According to the website of the National Weather Service, an F4 tornado on the Fugita scale is characterized by winds estimated at between 207 and 260 m.p.h. "Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated." (http://www.spc.noaa.gov)
Connecticut isn't much like Oklahoma, or Kansas, or even Ohio, where F4 tornadoes occur now and then. But this week marks the 25th anniversary of the F4 tornado that devastated much of the Newhallville and Whitneyville sections of Hamden on Monday evening, July 10, 1989. The fire, police and public works departments mobilized to address the many emergencies resulting from the devastation, to open up roads, and to re-establish communications, among other things.
The Hamden Fire Department under the direction of Chief John Tramontano had its hands full. The tornado struck around 5:30, when the Platoon 3 day shift was being relieved by the Platoon 1 night shift. Many firefighters working the night shift had difficulty getting to work and many on the day shift could not get home. That really didn't matter much anyway because before long all available fire personnel were being ordered to duty.
At the recent Summer meeting of the HFRA, retired Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt recalled the afternoon of the tornado. "I'm probably the only guy in the history of the Hamden Fire Department to be ordered in to work by his mother!" Clark's mother, Nancy Hurlburt, was Hamden Town Clerk at the time.
Clark noted that right after the tornado struck Nancy drove through the affected areas trying desperately to find Mayor John Carusone, who was in Newhallville assisting the residents. Once the Mayor was located, the two returned to the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the town hall. That's when Clark got the call from Mom.
Hamden's 1951 Maxim at Station 9
Whoever first said "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures" could have been describing Hamden's fire apparatus situation on July 10, 1989.
Clark, who was a lieutenant at the time, reported to Station 9 in West Woods, the closest station to his Bethany home. On arrival he was joined by Lt. Dave Strawhince and Ff. Paul Durkin, who were also ordered in.
Engine 9 was out. Perhaps it was at the house fire on Westminster Street or assisting somewhere in the south end, but Engine 9 was not expected to return to quarters any time soon.
The only available piece of apparatus at Station 9 was the 1951 Maxim, Hamden's first post-WWII apparatus purchase and the pumper previously assigned to Volunteer Co. 9, which had disbanded four months earlier.
Clark said that once they washed all the dust off the ancient pumper they had to jump-start it from Strawhince's Ford pickup truck. It started! Since he was the only one who knew how to drive it, Lt. Hurlburt once again was able to assume the role of driver.
With Lt. Strawhince beside him and Ff. Durkin riding the tailboard, Lt. Hurlburt drove the 1951 Maxim to stand by at Station 4. Wisely, the crew left it running on the ramp.
The night of the tornado was undoubtedly the last time the 1951 Maxim ever saw active service. It was sold the following year. The venerable old Hamden pumper was last seen in 2007, rotting away in a field in Shelton.
Earlier this week, with the 25th anniversary only a few days hence, Channel 30 Meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan contacted the HFRA. "We would love to be able to interview one or two first responders live on the air about their memories . . ."
Hanrahan's request was forwarded to our online members and several phone calls were made. HFD Retirees Harold Mangler, Brian Forsyth and former Asst. C.P. Director Neil Gorfain stepped forward to share their recollections as first responders when interviewed at Rochford Field at precisely 5:40 p.m. on July 10, 2014.
Meteorologist Hanrahan had read about the Hamden Fire Department's response to the tornado and had viewed the day-after video on the HFRA website, which inspired him to contact the Association for potential interviewees. We thank Ryan Hanrahan and Connecticut NBC for helping to preserve our history.
In the days following the tornado, WTNH Action News 8 presented stories about how residents of the Whitneyville-Newhallville areas of Hamden dealt with the severe damage to their properties. One elderly lady whose house was built by her late husband in 1939 was somewhat philosophical and almost optimistic despite the damage to her home.
Two direct hits were the condos at the corner of Newhall and Augur Streets and a brand new condo that was completed only a few months earlier. On July 12, 1989, the Hamden Fire Department was able to provide Action News 8 with "BEFORE" video clips of both of these doomed structures, taped for a training video in October 1988.
