History of the Derby Fire Department

Which Nears it’s 100th Anniversary

   by Bertrand O. DeForest Historian, Hotchkiss Hose Co. No. 1

as written - Evening Sentinel - April 1, 1930

 

In the village of Derby Landing, which included that section in East Derby near the docks and taking in the vicinity of the Mansion house corner, Gilbert, Bank and Commerce Streets, four years before the commencement of the village of Smithville, later called Birmingham on the west side of the river, Abijah Wallace and some other inhabitants of the village at the Landing, petitioned the state general assembly with the following result:

"At the meeting or general assembly of the state of Connecticut at New Haven in said state, on the first Wednesday of May in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty.

Upon the petition of Abijah Wallace and others of Derby in New Haven county, showing to this assembly that in the village called the Landing in said Derby, the dwelling houses, stores and manufactories are from their contiguity to each other, greatly exposed to fires, that the inhabitants have purchased a valuable fire engine and praying for the establishment of a fire company as per the petition dated May 8th, 1830.

Resolved by this assembly, that the selectmen of said town of Derby, be and are hereby authorized to meet at the dwelling house of Ethel Keeney, in said Derby on the First Monday of June 1830, then and there to enlist from any of the inhabitants of said village a fire engine company by the name of the ‘Derby Fire Engine Company’ to consist of not more than sixteen persons, who shall all be residents of said village; which company so enlisted shall have power to appoint the necessary officers for said company, to make all necessary by-laws proper for the regulation of said company and its concerns in order that the said engine may be preserved and worked in the best manner; to fill by voluntary enlistment any vacancies that may happen in said company; and shall be enlisted to exercise all the powers and privileges which are granted to fire companies in this state.

A true copy of record;

Examined by Thomas Day, Secretary of State."

"In order to carry the within and foregoing resolve of the general assembly into effect, we the subscribers, whose names are underwritten, do enlist into said company for the purpose of working and preserving the fire engine in the village at the Landing, in the town of Derby, and each one of us agree and bind ourselves to conform to the rules and by-laws that shall be hereafter made by a majority of two-thirds of said company; in witness whereunto we have set our hands.

Dates at Derby June 7th, 1830.

Signed by Abijah Wallace, John Wallace, Stephen Smith, Henry Downs, George Blakeman, Sheldon Canfield, Jr., Joseph P. Canfield, Charles Wilcoxson, Lyman Smith, Jr., Levi Hotchkiss, Jr., Wyllys Hotchkiss, Sidney Downs, Nathan B. Church, Edmund Levenworth, Isaac Thompson, Robert Gates.

We the subscribers, selectmen of the town of Derby, having met agreeable to the resolve of the general assembly have enlisted the sixteen persons whose names are above written which we approve as firemen of the company belonging to the fire engine in the village at Derby Landing.

Certified by us, Derby June 7th, 1830.

Sheldon Curtis and William J. French, Selectmen"

    

First Fire Company 

Thus the first fire company of Derby was established. The meeting at which the organization was completed was held at the Keeney tavern, the site of the old whipping post, this building is still standing at the corner of New Haven Avenue and Gilbert Street. Captain Ethel (or Ithiel) Keeney was the first white child to be born at Derby Landing. He was the son of Ebenezer and Betty Davis Keeney and was born March 17th, 1755 in the first house at Derby Landing built by his father in 1754. Captain Keeney was an old sea captain having sailed to foreign ports as well as on home waters. At one time he kept the tavern known as "Hull’s Tavern" which he bought from Lieut. Joseph Hull, father of Commodore Isaac Hull and which was later occupied by Emery Hotchkiss and called as it still is known the "Mansion House". Keeney was treasurer of the town for thirty years which implies great confidence was placed in him by his townspeople and it may be readily understood why his tavern would be selected as a meeting place to organize the fire company.

