Monday, November 21 - Yesterday at 1354 hrs, the Hamden Fire Department was dispatched to a barn fire located at 680 Evergreen Avenue, also known as Broken Arrow Nursery Tree Farm. The original call described a well involved fire.
Engine 5 arrived on scene within two minutes of dispatch and found a fully involved wind driven fire consuming the structure. Lines were stretched to protect from fire exposure to recently delivered inventory stored near the barn. The wind driven fire ignited nearby trees as well. The fire was declared under control at 1420 hrs. No injuries were reported.
The small barn structure was a total loss including some farm equipment stored inside. The Hamden Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the cause and origin of the fire. No determination has been made at this time.
For further information, please contact the Hamden Fire Marshal’s Office at 203-407-3181.
A short video clip of the fire condition on arrival can be found on the HFD Twitter page:
In a complete departure from anything previously written on this website, what follows is more of a memoir than a "just the facts" account of a significant Hamden fire.
To be sure, the fire at Edge Hill was a significant Hamden fire, not only because of the historic nature of the building but also because of the unique difficulties Hamden firefighters faced in fighting it. But the fire that nearly destroyed the mansion at Edge Hill also played a significant role in the writer's earliest fire service experiences.
Note: The HFD radio designations of Engine 5 and Ladder 1 were "Engine 35" and "Ladder 42," respectively,
50 Years Ago
Saturday, November 19, 1966
Fire Heavily Damages Historic "Edge Hill" Mansion
145 Spruce Bank Road
The fire that destroyed much of the south end of the century old mansion at Edge Hill posed some difficult strategic and tactical problems for Hamden firefighters. It also changed the life of a future professional musician/songwriter. From what little record remains, and from the memories of those who were there, we have attempted to provide a picture of the fire and the aftermath.
From the October-December 1898 issue of Connecticut Quarterly
In the early 1850s and for nearly thirty years thereafter, Rev. Joseph Brewster served as rector of New Haven's Christ Church on the Green. In 1881, he was assigned to Centerville's Grace Church, and served another two years there from 1892 to 94.
"Edge Hill," located on a promontory above Spruce Bank Road across from Ives Pond, was Rev. Brewster's "little farm," where he built his magnificent three-story, thirteen-room mansion in 1865. "In this beautiful spot, he sought respite from his parish work," wrote J.H. Dickerman in the Oct.-Dec. issue of The Connecticut Quarterly (Vol. IV, Number 4).
Edge Hill had a succession of owners following Rev. Brewster's death in 1895. With only a few subtle exterior modifications, the house appeared very much the same when it was purchased over sixty years later by Hamden restaurateur Maurice "Maury" Purpora.
One frame of a February 1964 home movie
When Maury and his wife Ann moved into the sprawling Victorian mansion in 1961, they knew it would be the ideal place to raise their five kids, with two more to follow. Maury owned Hamden's legendary Sanford Barn Restaurant, where for years he and his growing family had been living in cramped quarters on the second floor.
Maury and Ann's oldest child, Joseph "Jody" Purpora, cherishes many fond memories of growing up at Edge Hill, where friends of the Purpora kids were always welcome to join the happy organized chaos that characterized the Purpora family's easygoing lifestyle in those days.
Edge Hill was the frequent home away from home for Jody's buddies, who spent many a weekend there just hanging out with Jody and his siblings, indulging their collective creative interests filming horror and comedy home movies, the stately old mansion frequently starring as "Frankenstein Castle" or "Van Haughty Manor."
Edge Hill was a virtual breeding ground of creativity. Jody Purpora, known professionally today as Jody Gray, is a successful musician/songwriter with an impressive list of show biz credits. A founding member of the 1970s rock group Tax Free, which featured members of the legendary Dutch rock group The Outsiders, Jody began his career as a Hollywood film composer with 1984's "Oxford Blues."
Still a very busy musician and composer, Jody's music credits include dozens of film and TV productions, including PBS's "Clifford the Big Red Dog," "Courage the Cowardly Dog" and many others.
On his frequent visits with Hamden friends, the conversation inevitably gravitates to the one event that changed everything for Jody and his family. All the happy memories, the many good times shared making movies and writing songs, and all the history embodied in Rev. Joseph Brewster's "Edge Hill" were nearly destroyed in the late afternoon of Saturday, November 19, 1966.
