History of Darien Fire Department
This history has been adapted from “Darien Fire Department, 100 Years of Service,” published by the Department in 1995. It is written by Edmund Schmidt, Karl Koch, and Steven Palmer.
1895 – 1904 In the Beginning
The Darien Fire Company was organized on July 31, 1895 by 26 Darien men. The original Darien firehouse—the size of a two-car garage—was located at what is today the southeast corner of Center Street and the Boston Poast Road, approximately where the First Fidelity Bank (formerly Union Trust Company) is now located. Elected as charter officers of the Darien Fire Company were George J. Oberlander as Captain, George S. Bailey as Lieutenant, George W. Oberlander as Secretary, and William J. Fleming as Treasurer. A subscription dinner to raise money for apparatus was held two weeks later. The lamp from the very first apparatus is still in working condition and hangs on the wall of the firehouse. The name of the Darien Fire Company was changed on November 26, to the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 of Darien to satisfy some of the members who lived or worked in Noroton and Noroton Heights rather than Darien. The titles of Captain and Lieutenant were changed to Foreman and Assistant Foreman.
Three members of the Eagles were appointed to meet with the Darien Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a loosely formed group of leading citizens and merchants who wanted to improve fire protection. The Volunteers had raised funds for this purpose and and the Eagles approached them to fund the purchase ofa new fire truck. The Volunteers offered to purchase the fire truck and give the truck to the agles for their usage but ownership would remain with the Volunteers. The Eagles declined this offer, because they preferred to own the fire truck. In March, the Eagles held a special meeting to raise funds to buy a hook and ladder firetruck. Meanwhile, several members of the Eagles who lived in Noroton decided to establish their own fire company. George Dugdale and James Bennett convened the first meeting of hte Volunteer Hook and Ladder Fire Company of Noroton on April 24, in George Dugdale’s livery stable near the corner of Rings End Road and the Boston Post Road. As incredible as it may sound today, the Boroton men then went to Darien at night and raised the Eagle’s firehouse and moved it down the Boston Post Road to Noroton. Today the Eagle’s original firehouse is the rear portion of the Darien Book Aid building, which was formerly the Noroton firehouse. When the Noroton firehouse was built, the original Eagles firehouse was moved to the rear of the firehouse. In May, the split between the Eagles in Darien and the Volunteers in Noroton was complete when all members of the Eagles who were also members of the Volunteers, as of April 24, were removed from the rolls of the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company. The Eagles voted to establish a firehouse committee for the purpose of acquiring a new and larger firehouse. On August 3, the Eagles moved to their second firehouse and later that year they acquired a brand new hand pulled fire truck at the cost of $435 to put in their new firehouse.
The Eagles held their second annual meeting on January 4, having an enrollment of fifty-one active members and twenty-six honorary members. During the first eighteen months of operations the men had responded to five fires. Practice drills were conducted periodically but because the roads in town were in such poort condition, drills had to be cancelled for May and June as the mud was too deep to roll the apparatus. A Firemen’s Fair was held in August, which raised $148 for the firehouse.
Three members were expelled for fighting about who was to hold the nozzle of the hose while putting out a fire on the Boston Post Road.
Double breasted uniforms were purchased for all the members at a cost of $6.50 each. The rivalry between the Volunteers in Noroton continued when the idea of a joint celebration was rejected by the Eagles.
The first electric lights were installed in the firehouse in January. It was voted to buy the lot adjacent to the firehouse. In September, one last attempt was made at consolidation with the Eagles voting to recommend that the Volunteers in Noroton consolidate with the Eagles. Under the proposal the Eagles would have owed all the trucks and property adopted the new compromise name “Eagle Volunteer Hook and Ladder Company.” On October 14, The Volunteers voted against the consolidation. Noroton volunteers felt they needed their own firehoue to protect their neighborhood.
The Noroton Heights Engine Company No. 1 was organized to protect the Noroton Heights section of Darien. It subsequently changed its name to the Noroton Heights Fire Department, Inc.
1904 – 1964 The Darien Fire Department Grows With Town
The Ealges held a New Years Day celebration for moving into their third firehouse, at the location where they are today, on the Boton Post Road across the street from the intersection with Mansfield Ave. The firehouse was constructed out of wood with a bell tower. In December a committee was appointed to apportion the fire districts between the three volunteer fire companies for the town. Training for the volunteers was also becoming more rigorous, with a drill being held every Thursday as long as the weather permitted.
The old hand pulled fire truck was restored into usable condition and a dozen new pails were purchased in February. The Selectmen were asked in April to install a bell on the roof of the Town Hall, which had been built in 1885, and was located across the street at the northwest corner of Mansfield Avenue and the Boston Post Road. The bell tower was to sound the alarm that a fire was in progress. The Selectmen declined and the men went ahead, at their own expense, and built a fifty foot bell tower adjacent to the firehouse.