The engine used by the old company, the first piece of fire apparatus in the town, was paid for by subscription and was purchased through an agent at a cost of about $200. It was a box-like looking arrangement of the kind known as the "squirtgun", out of date even at that time. It would hold several barrels of water and was worked by two horizontal bars or levers, hung in the center and pushed to and from the firemen instead of up and down like the latter ones. It was worked by eight men, two at each end of the bar. Upon its arrival it was taken to the Derby Congregation church on Derby Avenue to be tested and a stream of water was forced to the vane on the spire. Water was carried in buckets to fill the machine and when in use it had to be constantly replenished in that way. It was mounted on four wheels and was considered quite a fine affair in those days. It was first stored in Keeney’s barn south of the tavern, about where the filling station now stands on the Frank H. Gates property on New Haven Avenue. The first officers of the company were: Foreman Robert W. Gates, grandfather of Frank H. Gates, and Treasurer Joseph P. Canfield. Each member subscribed $5 to the company. Meetings were first held in the old school house, which was also the old Masonic hall, the meeting place of King Hiram lodge in its early days. This building is still standing on Gilbert Street just in the rear of the old Keeney tavern. Captain Keeney then deeded a piece of land to the company and a fire house (Derby’s first fire house) was erected on it. This structure stood at the corner of Gilbert and High Streets, was two stories high and was set into the bank so that the upper floor was on a level with the road going up the hill (High Street) and was used to store the public hearse which at that time was free for use to anyone wanting it and which consisted of a long box mounted on wheels and covered with black cloth. The lower part of the building opened on Gilbert Street and here the fire engine was kept. In this primitive structure, then, the Derby fire department passed its infancy, here stood the first fire house in Derby, the only apparatus being the ancient hand engine and a few feet of leather hose which threw a very small stream.

A code of by-laws was adopted for the government of the company, one of which provided that "the members shall meet on the last Saturday of every month at least an hour and a half before sunset to exercise and try the engine and see that same is in order." This was amended later so that they did not meet until "half hour before sunset." In 1841 a petition submitted to the general assembly resulted in the following being passed:

"Upon the petition of the Derby Fire Engine company, praying for liberty to increase their number and to enlarge their limits:

Resolved by this assembly, that the prayer of the petition be granted and that said company may by voluntary enlistments within their limits add eight men to their number, so that said fire engine company when thus organized shall be vested with all the powers and entitled to all the privileges and immunities which are granted to the engine companies in this state.

Resolved further, that the limits within which said company are authorized to enlist members be so extended as to include the village of Uptown in said Derby."

    Firehouse Erected 

In 1846 permission was obtained of Sheldon Canfield to erect a new firehouse for the engine over his coal bin which then stood on the land just east of McEnerney’s store (now Mester’s drug store) in Derby and north of where the Naugatuck R.R. station stood. This was done at an expense of $125 raised by subscription and the machine was removed to that place, no doubt to make it more central both to the village of the Landing and to the village of Uptown, recently extended enlistment limits. The new fire house was a little flat-roofed building barely large enough to contain the engine and as the land sloped down to the river there, the rear end stood on stilts.

From about this time forward little seems to have taken place of importance. An old roll call of the membership in 1846 and 1847 in possession now of the Hotchkiss Hose company, and the only memento of the old company left, shows the following members: James T. Standish, Ira Hubbard, Joseph P. Canfield, Willis B. Sperry, Clark Riggs, Richard M. Johnson, Usbane H. Griffin, James H. Griffin, George B. Hotchkiss, Alexander Childs, Lucius Gilbert, Elipholet Carroll, Joseph E. Canfield, James S. Engles, John I. Canfield, Daniel T. Osborne, Naman S. Sperry, William M. Wallace, John Beecher, John Thompson and William Curtiss. This roll call is framed and hangs in the city’s newest fire house today.