The New Haven Register, Sunday, November 20, 1966 (Brainard Collection)
Just after 4 o'clock that afternoon, Ann Purpora and most of her kids were returning home from running errands in the family's red 1960 VW Microbus. One can only imagine the terror Ann and her children experienced as they drove up the driveway, watching the flames coming from their home.
Jody was not among the kids with Ann in the VW bus. Was he in the house?
Right inside the exterior double doors on the south end of the house, fire was already creeping up the foyer walls into the second floor.
Smoke detectors and home sprinkler systems were still many years off. Yet at some point in the distant past a previous homeowner had the foresight to install hotel-style preconnected 1-1/2" fire hose lines by the central stairway on the first and second floors, each neatly folded accordion style and equipped with a straight bore nozzle.
It was later reported that right after younger brother Nicky Purpora called the fire department from the kitchen telephone, he opened the valve on the first-floor hose line. It didn't work.
Those pre-connected hose lines may have been a great idea when they were installed years earlier, except the house was not connected to the water main on Spruce Bank Road. The house water was supplied from a well. If there ever had been a water tower to supply the hose lines, it was long gone.
As the late afternoon sun was setting, Deputy Chief Jim Strain's Platoon 3 was nearing the end of its first of four 10-hour day shifts. Dispatcher Walt Thomas was on leave pending his upcoming retirement. Firefighter Al Ramelli was taking Thomas' place in the Alarm Room.
Everyone at Headquarters knew when an emergency call was coming in. The ringer for the 248-5521 EP (emergency phone) line had a slightly higher pitch than the 248-5522 non-emergency ringer. When either line rang, anyone at HQ could pick up an extension phone and listen in.
When the EP rang shortly after four o'clock, Dispatcher Ramelli answered on the first ring, "Hamden Fire Emergency."
Nicky Purpora informed Ramelli that his house at 145 Spruce Bank Road was on fire. Swiveling the running card "Christmas Tree" around to the letter "S," Ramelli retrieved the running card for Spruce Bank Road. "Is everyone out of the house?"
"Yes," said Nicky. He remembered that older brother Jody was at band practice. No one else was home.
"We're on the way," Ramelli replied, "Get out of the house right now, and don't let anyone go back inside."
Dispatcher Robert "Ace" Callahan, who replaced Al Ramelli following his death in 1972. Note the house phone on the left, the table top 706 switchboard and rotary desk telephone. Ace was first due on Engine 5 to Edge Hill that night in 1966.
The apparatus running assignment cards were organized very simply. The first alarm assignment for a given street consisted of the first and second due engine companies, the first due rescue and the ladder truck. The second alarm assignment was the third and fourth due engines and the other rescue. The third alarm was the fifth and sixth due engines.
If a company on the assignment was already out on another call, the dispatcher simply substituted the next due company. Volunteer companies were shown only on those running cards for streets in their first alarm territories.
The dispatch procedure was just as simple: Dispatcher Ramelli pressed the button that opened a Gamewell alarm circuit. This caused one hit of the alert bells and punched one hole in the Gamewell tapes in all stations. Then he pressed another button that rang all station house phones for about five seconds.
After all stations answered their house phones in sequence, Ramelli announced, "Engine 5, Engine 4, Rescue 2, and Ladder 1, we have a report of a house fire at 145 Spruce Bank Road."
March 1965 aerial view of Edge Hill
Next, Ramelli alerted Mt. Carmel's volunteers by activating the tone assigned to Co. 5 to notify those Mt. Carmel volunteer firefighters who were assigned a Plectron radio receiver.
Within four minutes, Engine 5 Firefighters Ray Carofano and Robert "Ace" Callahan arrived at the foot of Purpora's Spruce Bank Road main driveway. Looking up, they could see the flames flickering through the partially denuded trees.
"Engine 35 to Headquarters, 10-6 [arrived], 10-8 [working fire - all hands]!"
The department got lucky that day. The only hydrant within a quarter mile was at the foot of Purpora's driveway. Preparing a forward lay into the fire, Callahan went to the back of Engine 5, pulled off the first line from the single bed of 2-1/2", then wrapped the line around the hydrant, to be connected to the next due engine. He then hopped on the tailboard and pressed the button. Hearing the buzzer in the cab, Carofano proceeded up the driveway while Callahan carefully observed the supply line as it came off the hose bed.
