We regret to announce the passing on March 14th of Marie Sperry Surprise, mother of our brother retiree Robert Surprise. Funeral from Beecher & Bennett Funeral Home, 2300 Whitney Avenue, Hamden on Saturday, March 17 at 11 a.m. for a Mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. Friends may visit with Marie's family from 9-11 a.m. Interment will be held in Carrington Cemetery, Bethany. In lieu of flowers donations in Marie's name may be made to CT Hospice, Branford.
The Board of Selectmen included the following statement in their 1920 Annual Report of the Town of Hamden:
"The Gamewell Fire Alarm System has been installed and appears to be working out satisfactorily."
It was during the 1919-20 fiscal year that a total of $11,000 was appropriated for the Gamewell system, which allowed residents to alert fire companies in the days when owning a telephone was a luxury reserved for very few.
The number and locations and of fire alarm boxes is not mentioned, but a total of $7,975 was spent on alarm equipment. There is no record of who was responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment or just where the alert bells and tape registers were installed.
In addition to the individual fire stations, it is quite likely that alert bells were installed in the homes of the senior company officers of the various volunteer fire companies.
In the 1922 town report, the Southern New England Telephone Company, William Beazley, Charles N. Coe, Lester W. James, and the F.C. Spencer Co. were all listed as payees for fire alarm maintenance.
In 1939, Mr. Elton Wetmore was listed as the department's fire alarm superintendent, a volunteer position at the time that a few years later would be filled his brother, Clement, a career firefighter. As a career department member, Clem Wetmore was also responsible for maintaining the department's apparatus.
Town of Hamden Annual Report - 1920
By the late 1930s, there were 72 fire boxes mounted on utility poles throughout Hamden. Boxes were also located at the Highwood, Humphrey, Whitneyville, Merritt Street fire stations, as well as at Hamden High School, the Children's Community Center and American Mills (the Web Shop).
By the 1950s, alarm boxes were installed in all Hamden public schools as well as in several churches and businesses that paid for the boxes and their installation. When Quinnipiac College opened its Mount Carmel campus in the mid-1960s, alarm boxes were installed in all dorms and academic buildings.
It was during this era that the number of malicious false alarms spiked due to QC students. The number of false alarms became such a problem that the apparatus running assignment on all QC boxes was reduced from two engines, one truck and rescue to just one engine and the rescue. When the problem continued, the running assignment was reduced further to only the shift commander responding in Car 30, presumably to investigate and reset the alarm box.
In the spring of 1977, Dep. Chief Joe McDermott responded on Box 866 to QC Dorm B. On arrival and all by himself, Chief McDermott found Dorm B on fire - ouch! - and he filled out the box. (A certain Aesop's fable concerning a boy and a wolf comes to mind.) The running assignment to all QC boxes was changed back to one engine and the rescue.
Box 18 on the front of 5's in 1955
When it was first installed, Box 18 was mounted on a pole at the corner of Ives and Whitney. Sometime in the 1950s, the box was moved to another location. However, the new location for Box 18 was never noted in the station rolodexes.
One night in the late 1970s, two firefighters not usually stationed at 5's were awakened by Box 18. They donned their gear, checked the rolodex and arrived less than a minute later at Ives and Whitney.
"Engine 5 to Headquarters: We're here at Ives and Whitney. We can't find the box!"
"Last time I looked," replied dispatcher Wilbur Baker, "it was on the front of the fire station."
Fortunately - or unfortunately - it was a 10-9. But the perpetrators must have been scratching their heads.
The "self-dispatching" of apparatus on pulled boxes described above, required by Hamden's Class-B Gamewell system, was eliminated in May 1984 when the bells and tape registers were removed from the stations. Thereafter, responsibility for dispatching apparatus on all box transmissions fell solely to the fire dispatcher at Central Communications.
20 Years Ago
Hamden's Gamewell Era Ended
New Haven Register, Friday, March 20, 1998
Box 125 - Norris Street and Whitney Avenue
No statistics were ever kept, but it is safe to say that the vast majority of alarms transmitted over the Gamewell system in later years were false, either unintentional or malicious. However, not all pulled boxes were false. On August 31, 1975, Box 45 at Dixwell and Lexington was tripped legitimately for a fully involved vacant house at 1389 Dixwell Avenue (your webmeister's first structure fire as a career Hamden firefighter).
The Gamewell alarm system was a blessing during an era when comparatively few Hamden residents had home telephones. Although Gamewell alarm boxes are still found in some Connecticut communities, by the end of the 20th century, the false alarms, the costs to maintain the system, and the ascendency of personal cell phones rendered Hamden’s Gamewell fire alarm system obsolete.
Woodbury's 1927 Seagrave "Suburbanite," very similar to Hamden's 1925 model, is pictured here in Chan Brainard's photo from the August 21, 1954 Connecticut State Firemen's Association Convention parade along West Haven's Campbell Avenue, near the old railroad overpass.
August 21, 1954 - Woodbury's Seagrave "Suburbanite" at West Haven parade - CLICK TO ENLARGE