Interest in the old Derby Fire Engine company gradually died out, the growth of the town centering on the Birmingham side of the river and at the time that all the buildings were taken from the location where the old engine had been kept for so many years, after going out of active service, which location is about the little green at east Derby terminal, the old fire engine was finally removed to Robert Gates barn. Here it stood for many years, a part of it was still there as late as 1880, but the wheels were disposed of and served for quite a long time afterward to carry about a portable engine used for sawing wood, etc. Thus the fire department, born and raised in old east Derby was doomed to disappear from that side of the river not to return again for some fifty years, or until the organization of the present Paugassett Hook and Ladder company in 1904.

 

 

100 Years old 

One hundred years ago the 7th of June, 1930, the fire department of the city of Derby had its birth. Many prominent men, citizens, pioneers of industry, founders of cities, financiers, and officials of town and state have been identified with our fire department since its origin. It’s history is one of great achievement, filled with deeds of daring, with incidents of bravery, of hardships and of trials with rather unsympathetic city fathers. Yet through struggling years, during which it has served as ready and efficient protection against many disastrous conflagrations, it grew and flourished and is today among the finest of volunteer fire departments in New England. All of which proves the theory that the "first hundred years are the hardest".

In 1834, Sheldon Smith and Anson G. Phelps commenced things progressing in the village across the river from Derby Narrows and so rapidly did matters progress, that in 1836 the village of Smithville, later called Birmingham, had grown to about twenty dwelling houses, three mercantile stores and a number of small manufactories. Mr. Smith took delight in laying out and naming its streets and did much for the flourishing new village. Mr. Phelps promoted the manufacturing and urged people to come to Birmingham to live. One after another former Derby family moved across the river and came to make new homes in the new village and the manufacturing plants brought in many new families to Birmingham to set up homes here. As the new village grew, the industrial and residential progress brought forth the necessity for a protection from fire. Edward N. Shelton, who maintained the Shelton company, tack manufacturing plant on Main Street, was alert to the condition and it was through his effort largely that a petition signed by one hundred and two inhabitants of Birmingham and Derby was submitted to the state legislature which read as follows:

"To the honorable the legislature of the state of Connecticut at it’s May session at the city of Hartford in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-seven.

The petition of Sheldon Smith and Anson G. Phelps, both of the city, county and state of New York and of Donald Judson, Charles Edmond, Edward N. Shelton, David W. Plumb, Benjamin B. Beach, Walter Smith and Willis Hotchkiss, 2nd and we whose names are hereunto annexed of the village of Birmingham (late Smithville) in the town of Derby, county of New Haven and state of Connecticut, respectfully represent

"That they are owners of valuable manufactories, mills, stores and dwellings in the said village of Birmingham,

That from the contiguity to each other of said manufactories, mills stores and dwellings, they are greatly exposed to fires. That the inhabitants of said village purpose purchasing a valuable fire engine with hose. Therefore the above mentioned and undersigned petitioners, on behalf of themselves and inhabitants prays your honorable body to enquire out the facts above stated and grant them an act of incorporation for an engine company similar to those granted in like cases and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray."

Dated at Birmingham, town of Derby, April 29th, 1837.

