Hamden's first "ladder truck" was placed in service 110 years ago this week. Eight more would follow. When the Highwood Volunteer Fire Association celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1921, the company printed a program with a brief history of the organization. This photo of the hand drawn ladder truck was accompanied with the following notation:
[D]uring the winter of 1907 and 1908 the members of the Assn., under J.J. Hindinger and D.F. Howe, built Hamden's first hook and ladder truck and a prouder company of men could nowhere be found when on March 12th 1908, the apparatus was put in commission with J.J. Hindinger as Captain.
From Highwood's 25th Anniversary Program (1896-1921) - CLICK TO ENLARGE
There is no record of how long the 1908 hand-drawn apparatus remained in service, but Hamden's first motorized ladder truck did not arrive until eighteen years later. Captain Joe Marcks (Marchitto) and 1st Lieutenant Arthur Norman, who were the truck company's officers in 1921, eventually became career members of the Hamden Fire Department.
This 1926 Maxim was Hamden's first motorized ladder truck. Equipped with a full compliment of ladders as well as a chemical tank and booster reel, the truck was purchased in a $12,500 package deal with a Maxim 500 g.p.m. pumper. Both units were delivered in March 1926 and were assigned to the Highwood station at Dixwell Avenue and Morse Street.
1926 Maxim city service ladder truck (Photo courtesy of Matt Lee)
As regular visitors to this website may already know, this truck was in service for only 15 years before being demolished in a collision with a trolley car at Dixwell and Mather in March 1941. The uninjured driver, David F. Howe, was one of the men who helped to build the 1908 hand-drawn truck.
The 1941 Diamond-T ladder truck (below), built by the Wood Engineering Services of Topsfield, Massachusetts, was ordered after the 1926 Maxim was wrecked. Delivered in February 1942, it was immediately sent out for the installation of a 150 g.p.m. pump and booster reel. After the Highwood station closed in October 1951, the truck was transferred to Humphrey Station 2, where it is pictured here in this 1957 photo.
1941 Diamond-T city service ladder truck
After the purchase of the 1958 Maxim aerial ladder truck, the 1941 Diamond-T truck was transferred to Mt. Carmel Station 5, where it remained a spare until being sold to New Milford for $2,200 in April 1963.
In the mid-1980s, New Milford sold the 1941 Diamond-T ladder truck to Hamden reisdent Ken Lewis, who stored it for a time on his property on Dunbar Hill Road. It was driven in the 1986 Hamden Bicentennial Parade and was at the Bicentennial Fire Muster at Quinnipiac College. Its present whereabouts is unknown.
By the late 1950's, many new tall buildings in town required that the department acquire an aerial truck. In December 1957, the Board of Fire Commissioners authorized the $32,000 purchase of this Maxim 75' "Junior" Aerial. It was placed in service at Humphrey Station 2 on November 19, 1958.
1958 Maxim 75' "Junior" Aerial
In 1971, the 1958 Maxim was repainted red. Five years later, it was transferred to the new annex at Mt. Carmel Station 5. In November 1984 it was transferred once again, this time to West Woods Station 9. In 1985, the truck was deactivated and designated "Truck 2," remaining the department's spare ladder truck until 1990, when it was sold to a private buyer. We have been informed that it was subsequently re-sold to a Virginia buyer.
Chief V. Paul Leddy had a magic touch. During the 1960s, he was able to significantly enlarge the department to correspond with both the industrial and population growth of Hamden. Leddy was also able convince the town fathers to add two new fire stations - nearly 50 years later they are STILL the newest stations - as well as one new engine company and one new ladder company.
1970 Maxim 100' Aerial
This 100' aerial ladder truck was ordered from Maxim to coincide with the September 1970 opening of new Station 3, at the corner of Ridge Road and Hartford Turnpike. Originally designated "Ladder 2" (later "Truck 2," then "Truck 1"), the 1970 Maxim remained in service at Station 3 until 1990, when the aerial was declared "unsafe." It was sold and eventually junked.
