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)