Signed: David Bassett, Julius Hotchkiss, Lucius Hine, John Bassett, Jr., Ephraim Curtiss, Robert Gates, Jr., Theodore Wheeler, Horatio N. Hawkins, Edward Lewis Edmund Taylor, Frederick Brooks, John L. Murray, George W. Pratt, Joseph H. Remor, Levi B. Dill, David Jackson, Thos. S. Shelton, William Nettleton, George T. Bushnell, Lyman Osborne, Lyman Smith, Jr., Rupel Carpender, Major Powe B. Hotchkiss, Abraham Cole, Henry Whitney, David Thornton, David Nathan, Lewis Hotchkiss, Sheldon Hotchkiss, Wm. Plumb, John Lindley, Isaac Beach, Alonson Smith, David Smith, Lewis Downs, Preston B. Weimer, Wm. Canfield, John F. Cotter, Lorenzo C. Kerney, George Bradley, Merit Sperry, Clark Moultrop, S. N. Summers, Wm. Smith, Wm. Smith 3rd, Wm. N. Prindle, Wm. Sisson, William Mills, Alvin Bunnell, John Plumb, Levi Hotchkiss, George B. Hotchkiss, Wm. L. Ward, Wm. H. Canfield, John L. Newcomb, Sheldon C. Gracey, John Cramer, Henry Scott, Daniel Brooks, Peter Phelps, Isaac Nathan, Evelin F. Carter, Matthew Kelledy, Wm. Vining, Thos. A. Hart, James Doyle, Richard Evans, John Florence, James Loomis, Henry B. Lake, Henry Tyrell, W. Humphreys, Jr., Philo Lum, Abram Hawkins, Ambrose Beardsley, Samuel P. Hubbell, James F. Standish, John O. Hotchkiss, Ebijah F. Smith, David L. Parmlee, Lyman L. Loomer, David Lake, Gilbert Hine, Levi Blakeman, John A. Bassett, F. Bunnell, Joseph P. Bellows, Isaac H. Tyrill, Sherman Tuttle, Sheldon Beebe, William Baldwin, Lorren S. Atwood, Horace Baldwin, Azel Gerard, Nelson M. Beach, Agus Curtiss, James H. Griffin, Sheldon Canfield, Isaac Hawkins, John E. Brush, Sedusky Munn.

This petition was referred by the state legislature to the "committee on incorporations other than banks" who "enquired out the facts, found them to be true, and recommended the prayer of the petition be granted." And so on June 3rd, 1837 the following resolution, passed at the May session of the State legislature, was duly approved:

"Resolved by this assembly that Julius Hotchkiss, Edward N. Shelton, Ephraim Curtiss, Edmund Lewis and others who are or may be associated with them not exceeding at any one time twenty-five in number be and hereby are made and constituted a corporation by the name of the Birmingham Fire company and by that name may sue and be sued, may hold property not exceeding one thousand dollars in amount and shall have power to fill vacancies to make additions by voluntary enlistment to appoint such officers as they may deem expedient or necessary to make by-laws not inconsistent with the laws of this state or of the United States and to enforce the same by fine not exceeding five dollars for any one offense, to impose taxes on themselves and to do all other acts and things which of right a corporation may do. And be entitled to all powers, privileges and immunities of a legally authorized fire company.

Provided, that no member of said company shall be exempt from his poll tax or military duty until an engine is provided for used of said company.

This act shall be subject to be altered, ammended or repealed at the pleasure of the general assembly."

The secretary of state has presented through the state librarian, a photostat of the above papers taken from the original documents and these are now framed and hang in the parlors of the Hotchkiss Hose company.

 

      Hotchkiss Hose Company 

Thus in June 1837 was authorized the first fire company of the village of Birmingham which has survived during these ninety-three years and still exists in the Hotchkiss Hose Company No. 1 of the Derby fire department. The early records of this oldest fire company were unfortunately lost with the death of Stephen G. Scott who for many years and until his demise was secretary of the company and kept all the old records. However, it is known that their first fire engine was of the larger hand pump variety which was equipped with long handles on either side and running length of the machine being manned by about twelve firemen. This engine was called the "Boston Tub" and was a low-wheeled affair which required a large amount of hard pulling to get to a fire and a large amount of hard pumping to force a small stream from a well, cistern or from the river into a burning building. What a contrast to the huge and powerful pumper the company now operates! Lorenzo Moses, still living in Westfield, Mass., a former secretary of the company, still remembers when, in his early membership, he helped pull this old engine on its last trip to the banks of the Housatonic where it was scrapped. What an inglorious end after faithful service to a machine which would be quite a curiosity today. Part of the company equipment in its first days consisted of a number of leather buckets and when no water was convenient, a line formed to the nearest well and these buckets put into use. Little is known of the history of the old company which Edward N. Shelton, Julius Hotchkiss, Ephraim Curtiss and Edmund Lewis started except that it was early housed in a barn owned by L.L. Loomer at the northwest corner of Third and Minerva Streets, where the stone building now stands built by Mr. Brush.

