North Haven Brick Co., State Street, Hamden Saturday, January 31, 1959
Photo by Donald Yosua
"Seconds before fire surged out of a wall to his left, Hamden Fireman Edward Bevins of headquarters company climbed down the ladder to safety as he and fellow firemen fought a two-hour battle at a blazing structure at the North Haven Brick Company in Hamden Saturday afternoon. Warning of the exploding flames came from firemen on the ground who noticed the danger before Bevins."
This was the caption underneath the above photograph when it appeared in the New Haven Sunday Register the day after a January 31, 1959 fire destroyed the home of a 10-member Hamden family on State Street. Chandler Brainard was there as a young member of Hamden Civil Defense Fire Auxiliary, and he offers his vivid and insightful recollections of that day.
Saturday, January 31, 1959 dawned cold and clear and became progressively colder as the day went on. After lunch, I joined the paid crew at the Putnam Avenue quarters of Engine 3 and placed my canvas turnout coat over the hard suction coupling on the 1951 Maxim pumper, with helmet and boots nearby.
Thanks to Battalion Chief Paul Leddy, I had been allowed to ride with this company by virtue of becoming a member of the Civilian Defense Fire Auxiliary. In fact, I had never been to any organized session with the other auxiliary members, and I suspect that the entire group had long since ceased to be active in the Town of Hamden. Nevertheless, I was thrilled by the prospect of riding with Engine 3’s paid crew and seeing some real action.
Perhaps "action" was not the most appropriate word to describe most tours of duty at Station 3 during the fifties. I had already spent numerous tours with this same crew and experienced not much more than a grass fire or two. And today appeared to be another quiet one, interrupted only occasionally by alarms for other, busier companies.
The crew to which I had been exclusively assigned consisted of Lt. Francis Leddy, and Firefighters Warren Blake and Stanley Brown. (The rescue company that was assigned to Station 3 during the 1960s was still located at Station 2.)
Stan was the junior member of the paid crew, and had long since taken it upon himself to mentor me. He went out of his way to keep me busy during the long day shifts. This particular afternoon, Stan took me to the basement, where the volunteers maintained a single lane bowling alley. Alternating between bowling and setting pins, we were having fun.
Alarm Bells at Old Station 3
When fire apparatus was dispatched in those days, the dispatcher at Headquarters alerted all stations by tapping out one hit on the Gamewell alarm system, causing the key-wound tape registers in each station to punch one hole in the paper tape, and the ten-inch gongs to strike once. This got your attention. Then the dispatcher rang the house phones in all stations. The house phones were old hand crank magneto telephones on a private line that connected the Alarm Room at Headquarters with all the outlying stations.
"R-r-r-r--ingggggggggggg" It was a very long ring. Every crew quickly gathered around their watch desks wondering what it was going to be - and who was going. When the house phones stopped ringing, everyone listened attentively as each station answered in succession,“Station 2 . . . Station 3 . . . Station 4 . . . Station 5 . . . Station 6 . . . Headquarters.”
With every station on line, the dispatcher announced the companies on the response and the location of the incident, followed by a description of the emergency. Once the dispatch took place, all the stations on the running assignment would acknowledge first, followed by those stations remaining in quarters.
At four o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday, January 31, 1959, the tape register at Station 3 punched a hole in the tape as the ten-inch gong hit. When the house phone finished ringing, the individual stations answered, "Station 2 . . . Station 3 . . . Station 4 . . . Station 5 . . . Station 6 . . . Headquarters."
"Engine 6, Engine 3, Rescue 1, and the Ladder, respond to the North Haven Brick Company off State Street for a house fire."
"Six OK . . . Three OK . . . Two OK . . . Five OK . . . OK, Headquarters."
The name "North Haven" was a bit misleading. The North Haven Brick Company was actually located in Hamden, off the east side of State Street just across the railroad tracks, right about where the Farricelli landfill is today.
Among the other exciting things that occurred as units responded from quarters, were the thudding sounds made by footwear hitting the brick walls, as every firefighter flung his loosely-laced shoes in preparation for stepping-into hip boots that were always placed near his riding position on the truck.
Stan Brown and I mounted the tailboard of Engine 3, as Lt. Leddy climbed into the front passenger seat. Warren Blake cranked up the 1951 Maxim and lost no time in heading us up Putnam, through the intersection at Whitney Avenue, then south to the Davis Street bridge and across to State Street.
Warren was a true professional who knew how to handle a fire truck. As Stan and I rode the rear step, we hung on for all we were worth.(Today, of course, it is inconceivable to consider riding the rear step on a fire engine, but it was commonplace during those years, all across the country.)
