December 13, 2013 - This week marks the 45th anniversary of the dedication of the West Woods firehouse, Station 9, the first free standing fire station built by the Town of Hamden.
Construction of a new fire station in West Woods was approved in March 1966. After its location was determined and a contractor selected, groundbreaking for the new station took place in December 1967. Once the station was built and manned, the residents of the far northwestern part of Hamden were finally served by a career engine company located closer than Bethany's fire headquarters on Route 63.
Prior to Station 9, Engine 5 out of the Mt. Carmel station was the first due career engine in West Woods. Since 1956, the West Woods area had been served by the very active members of the West Woods Volunteer Fire Company designated as Company 9, whose firehouse was converted from Hamden's last one-room school house at the corner of Johnson and Still Hill Roads.
Built in 1909, Hamden's last one-room schoolhouse closed in 1954 (Courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)
West Woods Volunteer Fire Association Came First
Organized in 1956, the West Woods Volunteer Fire Association acquired Hamden's last one-room schoolhouse at Johnson and Still Hill for its quarters. The school had closed in 1954 with the opening of the Alice Peck Elementary School.
During 1957 the volunteers completed a one-bay addition to the old schoolhouse to accommodate the 1925 Seagrave Suburbanite that was purchased more than three decades earlier for Centerville Co. 4 at a cost of $6,500. In the summer of 1959, the volunteers acquired the 1938 Diamond-T that had served as the "Emergency Squad" and, in 1965, the 1942 Diamond-T, purchased originally for Co. 1. The 1951 Maxim was Volunteer Co. 9's engine when the West Woods Volunteer Fire Co. 9 became officially inactive on March 1, 1989.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Newly organized West Woods Volunteer Fire Co. members training on Still Hill Road in August 1956. Man in bunker coat facing the camera is Battalion Chief Everett Doherty, one of the organizers of Co. 9. The tall man wearing the ball cap on the right of Doherty is Chief Raymond C. Spencer. The fourth firefighter from the right is Frank Eitler. The second from right is Jack Laffin.
February 3, 1958
c.1958 - After the addition of a new bay for Volunteer Co. 9's apparatus, the old schoolhouse was now Station 9. (I.A. Sneiderman photo courtesy of Brian Leddy)
December 1967 - Groundbreaking for new Station 9. Ten years earlier, the old one-room schoolhouse was modified with an annex for the apparatus assigned to Co. 9 volunteers.
August 21, 1968 - Old Station 9 has been moved to its present location, just north and east of the site of the new station. The old bay has been transformed into a meeting room. (Hamden Historical Society)
Under construction in the summer of 1968, on the exact spot where the old station stood before being moved.
This New Haven Register photo by I.A. Sneiderman was captioned, "[Student Government Day] 'Fire Chief' Christopher Costanza with Fire Chief V. Paul Leddy getting a first hand look on the nearly constructed Westwoods Fire Station. Prestressed concrete beams are enclosng the roof."
November 1968 - Completed but not yet occupied (From the 1968 Hamden Town Report)
Dedication Program for Station 9 - December 8, 1968 (CLICK to enlarge)
The New Haven Register, December 11, 1968 CLICK TO ENLARGE
The two brand new Maxim S-Model 1000 GPM pumpers were on display for the dedication. One of the new pumpers was assigned as Engine 3 at Putnam Avenue and the other as Engine 4 at Headquarters. Car 40, Chief Leddy's brand new 1968 Chrysler, is parked by the flagpole.
The New Haven Journal-Courier, Monday, December 9, 1968 (Courtesy of Chan Brainard)
The New Haven Register, Monday, December 9, 1968 (Courtesy of Chan Brainard)
Dep. Chief Joseph Hromadka and Chief Leddy pose with the three firefighters who will man Engine 9 on Platoons 1, 2 and 3. The two new Maxim pumpers were placed in service as Engines 3 and 4. (The New Haven Journal-Courier, December 11, 1968 - courtesy of Gil Spencer)
Chief Dispatcher Wilbur Baker
Engine 9 Misses Its First "Big One"
The Hamden Fire Department line personnel were still working a 56-hour workweek when Station 9 opened. There were three platoons and new Station 9 was manned by only one firefighter.
Gil Spencer was Platoon 2's lone career firefighter assigned to Station 9. He recently recalled the early morning hours of December 29, 1968, when Engines 4 and 5, the rescue, the ladder truck and two volunteer companies were dispatched to 200 Todd Street. A chimney fire had extended into the attic.
Perhaps the dispatchers' running cards had not been updated or perhaps veteran dispatcher Wilbur "Bill" Baker was distracted, but Engine 9, the first due engine to that address, was never dispatched.
Perhaps the omission of Engine 9 from that particular assignment may have been a very wise and calculated move by the dispatcher. The night of the fire on Todd Street all roads in northern Hamden were a sheet of ice.
When their Plectron tone alerted them, two volunteer firefighters exited their house to respond to the fire. They never made it to the car. Instead, they skidded all the way across the street on their butts. A fellow volunteer who lived nearby drove them to the fire.
Had it been dispatched, Engine 9 probably would have slid all the way down Todd Street, across Whitney Avenue and into Mill River. Fortunately, damage to the Todd Street dwelling was relatively minor, owing to a quick application of a minimal amount of water and lots of salvage covers.