In response to the May 1988 fire at the Davenport Residence, when Hamden's only active ladder truck was 18 years old, and its only spare was nearly 30 years old, the town approved the purchase of two new aerial trucks. The first was this 1990 Pierce 105' rear-mount aerial ladder truck, placed in service in September 1990.
1990 Pierce 105' Rear-mounted Aerial
Less than a year after delivery, the 1990 Pierce was transferred to Mt. Carmel Station 5, where it was designated as "Truck 5." Equipped with a 1,000 g.p.m. pump and a 300 gallon tank, Truck 5, a "quint," operated as an engine company, but also functioned as a truck company when needed.
Still in the department's inventory of apparatus, the 1990 Pierce is now a spare stationed at West Woods Station 9.
The second ladder truck to be delivered, also a "quint," was this 1991 Pierce Lance 100-foot aerial platform, equipped with a 1500 g.p.m. pump and a 350-gallon tank. It was placed in service at Station 3 in June 1991.
1991 Pierce 100' Tower
In March 2011, the 1991 Pierce Lance was sold to the Jennings Township Fire Department of Austin, Indiana. Looking as good today as it did the day it was delivered, Tower 1 continues to serve the city of Austin, Indiana as an active piece of firefighting apparatus.
On April 27, 2011, Hamden's new Tower One was placed in service at Station 3. This Smeal 100-foot midship-mount aerial platform tower is 46-feet long with a 6 man cab. However, it is not equipped with a tank or pump.
2011 Smeal midship-mount
In July of last year, the Hamden Fire Department took delivery of this 2016 Smeal quintuple combination pumper/ladder. In addition to its 75-foot aerial ladder, the truck is equipped with a 1,500 g.p.m. pump, 485-gallon tank, assortment of fire hose, and over 163-feet of assorted ground ladders. The truck is assigned to Mt. Carmel as Engine 5, as a dual-purpose pumper / ladder truck.
2017 Smeal 75' "Quint"
In 1962, Hamden's West Woods Volunteer Fire Co. 9 acquired this Seagrave 85' tiller truck, bought new in 1929 by the Wellesley [Massachusetts] Fire Department. Though never an official piece of department apparatus, this outstanding "Parade Piece" of Co. 9's delighted many spectators at area parades and related events over the next dozen years before it was sold to a private party. Its present whereabouts is unknown.
1929 Seagrave - Hamden's West Woods Volunteer Fire Association
The unknown photographer caught Bob Westervelt just outside the office of Asst. Chief Walt Macdowall in October 1987, shortly after his appointment as Hamden's third career fire marshal, succeeding Bob "Bubby" O'Donnell, who retired on the last day of 1986. Westervelt, an active member of the HFRA, joined the department in July 1973 and retired after serving exactly thirty years.
Here are two views, recently discovered amongst the photographic relics in the archives. It's the two-tone saddle brown Ford LTD that was one of five "demonstrators" purchased from Bradford Ford in the summer of 1975. This car was driven by Chief V. Paul Leddy until shortly before his retirement, when he received a brand new 1983 diesel-powered Olds that would not start when it was cold outside (but we digress).
The other four Fords were purchased for the police department. An identical two-tone blue LTD went to the police chief, and three Ford Custom 500 sedans to the detective division.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
These photos were taken in September 1987, near the entrance to the fire chief's office behind the town hall. By then, the '75 LTD had been assigned to the training division - the ravages of time and oxidation having taken their toll. Mike DiStefano was one of four new recruits being ferried around to all the stations on their first day on the job. Sitting in back, Mike attempted to buckle his seat belt and yanked the entire strap from the rusted-out floor pan where it was anchored. "Welcome to Hamden!"
The car finally made it to Chuck & Eddie's one year later, having been replaced by a brand new RED 1988 GMC Jimmy assigned to the training officer. (Ahh, and thereby hangs yet another tale.)
We regret to report the recent passing of Officer Mark Gery of the Hamden Police Department following a long illness. Mark was a proud member of the K9 unit, serving as a K9 decoy. Known as "Yogi" to his many friends, Mark never lost his sense of humor or strong attitude in spite of the serious illnesses that he suffered in recent years. He will be greatly missed by many. The thoughts and prayers of the HFRA go out to Mark's family and to the HPD.