Engine 6 responded on a straight run from Merritt Street and arrived first. Engine 3 arrived shortly thereafter, followed by Rescue 1 and "the ladder" from Station 2. Battalion Chief Joe Hromadka responded from Headquarters.
On Arrival - L-R: Warren Blake setting up the pump on Engine 3; Chan Brainard and Stanley Brown, and unidentified nozzleman. (Photo by Donald Yosua)
Upon our arrival, we turned off State Street into the large brickyard and were greeted by twenty-foot high flames climbing the right-front corner of a two and a half story wood frame dwelling clad in asphalt shingle siding.
The two-man crew of Engine 6, a 1939 Diamond-T pumper, had already wrapped the hydrant on State Street and were laying in. They dropped all the 2 1/2 in their bed and still fell short of the fire.
Lt. Leddy on Engine 3 and the driver of Engine 6 both stepped out onto their respective running boards and held a brief shouted exchange: Engine 3 would finish Engine 6's lay, and Engine 6 would go back and pump the supply line from the hydrant.
Unidentified nozzleman initiates interior attack, assisted by Stan Brown and Chan Brainard (Photo by Donald Yosua)
Stan and I scurried to connect the 2 1/2" hose coupling from our hose bed to the one left on the ground by Engine 6. We reboarded the tailboard and Warren drove Engine 3 on toward the fire, halting just beyond the fire building to set up the pump.
Stan grabbed what was then commonly referred to as the "Tenement Line,” our pre-connected 150 foot length of 1-1/2" hose with a Rockwood nozzle. A young free-lance photographer named Donald Yosua was already on scene, taking a series of five photographs that are reproduced here.
With amazing speed, the paid firefighters, using only a single 1-1/2" attack line, successfully knocked-down the main body of fire.
But wait, the story doesn't end here!
Lt. Francis Leddy runs alongside locomotive as water spurts from severed supply line in lower RH corner of photo (Photo by Donald Yosua)
The supply line from the hydrant on State Street had been laid strraight across the tracks of the New Haven Railroad.You guessed it! In the time it would take you to say "Hey! Wait a minute!.” a northbound train, unable to stop in time, completely severed our supply line!
Photographer Yosua captured the action as water under pressure spurted from the hose, as Lt. Leddy ran alongside the locomotive.
The train quickly departed the scene (most likely embarrassed, don't you think?)
Second attack progresses with use of ground ladder - Top man on ladder is Firefighter Edward Bevins. Man on lower part of ladder is unidentified. L-R on ground behind ladder: Stanley Brown, Chandler Brainard (with "HFD CD" lettering on bunker coat); At right: Lt. Francis Leddy in uniform cap (Photo by Donald Yosua)
The firefighters grabbed a crowbar and hastily burrowed through the roadbed gravel and under the rails, allowing a new section of 2-1/2 to be threaded under the rails and the supply line reconnected.
Now, in a perfect world, our fire would have politely waited until we had re-established our water supply. Unfortunately, this one didn't. When we once again were able to turn our attention back to the building, the fire looked EXACTLY like it had upon our arrival. (What was the line so often used by actor William Bendix? "What a revoltin' developement!")
The crews made a fast and successful interior attack. (In truth, I cannot claim any real assistance with the firefighting effort, that day, and did not star in any heroic action, myself. What I did do was to hump hose and appear as photogenic as possible.)
New 75-foot Maxim "Junior" aerial ladder, in service only a few weeks, is positioned to assist in second knockdown. Battalion Chief Joseph Hromadka is in white helmet. (Photo by Donald Yosua)
A second front was mounted on the newly-invigorated fire, this time as the guys on our "new" 1958 Maxim 75-foot aerial ladder truck began ventilation operations.
The following day, our pictures appeared on the front page of the New Haven Sunday Register. Lt. Leddy, Warren Blake and Stan Brown are all clearly shown in the series of Donald Yosua's photos, along with several other paid firefighters whom I am unable to identify. I can easily be identified by the "HFD - CD" on the back of my turnout coat.
All companies were returned to quarters by 6 p.m. By then, the weather had become decidedly freezing and we all had ice on our turnouts.
It is rare indeed when a fire department can boast that they fought two big fires on the same day - and in the same building!
Chandler Brainard, an avid fire apparatus enthusiast who grew up in Hamden, is a regular contributor to this website. Chan has amassed lots of historical Hamden Fire Department photos, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia over many years.
Chan was admitted to the Hamden Fire Retirees' Association as an Honorary Member in January 2011.