Engine 5 could drop only one supply line. Hose beds on all Hamden engines were not split until 1973, when 3" hose was introduced. And LDH wasn't adopted until 1985. If a parallel supply line for Edge Hill were needed later, it would have to come off another engine or be laid by hand back down the driveway from Engine 5.
As Engine 5 reached the top of the driveway, the 1965 Mack that was Engine 4, under the command of Lieutenant Burt Hillocks, arrived at the Spruce Bank hydrant and prepared to pump to 5s. Without a second 2-1/2" supply line, however, the friction loss would be tremendous.
The family was outside and accounted for, but flames had already reached the third story of the south end. The object now was to save the rest of the house and salvage as much as possible of what was directly involved with the blaze. The major concern would be establishing and maintaining an adequate water supply.
There was another driveway to Purpora's house. It came out to Ives Street a few hundred feet east of Spruce Bank Road. This was the driveway that everyone used to reach the Purpora home. It also served two other homes off Ives Street, including that of architect George Cash and the home of the late Bancel LaFarge, one of Hamden’s most noted artists. But this Ives Street driveway was not well known, except to the residents, their friends and a few old-timers.
Co. 5 president and volunteer Firefighter Ray Spencer also knew about the Ives Street driveway. About two-thirds of the way in to Purpora's, there was a little grass island where the driveway branched off to LaFarge's house. Spencer parked his tan 1964 Chevy Bel-Air on the little grassy island. It would be a tenth of a mile walk to the fire, but Ray was a lot younger than his 62 years.
The New Haven Register, Sunday, November 20, 1966 (Brainard collection)
Two brothers, one fifteen and the other eighteen, were among the Purpora family friends who for years had made Edge Hill their frequent home away from home. The two boys were just exiting the Cumberland Farms store at 3030 Whitney Avenue, where Ray & Mike's is today, when they heard the deep wail of a Federal Q siren.
DSD Shop on Whitney, where southbound Rt. 40 entrance is today
On the way to Cumberland Farms a few minutes earlier, the brothers hadn't noticed the empty bay when passing the Mt. Carmel fire station. Where is that siren coming from?
The wailing got louder as the fire apparatus passed Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Pop's gas station, Carmel Gardens, and Bolton Street. As it drew closer to the DSD machine shop, Hamden's white 1958 Maxim aerial ladder truck finally came into full view, the red warning beam rotating back and forth atop the windshield of the open cab.
Unaware that the ladder truck always responded to structure fires, no matter the size of the building, when the brothers saw the truck with the aerial ladder turning from Whitney into Ives Street, they figured that it must be responding to a big building.
It had to be the Fleming Company in the old Woodruff factory at Broadway and Ives, they thought. If not Fleming's, the only other large building in the area was Purpora's house.
"Let's go!" Tires squealed as older brother's black '54 Pontiac made the left turn from Whitney into Ives Street. But now the ladder truck was out of sight. Nothing was going on at the old Woodruff factory at Broadway and Ives, either. That fire would happen fourteen months later.
Which way did it go?
The car bore left at Broadway, crossing the old Woodruff factory raceway bridge, rushing toward the Ives Street driveway entrance to Edge Hill.
The mysterious Pontiac at Edge Hill the year before the fire
At Spruce Bank Road, younger brother saw the distant flashing red lights. It was Purpora's.
"Ladder 42, 10-6." The ladder truck arrived at the Spruce Bank driveway entrance. Firefighters Harry Cubbellotti and Vinny Roth managed to negotiate the ladder truck past Engine 4, up the driveway, carefully avoiding the charged 2-1/2" supply line lying along main driveway. Reaching the top, the truck could not get close enough to the house to use the aerial. Ground ladders would have to suffice.
Meanwhile, Ray Spencer thought his car was in the perfect parking spot, the little grass island where the Ives Street driveway forked left to Purpora's and right toward LaFarge's. The car would not be in anyone's way.
Standing beside the open driver's door of his Chevy, Spencer began to don his Co. 5 bunker coat. Suddenly, as it had hundreds of times before, a familiar car approached from Ives Street. Only this time the car was going about 40 mph. Rounding a blind curve, the youthful driver did not expect to see the guy and his car on the little grass island. In a split-second Ray Spencer jumped clear of the black '54 Pontiac that took the left fork to Edge Hill.
