NOROTON HEIGHTS FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY
The Noroton Heights Fire Department celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003. The department has grown from quarters in back of a blacksmith shop with thirteen men and one hand-drawn engine to a two-story brick building with 100 men and women and six pieces of emergency fire apparatus.
The very first fire department in Darien was started in January of 1895, what is now the Darien Fire Department. Shortly after the Noroton Fire Department was started on April 24, 1896. These two departments handled all calls for fires within the Town of Darien. Although the Town had two fire departments, there were areas where coverage was poor due to the time it would take for firefighters to arrive. By the time these departments could arrive the building was usually totally destroyed. One of these areas of slow response was the Noroton Heights section of Darien.
The Waterbury Farm fire was a fire which caused much damage because of the long response time. The farm was later owned by Patrick Darly. After that fire, Mr. Darley, William Dugdale, the Bennett and Dolan families, and a few other concerned citizens joined together and formed a fire department of their own that would cover the section of Darien that lacked adequate fire coverage. On May 12th, 1903, the Noroton Heights Fire Engine Company Number 1 was formed with thirteen men under the direction of William Dugdale.
The first firehouse was located in a blacksmith’s shop behind Mr. Dugdale’s new store. Later it moved to what was a one-room school house located on Linden Avenue. The department’s main concern was the business area that it covered with coverage extending to the Town of New Canaan. William Dugdale loaned the company nine hundred dollars to purchase its first piece of equipment. The “gig” was purchased on June 24th 1903 and was one of the first in the State of Connecticut. It was well christened at the Stamford Town Hall fire which destroyed the building on February 4, 1904.
At 10:30 PM on November 25, 1903, the Noroton Heights Fire Department received its first fire call at the railroad freight house. The fire was under control in ten minutes and was completely extinguished by 11:15 PM. One of the firemen at the scene said that the building would have burned completely to the ground if it weren’t for the good work of the engine and the prompt response to the alarm. The railroad sent a check for fifty dollars and a thank you note to the department for what they had done. There were approximately eleven members at that fire.
The second fire was on February 4,1904 at the Stamford Town Hall. Mayor Leeds of the City of Stamford called for outside assistance. The Noroton Heights Fire Department was the first out of town department to arrive, followed by Greenwich, Port Chester, and Bridgeport. The Noroton Heights firemen ran with the gig until a man with a horse caught up with them. The men hooked the gig to the back of the man’s wagon and the firemen road in the wagon. Due to the very extremely cold weather and the faulty charging of the gig’s system after the railroad freight- house, water in the gig’s system froze in the pipe connections and valves. The Noroton Heights firemen could only assist Stamford firefighters with the equipment that was already there, the gig was out of service. After the fire, the Noroton Heights firemen brought the gig back on William Dugdale’s sleigh. The supplies arrived back at the station around 1:30 the next morning.
As the Noroton Heights Fire Department acquired new equipment and men it was necessary to find a new place to house this equipment. Land for a new firehouse was bought in 1916. It was on Hecker Avenue in the area of what is now called Ledge Road. The members of the fire department at that time purchased the lumber and materials and built the firehouse themselves. When the building was done in 1917, the department purchased its first gas-powered vehicle. The firemen assembled the vehicle themselves in their new firehouse. During the next 56 years the Noroton Heights Fire Department continued to grow. It gained many new members and more and more equipment. Fund raising events were held to acquire new trucks and equipment and to improve the firehouse. In 1921 the firehouse had electric lights installed. At this time there were twenty-two fire hydrants installed the Noroton Heights fire district. In 1922 the department purchased its first pumper, a 350 gallon Packard, which was in service for fifteen years. A small Reo house truck in doubtful condition was purchased in 1925. Sometime that year the fire department also purchased more land next to the firehouse. A Reo ladder truck and an AM radio for the firemen’s’ enjoyment was also purchased. In 1933 the department bought a new Reo hose truck with a Pirsch pump.
In 1937, the Noroton Heights Fire Department purchased a Seagrave pumper truck. This same year a Dalmatian mascot, named Major, was acquired. Problem was that he liked to bite. In 1939 the fire department was incorporated and given the official name of “Noroton Heights Fire Department Incorporated”.
In 1949 a “picture-box” TV was purchased for $435.00. A Seagrave City ladder truck was obtained and the 1920 Reo ladder truck was sold to the Trumbull Volunteer Fire Company for $200.00. This was also the same year the telephone was installed in the firehouse.
In 1950 a new Mack pumper was purchased and the 1933 Reo pumper was sold to Swayerville Fire Company in Pennsylvania for $750.00. The cost of the new Mack pumper was approximately $8,300.00.
In 1951 plans to run the Connecticut Turnpike through the Noroton Heights business district forced the fire department to relocate and build a new firehouse. The Noroton Heights Fire Department bought its land, where it is presently located, from the Town of Darien for one-dollar. This same year short-wave radios were also installed in all Darien firetrucks. In 1954 the new building was complete and the fire department moved to its present fire house. The dedication and cornerstone ceremonies took place on May 29, 1955.
In the very beginning, a brake shoe from a train was used a fire alarm gong to alert all the firefighters. In 1922 a whistle was installed which was operated by the telephone operator. In 1933, the fire whistle was operated by the Darien Police Department. During 1951, all fire trucks in Darien were outfitted with short-wave radios at an estimated cost of $2,670.00. At first the radios were on the Darien Police frequency, but problems arouse.
One day the Noroton Heights Fire Department had a house fire and the police had a robbery which caused much confusion and too much radio traffic. It was realized that the fire departments must go to their own radio frequency. Around 1958 or 1959 the members of the Noroton Heights Fire Department received home radio systems to be alerted to fire calls. A signal was sent over the radio frequency which alerted these home radios. The police officer, who was the dispatcher, would then announce the location and type of call that it was. This system was especially useful at night when the firemen might not hear the whistle or for those who live to far way to hear it.
On Sunday, May 16, 1955 a twenty-room, three and one-half story building caught fire and was destroyed on Hollow Tree Ridge Road. The house was the former estate of the late John Weed. Which was converted into a convalescent center then the Hollow Tree Inn. The building had been unoccupied for about 10 years. It had been scheduled to be torn down to make way for the Connecticut Turnpike. At 9:50 PM the alarm came in and the firemen arrived at the scene. The entire structure was enveloped in fire. A crowd of about 500 people formed to was the burning building. Flames could be seen for miles. The Noroton Fire Department was called for mutual aid to patrol neighboring house. The Noroton Heights Fire Department was on scene until 3:00 am in the morning. All that remained of the building was the first floor and four chimneys. On September 28, 1957, the Ox Ridge Hunt Club stables caught fire. One of the grooms saw the fire and turned in the fire alarm. He then called for assistance to help getting the horses out of the stable. The Darien Police received the call at 12:02 PM and dispatched the Darien Fire Department. At 12:10 the Noroton Heights Fire Department was called and asked to respond to the fire.
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