About three weeks ago, while researching old newspaper articles for our website, information surfaced about a Hamden volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty, a tragedy that all living retired Hamden firefighters believed our town had never experienced in its 116 years of organized fire service.
According to articles in The New Haven Journal-Courier and The New Haven Evening Register, on Saturday, December 10, 1927, six volunteer firefighters and the paid driver of Centerville Co. 4 responded on Engine 4 to Box 57 in Highwood. At the Whitney Avenue bridge over Lake Whitney, the rear wheels of Co. 4’s Seagrave pumper got stuck in a raised trolley rail. The truck slued sizeways for sixty feet before striking a utility pole, breaking it off at the base. Four of the seven firefighters on board were unhurt and two received minor injuries. The seventh firefighter, Edward D. Meegan, was hurled from the truck and died the next day from massive injuries.
The tragic death of Firefighter Meegan was covered extensively in New Haven newspapers and elsewhere. The town was in a state of mourning and the selectmen ordered flags to half-staff. Hamden town officials and all of Hamden’s fire companies turned out for Meegan’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, followed by his burial in St. John’s Cemetery in Middletown.
In subsequent investigations by New Haven Coroner Eli Mix and Hamden Fire Chief Charles Loller, the driver of the pumper was cleared of any wrong-doing in the freak accident. He continued to serve honorably as a Hamden career firefighter until his retirement in the mid-1950s.
Sadly, and for reasons unknown to anyone today, the story of Edward Meegan’s sacrifice seems to have ended in 1927. There is no mention of him in any fire company or department commemorative programs or histories, some of which were published only a few years after the accident. No one alive today, including a 93-year old former Hamden career firefighter who worked with one of the accident’s six survivors twenty-five years later, had ever heard of Edward Meegan.
Just why Firefighter Meegan’s line of duty death was forgotten in our department’s history is a sad and disturbing mystery, but we welcome the opportunity to properly honor him now.
Within hours, the accident was reported at the top of the front page of the New Haven Evening Register.
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The New Haven Journal-Courier
report of Meegan's death began on
Monday morning's front page.
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c. 1927 - Hairpin turn at the bridge over Lake Whitney
Looking north, this is the hairpin turn on Whitney Avenue at the bridge over Lake Whitney. The roadway was straightened into an easy curve when a new bridge was constructed in the late 1930s. CLICK to enlarge.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Taylor)
New Haven Journal-Courier, Thursday, December 15, 1927 (from the Connecticut State Library microfilm collection)
After investigations were conducted by New Haven Coroner Eli Mix and Hamden Fire Chief Charles Loller, the driver of Engine 4 was exonerated from any wrong-doing in the freak accident. He went on to serve honorably as a Hamden career firefighter for nearly thirty years more before retiring.
Edward D. Meegan
Edward D. Meegan Tribute
1927 Line of Duty Death Commemorated by Department
(All photos of the ceremony by Bob Mordecai)
About eighty members of the Hamden Fire Department, past and present, career and volunteer, turned out last Monday, December 10th, to honor Hamden volunteer firefighter Edward D. Meegan on the 85th anniversary of the tragic accident that took his life.
In a brief ceremony at the Hamden Government Center, commencing at the same hour of Meegan's last alarm 85 years earlier, Mayor Scott D. Jackson issued a proclamation naming December 10, 2012 as "Edward D. Meegan Day in the Town of Hamden." The Mayor presented his proclamation to Mr. Meegan's goddaughter, Inez Meegan Shea of Mt. Carmel, who attended with her husband Phillip and son, Phillip, Jr. Mrs. Shea's father, William H. Meegan, was Firefighter Meegan's older brother.
Shortly after 11 on the morning of December 10, 1927, Edward Meegan, a volunteer firefighter with Centerville Co. 4, responded to a call with six others on Engine 4. As it was crossing a bridge over Lake Whitney, the 1925 Seagrave pumper contacted a raised trolley rail, spun out of control and struck a utility pole. Ff. Meegan sustained severe injuries and died the following day. (Scroll down for Nov. 30th article.)
Addressing an audience of past and present career and volunteer officers and firefighters, Fire Chief David Berardesca noted, "The foundation of our department was built on individuals such as Edward Meegan - they made us what we are today . . . I am certain that our first fire chief in town, Charles Loller, was proud to serve with Edward, just as we are proud to serve his memory."
Department Chaplain, Rev. Owen Sanderson, read from a verse that is etched on a firefighters' memorial in Colorado. Retired HFD Capt. Dave Johnson, secretary and historian for the Hamden Fire Retirees Association, thanked all who attended and held up Mr. Meegan's badge, which Mrs. Shea donated to the Association for its archives and eventual display in a Hamden fire museum. Johnson said that the badge "will be treasured." He then introduced Mrs. Shea, who smiled and thanked everyone for the tribute to her uncle.
An honor guard comprised of five members of the Hamden Professional Firefighters Association, Local 2687, IAFF, stood at attention at the front of the room throughout the ceremony, which concluded with Capt. Ed Evers' moving rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.
The HFRA hopes to purchase a memorial plaque for Station 4 to permanently recognize Firefighter Meegan and his sacrifice in the line of duty. The Department will submit Firefighter Meegan's name for inclusion on the Connecticut State Firefighter's Memorial at Windsor Locks and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial at Emmitsburg.
Mayor Jackson greets the Shea Family before the start of the ceremony
Mayor's Proclamation - CLICK to enlarge
Honor Guard (L-R) - Supt. Don Buechele, Capt. Ron Desroches, Ff. Craig Smart, Capt. Brion Tierney and Ff. Dave Beaton. Dept. Chaplain, Rev. Owen Sanderson in foreground. (Photos by Bob Mordecai)
A large number of attendees stuck around for this group photo with the Shea Family. CLICK to enlarge.