The hand pulled fire truck was sold in January for $15 and the town was requested to buy a new chemical engine similar to that still owned by the Noroton Heights Fire Department. The Town purchased two chemical engines in April, one for the Eagles in Darien and one for the Volunteers in Noroton. The Town paid $2,000 for the two chemical engines and each fire company paid $125.
The largest capital expenditure this year was to purchase a new harness for the men to pull the new chemical engine. The title of Foreman was changed to Chief. In September the Town was asked for the first time to pay $100 towards the operating expenses of the Eagles. Instead, the Town agreed to pay all charges for engines and horses required to pull the engines for long distances. Horses were borrowed from the livery stable next to the firehouse. The livery stable also served as an undertaker’s establishment, and the horses were used to pull both fire equipment and hearses.
A large fire on Tokeneke Road destroys several stores between the old school house (next to Darien New Store) and Old Kings Highway South. At that time it was generally acknowledged that the fire equipment was totally inadequate to protect Darien, with only one hand drawn hose reel with buckets to fight fires.
The men voted to change the name from the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 to the Darien Fire Department (DFD).
DFD was incorporated as the Darien Fire Department, Inc. The firehouse was replaced with a new brick one.
January 3rd was a cold winter night and pipes were freezing all over town, including Mr. Stuart’s general store at the corner of Tokeneke and the Boston Post Road. The plumber Elmer Lounsbury was thawing pipes in the store’s basement with a torch when a fire started accidentally. The store’s floor was soaked with kerosene from the sale of kerosene, which was then in very common usage. The fire moved rapidly as the winter wind spread the fire around the corner, consuming the large Columbia Hotel located where the First Fidelity Bank is today on the corner of Center Street and the Boston Post Road. None of the three Darien volunteer fire companies had equipment to fight a fire of this magnitude and, even with the help of Stamford, New Canaan, and other surrounding towns, the block was a total loss.
After many years of holding fireman’s balls, minstrel shows, dinner dances, and carnivals, the DFD finally purchased a small chain drive Mack pumper with hard rubber tires.
The DFD ordered a Larrabee Chemical and Hose Wagon. This wagon carried a large quantity of hose that could now reach ponds and available hydrants, which at this time were few and far between.
DFD purchased a Larrabee city service ladder truck for $6,000. The DFD now had three fire trucks that had been purchased entirely with DFD funds.
A large fire destroyed the Tokeneke Club. At the time of the fire a “shipwreck party” was going on and at first the guests thought the fire was part of the entertainment. The old Mack pumper literally wore itself out pumping salt water onto this fire.
The 1928 Ahrens Fox was delivered to the DFD to replace the Mack pumper. The Ahrens Fox, otherwise known as “King Kong,” was purchased by the Town for $6,800, plus the trade in of the Mack pumper. The annual outing this year was a clam bake.
After extensive debate about the need for a drill tower, the members voted against building it next to the firehouse.
The firehouse was converted from coal to oil heat and the American Legion was authorized to use the meeting room once a month. The DFD New Years Eve Party was a great success. The eastbound Darien railroad station was damaged by fire. The baggage room, ticket office and Western Union office were destroyed. Several tons of coal in the cellar added to the roaring blaze that injured two firefighters. The station had been contructed in 1890. Another fire later in the year at policeman Peter Zwart’s residence on West Avenue gutted the home.
The annual DFD dinner was hel at the Arrow Inn on the Boston Post Road. In February a truck loaded with shoes on its way to New York overturned on the Boston Post Road and West Norwalk Road and caught fire. DFD reported and put out the fire.
A 1937 Ahrens Fox pumper was purchased. This one was smaller than the 1928 Ahrens Fox and was called “Little Fox.” It had an enclosed cab, which was uncommon at that time: only seven of thses trucks were built that year. Many years later the DFD let this truck slip out of its hands to the Pine Rock Fire Department in Shelton, CT. On October 5, at a house fire on West Avenue, DFD firemen Tom Evon, Bill Pratt and Clarence McCarney saved the life of Mr. Everett by rescuing him from a smoke-filled room.
DFD install the first radio equipment on its apparatus.
An addition was made to the firehouse. Applicants to join the DFD were voted in or out by using the black ball ballot method. If more than two black balls were dropped in, one did not get to join. If accepted, one initially became a “probie” member. The Ladies Auxiliary was organized this year.
During World War II a system of rationing supplies important to the war effort was implemented for the country. DFD members needing gasoline to respond to fires could request a card from the Rationing Board.
Due to black-out laws, most of hte DFD evening meetings were postponed.
DFD was called to assist in a New Haven Railroad wreck near the Darien railroad station. The wreck cost the life of a train engineer. Christmas packages were sent to members of the armed services by the DFD.
DFD held a raffle of a refrigerator and a basket of liquor to raise funds. Raffle tickets were sold from the fire trucks.
DFD held a raffle of a Chrysler sedan and had a very popular New Years Eve party. A television was purchased for the firehouse. On December 14, the DFD dedicated a memorial to those members who lost their lives in the war.
