The early morning fire at 36 Central Avenue in Spring Glen was already well underway when a family member smelled smoke coming from the attic, called 9-1-1, and got everyone out. The fire started in the basement. The house was of balloon construction. In textbook fashion, flames had extended up through the chimney chase and exterior walls into the attic.
Platoon 3 was working its first of three nights. At 3:34 a.m., the first alarm box assignment was Engine 3, Engine 4, Tower 1, Rescue 1 and Car 3, under the command of Cmdr. (B/C) Tom Doherty.
When firefighters arrived on scene, fire was visible in the attic window. Engine 3's officer and nozzleman on an 1-3/4" attack line, and Engine 4's officer and nozzleman on an 1-3/4" backup line, advanced up the top floor stairway. The top floor was not yet ventilated, so when crews got as far as the attic door they were forced back down by intense heat.
New Haven Register, Saturday, December 18, 1993
Ventilation was the big problem. Utility wires on the same side of the street as the house precluded use of the aerial. Elevating a 35' ground ladder and performing roof ventilation with only two truck personnel* was also quite problematic. But these hurdles were moot anyway because the IC deemed the roof to be untenable due to the length of time the fire had been burning beneath it. The IC's assessment proved correct because shortly after the interior crews tried unsuccessfully to reach the attic, the fire vented itself through the roof.
The New Haven Register photo above shows Tower 1's ladder pipe shooting a 30-degree master fog pattern into the attic window right after the fire had breached the roof. Once the fire was sufficiently darkened, the master stream gave way to interior crews on handlines returning to the attic to finish the job.
The second alarm brought Engine 2, volunteer Engines 7, 8 and 15, along with Car 1, Car 2 and Car 6. The additional crews assisted first alarm personnel with the basement and first floor, as well as with salvage and overhaul. The first due engine company was back in service at 7:29 a.m.
(The news article incorrectly identified Deputy Fire Marshal Ed Badamo as the deputy fire chief. The department's second-in-command at the time was newly-appointed Deputy Chief Tim Sullivan. Badamo would become deputy fire chief three years later when Sullivan was appointed chief.)
*Today, all engine and truck companies are manned by an officer and two firefighters.
This photo appeared in the December 30, 1981 edition of The Hamden Chronicle. The 1981 Hamden Professional Firefighters' Local 2687 drive to help a Hamden family at Christmastime would continue on in many forms, including toy drives for the Hospital of St. Raphael, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Hamden High Cheerleaders and, more recently, the Local's annual Thanksgiving turkey drive.
There is probably no career fire retiree who didn't at one time or another help to transport Santa Claus to one of Hamden's department stores. Usually it was on an engine company, but the website recalls at least one time when it was the Tower.
Sadly, Hamden's department stores are much a thing of the past, Bradlee's, Caldor's and Sears perhaps being the most memorable to those of us who are now retired.
A couple of months ago, the website received an email from Bill Howard, who was interested in the website article on the fire training conducted at Sears before it was demolished in October 1994. Bill wrote that for many years he had been the Santa at Hamden's Sears store, the first suburban department store in Connecticut. "I appeared mainly on Saturdays, though I would arrive every year on Black Friday."
The tradition of Santa Claus arriving on a Hamden fire engine is a long and memorable one. "The Hamden Fire Department would strap me to the back of the fire truck and go from the station to Sears with siren and lights going. I had to hold on to the truck with one hand and my Santa hat with the other. I was Santa right up until the store closed."
Bill began his Santa training in the late 1970's as the Macy's Santa on Saturdays, Sundays and a couple of weeknights. While doing some private parties, he was approached by Sears to be their Santa at their Hamden store.
He doesn't remember exactly when he started his gig as the Sears Santa, but "I know for the last Christmas I appeared before the store closed, a few people brought in photo albums that had the pictures that were taken of their children with me over several years."
"It was a tough job," wrote Bill, as he described the different steps it took to making himself up as Santa Claus. "My season ran from Black Friday until Christmas Eve. I had young children of my own for part of my career as Santa, but I would do a couple of house visits on Christmas Eve in Orange and Woodbridge. When I did house visits during the season I would take a nicely bound copy of 'The Night Before Christmas' out of my bag and read it to the children."
Bill recalled one particularly interesting encounter, when a New Haven agent booked him and a woman to be "Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus" for a private party in Branford. The two of them arrived at the house together and knocked on the door. When the homeowner opened the front door, he was visibly disappointed. He told Bill that the agency sent the wrong people.
"You did not want Santa and Mrs. Claus?" Bill replied. Evidently not, because the homeowner told Bill and his lady Santa that he was looking for a "stripping" Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
Despite the booking error, the two red-suited guests were invited in and, as Bill wrote, "did the traditional show and it went well." Then he added, "Amazing world we live in."
Bill, who turned 67 last July, grew up in West Haven. He graduated from Providence College and received his MBA from University of New Haven. He retired two years ago, after 43 years as the manager in the IT department of the Knights of Columbus.
The HFRA website thanks Bill Howard for sharing some of his memories as a department store Santa, who once thrilled hundreds of kids, year after year, by arriving at Sears on a Hamden fire engine. It's a good bet that the firefighters enjoyed it just as much.