Several Co. 5 volunteers had parked their cars on Spruce Bank Road and were hiking up the main driveway to the fire scene. But more manpower was needed. Deputy Chief Jim Strain in Car 30 instructed Dispatcher Ramelli to alert Volunteer Co. 7 to respond with their 1939 Diamond-T pumper. Very little information remains about specific tactics, but it is believed that Volunteer Co. 7's 1939 Diamond-T pumper dropped the second 2-1/2" supply line between Engine 4 and Engine 5.
The brothers in the black Pontiac arrived at the scene via the Ives Street driveway just as firefighters were putting water on the fire. Ann Purpora and her kids were huddled together at the edge of the gravel driveway, directly opposite the double entry doors to the south end of the house. The intense radiant heat from the fire that was consuming their home kept them warm as the sun began to set.
Ann was wrapped in a blanket. The flames reflected on her fair face revealed a disturbing expression of wonder, apprehension and dread. She was in shock. The kids seemed to be reassuring her, trying to ease her anxiety.
"Where's Jody?" asked one of the brothers. Nicky said Jody was not there. Neither was Maury.
Jody later told the boys that following band practice he was sitting at the counter at the Glenwood. While eating a hot dog with some fellow band members, he saw the fire engines racing by. Later, as Jody walked down Ives Street toward home, he had the eerie feeling that the fire engines he saw passing the Glenwood were on their way to his house.
Maury was already home when Jody arrived. Firefighters were still working on the fire. Water supply had been the major problem. But firefighters had done a good job. The fire was confined to the south end.
Unfortunately, the presence of a very large and full inground swimming pool was unknown to fire personnel.
As firefighters continued overhauling, Maury busily recruited his kids, the two brothers and several others to rescue artwork and various pieces of antique furniture from the living room. It was shocking to see the extent of the damage. It always is.
Shortly after the fire was out and salvage work had gone as far as it could, older brother and his buddy Dave Sutherland drove to New Haven. Sutherland, another very close friend of the Purpora family, devised a brilliant coping strategy. In today's PC culture, you can't call them "winos" or "bums" anymore, but the two teenaged boys managed to locate an older individual of limited financial means who possessed a fond taste for inexpensive spirits. The gentleman gladly accepted their two dollars and sixty cents to purchase three pints of muscatel, one bottle for each of them. A pint of "Sneaky Pete" was one way to handle the grief of losing an old friend at Edge Hill.
Most of the damage, which was extensive, was confined to all three floors of the south end of the house, including the foyer and a very large living room on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second and third floors. Most of the northern end of the house was spared.
1969 real estate photo of the house after renovation. Third floor entirely gone. (Courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)
Damage estimates were as high as $50,000 ($370,000 in today's dollars). For several months after the fire, the Purpora family lived in a small home in Spring Glen while the Edge Hill house was totally renovated. The third floor was gone but the first and second floors were rebuilt.
The Purporas remained in their renovated home at Edge Hill for about another year. Then Italian-American Lines hired Maury as a social director. He also became a consultant with the Irish Tourist Board. In June 1968, Maury, Ann and their seven kids moved to County Wicklow, Ireland, where they lived well into the 1970s.
Label from the album "Tax Free" (1970) Note one of the songs.
The fire that destroyed the south side of the mansion at Edge Hill fifty years ago was a devastating event in the lives of the Purpora family. But the fire may have been a blessing in disguise.
The Purpora family's move to Ireland in the late 1960s was a springboard for Jody to travel to England and the Netherlands, where he networked with fellow musicians and songwriters, helped found Tax Free with legendary Dutch rocker Wally Tax, and got his foot in the door to a music industry that has been his career ever since.
Maury, Ann and the rest of their family returned to the States in the mid-1970s and bought a diner in Brattleboro, Vermont. Maury died in 1994; Ann in 2008.
All seven of the Purpora kids moved far and wide and started lives of their own. Today, Jody, who lives in New York City with his wife Jacquie, continues to compose and record music for motion pictures and television.