About the year 1844, however, Phelps, Dodge and company erected a hose house of stone for the growing company, close to the brick residence of Stephen N. Summers still standing on Caroline Street just south of the present fire house. This location was known in the early days of the village as "Reservoir Hill" from the round structure which was built there about 1836 and which served as a reservoir to supply water to the inhabitants of the village. Water was raised to it fifty feet from a well under the grist mill on the canal below on what is now Water Street. Springs and cisterns were located in a few other places later and water was piped by individuals from these. Just a few years ago one of the water "systems" was unearthed when the cable was laid by the telephone company some twenty-five feet down under Elizabeth Street. The late G. A. R. Commander Henry Spencer, and old time fireman of the village, identified the ancient culvert as a part of the early water system of his boyhood days. These were the agents employed by the old company to which the old pump engine was applied and from which protection was afforded against fire.

    Storms Organized 

In 1860 city water was introduced into the borough and the old engine gave way to the more modern two wheeled hand-propelled hose jumper. In 1851 a group of young businessmen of the borough (for the village of Birmingham became in 1846 a borough in the town of Derby), who were interested in a fire company but not quite in sympathy with the somewhat intemperate habits of certain of the members of the Birmingham Fire company, and anxious to have a total abstinence fire company in the borough, organized the Storm Engine company No. 2 and Professor Stevens, principal of the Birmingham public school became the first foreman of the new company. Members of the most prominent families of the borough flocked to this company and another pump engine was soon being pulled around the streets of Birmingham. The Storms company was chartered by the state September 14, 1853 and for many years they were associated with the "Latch-String" order which extended throughout the state and many fraternal visits were exchanged with the New Haven "Latch-Stringers".

    Name of Hotchkiss 

In 1861, Stephen N. Summers offered to build a hose house for the Birmingham fire company No. 1 north of the old stone house, which stood within a few feet of his Caroline Street residence, in exchange for the stone building. The offer was accepted and a one story wooden structure was duly erected on the site of the present Hotchkiss Hose headquarters. Here the city’s oldest fire company worked and such men as the following were on its roll: Lewis Hotchkiss, Fitch Smith, Edward Lewis, D. W. Plumb (donor of Shelton’s public library), John W. Osborne, Charles A. Sterling, the founder of the Sterling Piano company, T. G. Birdseye, Thomas Welch, Isaac Nathan, David Curtiss, Nelson Hinman, L.C. Colburn of Civil War fame, Edward N. Shelton, Peter Phelps, S. N. Summers, the donor of the property, G. W. Cheeseman, Sidney A. Downs, Edmund D. Beebe, Barney McDermott, L.C. Lewis, Dr. H.A. Nettleton, Sharon Bassett owner of the bolt shop, Orrin Lathrop, Oscar W. Cornish and others of the finest families of the borough. In 1872 through the efforts of Stephen G. Scott the company changed its name to the L. Hotchkiss Hose company, later dropping the initial and adopting simply the name Hotchkiss Hose company No. 1 in honor of Lewis Hotchkiss, petitioner, charter member and one time foreman of the old company.

