteer Co. No. 9 (est. 1956) was disbanded in the late 1980s.
 
    The current members of the three Hamden volunteer fire companies are well trained and firefighter certified by the State of Connecticut, and they remain an integral part of the response team.
 
    As Hamden grew, so did the need for a modern and efficient fire fighting force. Gradually the career department grew alongside the volunteers, to a point where the current combination paid/volunteer department was born. In 1942, the town reorganized the fire department under a paid chief and 22 other career (paid) firefighters. Raymond C. Spencer was selected as Fire Chief. Captains Joseph Hromadka and Albert Purce were appointed to command each of the two platoons of career firefighters, assisted by Lieutenants Everett Doherty and Roland Ruwet.
 

    The career department has continued to grow and improve from its humble beginnings, reaching a peak staffing level of 125 in the 1970s. Budget constraints since that time have reduced the number to 92 line personnel and 8 staff positions responsible for covering nearly 10,000 emergency calls yearly. 78% of these responses are requests for emergency medical assistance.

 

    The department saw the need to provide EMS in its infancy with the first vehicle dedicated for such a mission purchased in 1938. This Diamond T rescue pumper, nicknamed “The Squad” was designed to carry the devices, considered state of the art equipment at the time to provide first aid and resuscitation to citizens in need. The squad, based at the Centerville station would respond to call for Medical assistance throughout town. This tradition was carried forward with the purchase of two International rescue vehicles in 1958 and 1960. This service has been maintained since that time, with levels of care steadily advancing.

 

    Hamden sent the first firefighters to Emergency Medical Technician school in 1971, and by 1976 had a fully functional Paramedic Rescue service in operation. At the current time, all new hires for the career department are required to be EMTs or Paramedics, effectively making all of our apparatus Emergency Medical response units. 

 
    In addition to a modern EMS system, Hamden continues to provide exceptional fire service, with 23 firefighters on duty at all times, staffing 5 career engine companies, one career tower ladder, two paramedic rescue units and several pieces of specialty equipment, all designed to complete the mission at hand. The volunteers maintain three additional engines and three brush fire fighting rigs, while providing much needed backup to the career members.
 

    New initiatives such as the addition of Mobile Data Terminals in the apparatus, computerization of the fire and EMS reporting systems, and the planned construction of a new headquarters have the department well poised for the new millennium.