70 Years Ago! U.S. Attacked Hamden Fire Department Prepares for the Worst
The New Haven Sunday Register "EXTRA" published the evening of Sunday December 7, 1941. CLICK to enlarge
WWII War Bond Poster (Image courtesy of Chick Manware)
Seventy years ago, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor triggered America's entry into World War II. In his address to Congress the following day, President Franklin Roosevelt asserted that we would "gain the inevitable triumph." Three years and eight months later we did.
Norman Rockwell's iconic "Freedom From Fear," one of the Four Freedoms that he illustrated during WWII
The country was unified after Pearl Harbor. In the first few days, tens of thousands of young men swarmed local recruiting stations to join in the fight. From the beginning until V-J day, Americans were focused on supporting our men in the armed forces and defending the U.S. homeland against a Juggernaut of vicious and determined enemies.
Still under the leadership of volunteer officers at the time of the attack, Hamden's paid and volunteer firefighters began preparing for the worst. The Red Cross provided first-aid courses. Training sessions were conducted to prepare firefighters for air raids and bombings. A call went out among the Hamden citizenry for "auxiliary firemen" to supplement the volunteer and paid manpower in the event of an air raid.
Some of Hamden's volunteer fire companies manned their stations each night well into 1942, making them immediately available to the paid forces in the event of an emergency. An excerpt from from Mt. Carmel's meeting minutes of March 12, 1942: "All volunteers for night services at the firehouse are to give their names to [volunteer] Capt. [Francis] Leddy, who will arrange groups of four with a given Lieut in charge of his shift."
The war led to the reorganization of the Hamden Fire Department under paid officers. In April 1942, the Board of Fire Commissioners conducted examinations to determine the department's new leadership.
As a result of examinations, Raymond C. Spencer was appointed as Hamden's first paid fire chief. The department's first paid company officers, Capt. Joseph Hromadka, Capt. Al Purce, Lieut. Everett Doherty and Lieut. Roland Ruwet, were promoted from the ranks of the paid firefighters. Line personnel now numbered two officers and ten firefighters on each of two platoons.
1941 Diamond-T Ladder Truck
Most Hamdenites today are probably not aware that Winchester's powder farm on Putnam Avenue made Hamden a potential military target. Given the limitations of enemy aircraft at the time, however, sabotage was a far more plausible threat than an enemy air raid. Nonetheless, the potential existed and some Hamden residents near the powder farm feared enemy incendiary bomb attacks.
With essential wartime priorities going to larger communities and the military, the war put many orders for new fire apparatus on hold. But Hamden had placed its orders for a new ladder truck and pumper with the Wood Engineering Service of Topsfield, Massachusetts well before December 7th.
The new apparatus were delivered in early 1942. On February 11, a new 1941 Diamond-T city service ladder truck was placed in service at the Highwood station, replacing the 1926 Maxim ladder truck that was demolished when hit by a trolley car the previous year. Two months later, a new Diamond-T 600 g.p.m. pumper was placed in service as Engine 1 at the Highwood station. The 1926 Maxim 500 g.p.m. pumper that had been Engine 1 since new was transferred to the Merritt Street station to replace Co. 6's 1924 Stutz 350 g.p.m. pumper.
Later in 1942, Hamden acquired some unique additions to the department's firefighting inventory. Maxim manufactured something called a "Blitz Buggy," a gasoline powered 500 g.p.m. pump, mounted on a trailer, that could be either hand drawn or pulled by a motor vehicle. The Hamden Fire Department purchased two of these Maxim blitz buggies through the O.B. Maxwell Co. for $1,662 each.
Hamden's 1942 Town Report listed the blitz buggies as "Defense Equipment." Thus began a unique era in the history of the Hamden Fire Department. According to one newspaper article, one of the blitz buggies was "stationed in a garage in Spring Glen . . . under the direction of Calvin Shepard, captain of the newly-formed Spring Glen fire fighting unit." The other blitz buggy was assigned to "the Pine Rock section . . . under the supervision of Fire Marshal Charles P. Loller."
A November 1942 description of the Department written by Firefighter Al Molleur stated, "The Town has over 150 trained auxiliary firemen, and for emergency two Maxim 500-gallon Blitz Buggies have been purchased, one stationed at Spring Glen and one at Wilmont."
The Maxim blitz buggies, and the two auxiliary fire defense companies to which they were assigned, helped reinforce the firefighting capabilities of the Hamden Fire Department during the war. "The Department is very proud of its auxiliary firemen," wrote Molleur, "as these men will be of great service to the town in the case of an emergency."
The Spring Glen and Pine Rock area auxiliary fire companies eventually disbanded and the blitz buggies were moved to the Whitneyville and Mt. Carmel stations. Both units were still listed on a department inventory dated February 5, 1952. An added notation to that same inventory indicated that the blitz buggy housed at Whitneyville was traded in to the O.B. Maxwell Co. on July 16, 1952 as a partial payment on the 1952 Maxim 750 pumper. It is not known for certain what happened to the blitz buggy at Mt. Carmel, but it is believed to have been purchased by a local farm.
In Hamden's 1944 Annual Report, Chief Spencer wrote, "The Fire Department has operated very efficiently the past year despite the shortage of manpower, due to five members being in the armed forces." Those career department members on leave to serve during WWII were Joseph Hromadka, Stuart Keeler, V. Paul Leddy, James Strain and Emil Strain.
With the reduction in the workweek from 84 to 67.1 hours in 1948, then down to 56 hours in 1951, the number of Hamden's career personnel grew significantly. In all, a total of 50 World War II veterans would be hired as career members of the Hamden Fire Department.
One veteran who joined the department after the war, William Hines, was stationed at Schofield Barracks adjacent to Hickam Field on that December day in 1941.