Lewis Hotchkiss, born in old Derby in 1805, worked at the lumber and building business with his brother Willis. In 1834 they came to Birmingham and engaged in church, factory and house building, and were the principal founders of the old Derby Building & Lumber company. About the beginning of the rebellion, they exchanged their stock in the lumber business for 2,600 acres of timber land in Bathburn, N.Y. Operating there successfully they bought 800,000 acres nearly all pine timber in Canada. On this tract, Lewis who was the principal manager, erected two large saw-mills, one to run by steam and the other by water power. For six years he conducted a lumber trade with the states, very extensively and profitably. Aside from this Canada enterprise, Lewis Hotchkiss built and ran on his own responsibility a steamboat on Lake Georgian bay. In 1871 he sold this adventure to good advantage and also sold the land to Anson G. Phelps and Dodge and returned to Derby and continued in business under the name of W. & L. Hotchkiss. He was a practical, sound common sense man and with meagre opportunities in early life, he worked his way under many disadvantages to an enviable position in town. The name of Hotchkiss continues to honor the local fire company which has come up from the old No. 1 company through all these 93 years. When the name "Hotchkiss" was taken, "uncle" Sharon Bassett, maker of goode bolts, carriage bolts, and one time warden of the borough, was foreman of the fire company. Those who served with him include: F. Sanford, Charles H. Nettleton, C. H. Lillingstone, Clarence Cushman, Will Cushman, Charles Lowrie, Robert May, Henry W. DeForest, J. Costigan, M. Corcoran, James McCormick, Edward McCabe, James Cranston, Daniel H. Bacon, Charles Bunnell, George Summers, W. Stratton, A. Wagner, Joseph Taylor, George Arnold, Stephen G. Scott, Lorenzo Moses, George DeForest, also some of those mentioned earlier in this story.    

The "Hooks" 

On November 14th, 1874, the R. M. Bassett Hook and Ladder company was organized, and a hand-propelled ladder truck of heavy design was purchased and housed in a firehouse at the foot of Main Street hill near the causeway to old Derby and about the site of the Connecticut company’s present trolley barns. John J. Abbott was the first foreman of the Bassetts and the company, which was named for Royal M. Bassett, pioneer manufacturer, had a long and interesting history before it was disbanded about 15 years ago. The last used house was in the city hall building where the present police headquarters are to which the company moved from Main Street in 1890. The last used piece of apparatus, a horse drawn truck of ladders for which horses were supplied for many years by J.J. Flynn’s stables, brought across the green on the gallop when the alarm sounded for fire. Many still recall Foreman Schmidt of the old "Hooks" with his thunderous voice heard over the din at a fire shouting "Hooks midt der ladders, hurry oop."

Back in 1857 or about that year, Col. Elisha Kellogg of Civil War fame, became the first foreman of another fire company organized as the Pequot Fire company. To this company many of the young lads of the village rallied and with the death of the late G. A. R. commander, Henry Spencer, from whom these facts were gleaned, so far as is known, the last of the Pequot Fire company passed to the great beyond where the recall never sounds. Mr. Spencer could recall the days when in red and blue uniforms the Pequot fire brigade were envied by all. The ceremony was short lived, however, for the call to arms in 1861, practically every member had enlisted in the Union forces to quell the Rebellion in the southland and the company ceased to exist. After the war the Pequots became reorganized into a social club and were in existence for many years afterward holding annual hunting expeditions after the manner of the redskins for whom they were named and feasting in royal style after each kill.

In 1878 the Hotchkiss Hose company No. 1 offered to transfer their house to the borough in consideration that it should be enlarged and remodeled as the organization had outgrown it quarters. Up to this time the company had a state charter and operated independently, owning their house and all of their apparatus excepting a few feet of hose. This offer was accepted by the burgesses, the building was raised a story and an addition built on the rear, thus allowing the company for the first time in its history, a place to hold their meetings and socials as well as storage for their apparatus. In 1881 the company purchased a parade carriage which, with work afterwards done on it cost the company $1,200.

 

 

      Companies Consolidate 

In the year 1889, a petition was circulated by certain prominent business men of the borough and signed by many of its citizens, the purport of which was to consolidate the fire companies all into one fire department with one central headquarters and one set of officers thus to eliminate some of the expense of the department. This move was unfortunate as it nearly spelled the loss of the borough’s entire fire-fighting forces, for the majority of the firemen threatened to resign. However, a counter-petition signed by every fireman in the borough was sent to the legislature and the other petition was consequently defeated. An amusing side of this controversy was the talk of consolidating the fire and garbage departments, using the garbage horses to pull the fire truck and paid firemen to gather up the ashes about town. The head of the proposed new department was alluded to as the "Chief Garbage Collector" and the companies as the "Fire and Ash Box Combination".

