Hamden firefighters responded to the Co-operative Consumers grocery store at 1840 Whitney Avenue for an overhead refrigerator motor that overheated. No big deal.
The store was located at the corner of Whitney Avenue and Thornton Street, in a strip of stores that still stands today. A few years later the popular neighborhood grocery store moved into much larger quarters at 1665 Whitney, right in the center of the Spring Glen business district.
Almost twenty-seven years to the day later, the fire department was back at the Co-operative Consumers grocery store. This time it was a big deal . . .
Then, 40 Years Ago
New Haven Register, December 15, 1976
It wasn't the same building, but it was the same business. Platoon 4 was working the night of Tuesday, December 14, 1976, when a passerby saw smoke coming from the basement window of the Co-Op building at 1665 Whitney Avenue.
Then-Firefighter Doug Yocher remembered that it was his turn for "Plaza Patrol." Each year during the Christmas season, a Hamden firefighter dressed in his Class A's walked around the Hamden Plaza and Mart each night to check for fire code and parking violations. Shortly after 9 p.m. Doug heard the fire dispatcher on his portable radio sending Engine 3 on a brush fire behind the Co-Op.
On arrival, Captain Jack Laffin reported leaves burning in the deep well of a basement window at the Co-Op. On closer investigation, the captain determined that the fire in the window well had communicated to cardboard boxes and other flammable materials in the basement of the building. It was cooking!
When Yocher heard Capt. Laffin calling for the box alarm, he got into his pickup truck and returned to Station 3, where he got out of his dress blues and back into his work uniform and his "nice warm night hitch."
Doug recalls that Engine 5 was second due on that alarm because Engine 4 was on Mix Avenue at another call. On arrival, Engine 5 dropped its 3" and 2-1/2" parallel supply lines at the scene and continued to the nearest hydrant to pump them. It was probably the hydrant at Gillies and Whitney. Doug believes that Engine 5's supply lines fed the ladder pipe of Truck 2.
When the dispatcher announced the box assignment on the operations frequency, Engine 4 cleared the call on Mix Avenue. Lt. John Tramontano and his crew responded directly to the Co-Op, where Engine 4 pumped to Engine 3 from another hydrant.
Doug recalls that when he arrived at the scene, he parked his pickup on Whitney Avenue directly behind Car 30. Reporting to Engine 3, to which he was assigned, Doug suggested to driver Art Heriot that the Telesqurt might be put to good use in attacking the blaze. Art said, "Have at it."
Turning the engine around, they extended the end of the Telesqurt inside the side door. Hoping to darken the fire so an interior attack could be made, they were able to maneuver the nozzle in such a way as to aim it down the stairs and into the basement for a blitz attack. But the fire had made too much headway before firefighters arrived. The Co-Op and the adjoining Growers Liquor Outlet were destroyed.
Sometime later, the Co-Op reopened a few doors south of their destroyed building, in the original Spring Glen location of the First National Store at 1647 Whitney Avenue.
The New Haven Register, Wednesday, December 15, 1976 (Courtesy of Chan Brainard)
This week the website tips its hat to a guy all of our active department members and most of our web visitors probably do not know. Milner Benham has been a regular retiree longer than any other Hamden firefighter. He left the job at the end of 1981 after twenty-five years' service.
Milner's career with the department began sixty years ago this week, on December 18, 1956. Twenty years later, Milner became one of Hamden's first eight paramedics. He presently lives in New Hampshire.
Every year, the Association publishes an annual year-end newsletter for our non-online members who do not have access to the weekly website updates. The newsletter contains highlights of the previous year's postings.
Website visitors can download and print the pdf file of this year's newsletter by clicking below.
Superintendent of Alarms and Apparatus Clement "Clem" Wetmore retired on his 65th birthday, December 20, 1968, after nearly twenty-eight years as a career member of the Hamden Fire Department. Records show that Clem joined the department on July 1, 1941, but he had been a founding member of the Mix District Volunteer Co. 7 in 1924.
A cheerful and friendly gentleman with a vast knowledge of electronics, Clem was responsible for maintaining the department's Gamewell alarm system, as well as all of the department's apparatus and support vehicles.
When Clem started, the repair shop was a small garage in the basement of Station 4. Before long, that location proved to be woefully inadequate. With the 1951 renovation of the Humphrey station, Clem's work space enlarged immensely after the recreation hall at the rear of the station was transformed into the new Repair Shop
When the workload was extraordinarily heavy, Clem received occasional part time extra duty help from among the firefighters. Otherwise, he did everything himself. In June 1965, Clem finally got a permanent assistant when the Board of Fire Commissioners appointed Firefighter Richard Lostrillo to the full time position of Assistant Superintendent of Alarms and Apparatus.
Clem's entire family has been dedicated to the fire service. His sons Duane and Erwin (AKA "Jim") served as captains of Co. 7 for decades. Duane, who passed in 2011, served several terms as a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners. Jim is still active in Co. 7 affairs and on the HVFF annual fireworks committee.
Clem's youngest son, Paul Wetmore, Sr., was appointed to the career department in 1962 and eventually became Superintendent following the retirement of Clem's successor, Richie Lostritto. Following the retirement of Walt Macdowall in 1991, Paul was appointed Assistant Chief. He succeeded John Tramontano in 1993 as Chief of Department.
Clem's grandson, Paul Wetmore, Jr. is a retired battalion chief. All three Wetmores have served a total of 88 years of career service in the department, and decades more when volunteer service is added.
Clem Wetmore passed away in March 1995 at the age of 91.
December 1968 - Asst. Superintendent Richie Lostritto was promoted to Superintendent of Alarms & Apparatus. He replaced HFD's first Superintendent, Clem Wetmore, who retired that month after more than 27 years of service. Richie retired on the last day of 1985 after 35 years on the department.