A Ward LaFrance city service ladder truck was purchased by the Town to replace DFD’s 1929 Larrabee city service truck. The members voted to make their annual outing a stag affair.
In a quick but not unexpected reversal, the DFD annual outing was returned to being a family event.
As the cold war started to heat up, all three volunteer departments participated in civil defense planning.
In the Great Flood of ‘55 the men of the DFD put in many hours of valiant service rescuing people isolated by the rising flood waters and pumping out flooded homes. Over one hundred stranded travellers found shelter and food at the DFD firehouse during the flood. At the end of the year, a DFD committee was asked to look into the possibility of acquiring shore front property for recreational use. After all the hurricanes, it was selling for a reasonable price.
A committee was organized to build a new firehouse. To help raise funds the Ladies Auxiliary held a square dance and a Halloween dance.
In January the Twin Terrace Restaurant was destroyed by fire. Later that year the DFD went house to house on a fire truck selling raffle tickets for a car.
The monthly meeting on May 1 was recessed at 8:07 p.m. when the men ran off to fight a fire at Cherry Lawn School on Brookside Road. That summer the three volunteer fire departments held a combine outing on the Ziegler Estate. The Ladies Auxiliary ran a rummage and cake sale.
In May, the A&P Meat Market was extensively damage by fire. The Ladies Auxiliary ran a cake sale to help with the firehouse building fund.
1964 – 1995
After several years of planning, the present firehouse was dedicated in May. The old firehouse was gutted nd a new addition that more than doubled the size of the firehouse was completed. The Building Committee was chaired by Joseph J. Ward. The large firehouse is capable of housing six rather than only three pieces of equipment. The firehouse provides a large meeting hall, kitchen, wardroom, chief’s office, TV room, and an alarm room. A new Mack pumper was purchased by the Town to replace the old 1937 Ahrens Fox. The new Mack cost $30,000. Later that year the Darien Civil Defense Unit and the civil defense rescue truck was placed in the firehouse.
The DFD got a 1965 Mack for its brand new firehouse. In March, Tolm Motors went up in flames. Two months later DFD assisted Noroton at the scene of the Cunningham Steak House fire on the Boston Poast Road across from Renshaw Road and what was then Mather Junior High School.
The DFD purchased a small pickup truck and equipped it to carry several tanks of oxygen and smoke ejectors. The Scott Air-pak breathing apparatus was a gift from the Women’s Auxiliary.
In April, the block of stores on the Boston Poast Road, containing the Wonderbar and Toby’s Hobby Center was completely destroyed by fire. This was a particularly difficult fire to fight because of several false or drop ceilings and the problem of whiskey bottles exploding, shooting fire all over the area and endangering the lives of the firemen. That summer the Tilley barn burned in what is today Tilley’s Park.
Cherry Lawn School suffers another fire February. Over the years this school was plagued with numerous fires.
In the Blizzard of ‘69 six volunteers manned the firehouse to provide food and shelter for people stranded on the Connecticut Turnpike. The DFD is frequently called upon to assist in extricating people from automobile wrecks on the Turnpike. In September the DFD responded to a train wreck on the New Canaan branch line which resulted in the loss of several lives.
Cherry Lawn School Infirmary suffers major fire damage in the spring. DFD gets its first diesel fire truck, a 75-foot Mack Aerialscope, replacing the old Ward LaFrance city service truck. The Town purchased this truck for $99,000. It was used in 1982 at a fire on South Main Street, South Norwalk that damaged several historic iron facade buildings.
On the morning of December 3, a rapidly spreading fire caused extensive damage to the two floors of apartments over the Post Corner Pizza, at the northeast corner of the Boston Post Road and Mansfield Avenue. The fire was caused by a faulty switch in an electric space heater. The fire left eight persons homeless. A quick response by DFD stopped the fire and saved the building.
The DFD purchased a new Mack Pumper for $48,431.00 to replace the American LaFrance. In 1989 this truck was refurbished a four-door enclosure was added as well as a new aluminum body.
Construction of a new fire drill tower was commenced at the Town Dump. It wasn’t completed until the early 1980’s.
The Civil Defense truck was replaced with a new Ford with Saulsbury body work. The cost was $84,000 and both the Town and the DFD contributed funding. This was the first DFD truck with an automatic transmission.
The DFD became one of the first departments to own a Hurst Tool (commonly known as the “Jaws of Life”).
In December, Elmer Irving Lounsbury, a seventy-five year member of the DFD, passed away. His father and uncle had owned a plumbing store in the old school house on Tokeneke Road. He left a significant bequest to the firehouse. Over the years he was one of the most dedicated members of the DFD.
The DFD acquired a Mack Pumper that cost $128,000. Later that year the Town’s first tanker was put into service. The DFD spent approximately $30,000 to convert the old Civil Defense truck by removing its body and installing a $1,500 gallon tank. The tanker has been critical in responding to fires in the northern section of Darien where there are still no fire hydrants.
DFD broke longstanding tradition by accepting its first female member, Kim Martini.
A new DFD pickup truck was purchased.