The fire at Edge Hill, the magnificent 19th century home of Rev. Joseph Brewster and the mid-20th century creative breeding ground of the Purpora family and friends, was the writer's first experience in the fire service, having joined Co. 5 only a few weeks earlier. He did not actively participate in firefighting activities that night, save for the salvaging efforts of Purpora family and friends. But witnessing the destruction of a close friend's home by fire was a sobering experience that taught him that firefighting can be a very complicated, emotional and dangerous business. But it also can be a satisfying, fulfilling and noble career.
Oh yes, and for his driving skills that night, the young man did get a royal chewing out from Ray Spencer. Quite justified.
Shortly after the Purpora family emigrated to Ireland in 1968, the house was sold to prominent Hamden businessman, Leonard Drabkin, owner of Van Dyke Printing, who lived there the rest of his life.
Today, 145 Spruce Bank Road is home to Drabkin's daughter Cindy, her husband Logan Dubell and their three children. The Dubells recently hosted Jody and the two brothers for a tour of the inside and grounds.
The living room below, totally gutted by the 1966 blaze, has been beautifully restored. The chair at right, still at Edge Hill today, was among many antiques saved during salvage efforts by Purpora family and friends.
Dispatcher Carol Conway, one of eleven original Central Communications dispatchers.
"Attention, stand by for a dispatch . . ."
Thirty-five years ago, on November 19, 1981, 9-1-1 service came to Hamden. With a total of eleven cross-trained civilian dispatchers, the dispatch facilities of the Hamden fire and police departments were combined into one unit called "Central Communications."
When Hamden or North Haven residents with telephone prefixes of 248, 281 or 288 dialed 9-1-1, their calls were answered at Hamden's public safety answering position (PSAP) at Central. North Haven residents with Hamden telephone prefixes had their 9-1-1 calls forwarded manually to North Haven.
9-1-1 calls from Hamden residents with New Haven prefixes (562, 624, 777, etc.) were answered at New Haven, then forwarded to Hamden. The introduction of Enhanced 9-1-1 in 1988 enabled the telephone company to have all Hamden residents' 9-1-1 calls answered at Central.
Central Communications was located in the basement of the old Miller Memorial Library. The facility was renovated and enlarged in 1990. In 2012, Central Communications moved to the new annex of the old Memorial Town Hall.
1963 - Dispatcher Wilbur Baker in the Alarm Room
Before Central Communications, all Hamden fire dispatching was performed in the "Alarm Room," a small room up a few stairs at the rear of the apparatus floor at Station 4. The fire dispatchers, each assigned to a platoon, were all experienced uniformed members of the Hamden Fire Department.
The Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), enacted in the mid-1970s, provided federal funding to municipalities to hire and train unemployed individuals to fill various positions. In 1976, Hamden hired civilian fire dispatchers under the CETA program. The uniformed Hamden firefighters previously responsible for dispatching, Ray Carofano, Wilbur Baker, Russ Norman and Bob "Ace" Callahan, all of them on the job for decades, were placed back on the line.
Eventually, four full-time civilian fire dispatchers were hired and assigned to work the same 42-hour work schedule as the firefighters, 3-on-3-off. However, their schedules were not in sync with the four platoons. A civilian dispatcher's first day (or night) on duty was always the last day (or night) of the platoon.
When the Hamden Fire Department's four dispatchers moved over to Central Communications, they joined four Hamden Police Department dispatchers and three additional employees, all civilians, working a 40-hour week on three eight hour shifts. Eventually, all eleven were cross-trained in fire and police dispatch procedures.
Originally posted 11/25/11
May 1982 - Dep. Chief/Training Officer John Tramontano in Central Communications' Original Location
1982 - Central Communications dispatcher Marge Gambardella, now Marge Yacano, at the fire dispatch position in the original location of Central Communications (Photo by John Tramontano)
On his last day on the job in 2012, Dispatcher Brian Esposito provided a grand tour of Hamden's new Central Communications. A truly state of the art communication facility, it is located on the second floor of Hamden Police Department Headquarters in the annex of Hamden's Memorial Town Hall.
Dispatcher Brian Esposito - Last Shift
Only Two Hours to Go!
Fellow Retiree Bob Sjogren with Brian
This status board is the 21st century descendant of the ancient magnetic labels.
Just in case! The original running card file, placed in service in November 1981, is still available as an emergency back-up.