Souvenir for Service
CLICK to enlarge
CLICK to enlarge
Town Clerk (1987-95) Nancy Hurlburt
The spate of tornados that hit the northeast on July 10, 1989 - there were seventeen in all! - was also an enormous challenge to utility companies.
Shortly after the dust settled, but before the storm was officially declared a tornado, Appaloosa Custom Products of Milford produced special commemorative belt buckles for the utility workers who spent tens of thousands of man-hours to get things back to normal. Complimentary paperweights of the same design were given to town officials. The paperweight that was presented to Town Clerk Nancy Hurlburt is pictured above.
First Anniversary T-Shirt (CLICK to enlarge)
As a 1970s CETA employee, Vic Mitchell served both in the Shop and the Alarm Room. As a Hamden volunteer firefighter for over 40 years, Vic also served with Cos. 5 and 7. Vic brought this brand new, never-worn Hamden tornado first anniversary commemorative T-shirt to the recent retirees meeting. They were sold at a reunion gathering of Whitneyville-Newhallville residents at Rochford Field in July 1990.
Five years ago on the 20th anniversary of the tornado that devastated parts of southern Hamden, WTIC FOX 61 News featured a remembrance during its nightly weather forecast. Meteorologist Joe Furey did not mince words, "In Connecticut history, this is the worst tornado outbreak ever, by far."
Some of the Hamden video in this
FOX 61 presentation was supplied by the HFRA.
Day After the Hamden Tornado Tuesday, July 11, 1989
(originally posted 7/3/2009)
An F4 tornado ripped through southern Hamden, leaving damages in the millions of dollars. The 1989 tornado was an incredible challenge for the department.
While tape rolled, commentary was added occasionally to establish exact locations because many areas were unrecognizable.
Dolores Fortuna (center) flanked by daughter Anna-Marie and husband Tom.
Sears Building Proved a Safe Haven in '89
Dolores Fortuna's memory of the event is a vivid as anyone's. It was approaching five in the afternoon and she was about to leave the Hamden Sears store, where she worked in the accounting department. Her father was supposed to pick her up, but he was still at the H.A. Leed Company on Leeder Hill Drive.
It was getting very dark as Dolores waited for her dad by the plate glass doors. She says that she remembers that the doors and windows were rattling something awful, and she wanted to get out of there fast. Just like everyone else in Hamden that afternoon, Dolores could not have imagined that an F4 tornado would be ripping up the south end of town at that very moment - and the H.A. Leed building was among its many casualties.
Fortunately, noted Dolores, her father was in that part of the Leed building that withstood the estimated 200 m.p.h. winds, although his car was totaled out in the front parking area. As for Dolores, she probably could not have had any better protection than the Sears building. Five years later, it would take a lot more than high winds to bring that baby down.
Originally Posted 8/18/12
March 2013 Display at Peabody Museum - May Still be There
Hamden firefighters of Platoon 3 responded to a fully involved garage fire at 11 Notkins Street last Monday. The garage was destroyed and radiant heat caused some damage to adjacent structures. A couple of retirees showed up and took some photos. CLICK on the photo below.
Yeah, it's Ralph Pascale from Public Works. When leaving the fire on Notkins Street last Monday, we met up with Ralph and his wife, Pasqualina, who were watching the action from their front steps.
Ralph and his public works colleague Tommy, a duo affectionately known around 4's as "Cheech and Chong," were familiar to anyone who worked at Station 4 a few years back - and especially to the staff fire personnel who occupied basement offices at town hall in the 80s.
Ralph, who looks great, has been happily retired since 2000 (which is probably why he looks so good).
Firefighters Kurt Vogt, Larry Bowden, Kevin Martin and Brett Rinehart
Lt. Joe Anderson and Ffs. Larry Bowden and Casey Blake
The 2014 HVFF Fireworks was a complete success thanks to the contributions of many Hamden businesses, individuals and organizations, including the Hamden Professional Firefighters Local 2687 and the Hamden Fire Retirees Association.