Agitation was started as early as 1889 for a new fire house for the Hotchkiss Hose company which finally developed into rebuilding the old house in 1890. This time the house was moved out into Caroline Street, a new foundation laid, a cellar dug, the hose tower removed to the outside of the building making more room inside and an arrangement made whereby the hose could then be run through a hole in the sidewalk directly into the trough built in the cellar and thence up into the tower to dry. New floors were laid, the parlors were painted, new carpets put down and the furnishing made over and new furniture installed. This is the house that in 1924 was finally razed to make room for the present modern firehouse on Caroline Street. In these days there were three reserve hose houses located about town. One stood underneath the bell tower on Cottage Street, another at the corner of Smith and Ninth Streets and still another on Bank Street in East Derby.   

  Fire Alarm History 

Prior to 1887, alarms of fire were spread by cries of "fire" and the ringing of the church bells. A little bell located in the tower of the Iron and Steel works which stood about opposite the F. Hallock company store on lower Main Street also rang the call of fire and the firemen had to be guided by the shouts of the people and quite often the illumination of the flames against the sky, as they had no other way of knowing the exact location of the conflagration most of the time. The old Iron and Steel works bell will be remembered by many veteran firemen still living and it now reposes in the plant of the Peck, Stowe and Wilcox company in Southington. After much delay and mincing of matters among the borough officials concerning the installation of an electric fire alarm system, and after several disastrous fires had gotten off to a raging start through the difficulty of spreading the alarms sufficiently to get enough help to man the apparatus, and lay in the hose lines, a decision was finally reached. A special meeting of the warden and the burgesses was held in 1886 and the late Dr. A. W. Phillips then chairman of the committee on fire department matters, reported that permission had been obtained to connect the system with the bell in St James Episcopal church. It was not until 1887, however, that it was voted to install the Stevens system of electric fire alarm and to purchase a lot and erect a hose house and bell tower, the total cost not to exceed $3,000. An order was sent to the well known bell founders, M. McShane and company of Baltimore and Brooklyn, for a 3,000 pound bell. Work began on the tower and the first test alarm was sounded by the Cottage Street bell in 1887 to the complete satisfaction of Chief J.J. Abbott who was in a large measure responsible for the new improved system being obtained. This same bell today tolls off the alarm in connection with the modern Gamewell electric fire alarm system now in use.

There were about four boxes around the borough at the first installation of the electric system but it proved a great improvement over the old system of spreading alarms of fire. The Storm Engine company’s reserve hose cart was placed in the house underneath the bell tower. The reserve hose house in East Derby was known as the Hotchkiss hose reserve and the jumper it contained had been won by that company for skill and efficiency in handling that type of apparatus. The members of the company living in east Derby manned the jumper in case of fire on that side of the river and when, in 1896 it was presented to the borough by the company, a large parade was held and with red fire and a band, the apparatus drawn by these east side Hotchkiss men was placed in the Bank Street reserve hose amid great ceremony. The Hotchkiss hose were then in 1897 given a new jumper the cost of which was $125 - quite a contrast to the latest expenditure of $8,800 - by the city for the new Hotchkiss hose pumper. This new hose jumper was built by the Rumsey company of Senecca Falls, N.Y., for a juvenile fire brigade organized in connection with the Church of the Assumption in Ansonia for parade work and obtained from them by the city. On the roll of the Hotchkiss Hose company at about this time during the years just mention in the progress of the Derby fire department were E. E. Victory, Samuel Ballantyne, Frank V. Crofutt, Clark Nichols, Jos. May, J. Frank Terew, Marshal Atwater, Charles Beach, William Lamoureux, Frank A. Beach, Fred Athington, John Taylor, R. J. Patrick, Thomas W. Thomson, Edward Young, J. A. Schofield, Frank A. Kabisch, George F. Clark, C. B. Nettleton, Gustavus Lautz, John Young, R. A. Victory, Nicholas Mechtersheimer, F. T. Judd, C. Wernsman, W. Larkin, D. H. Hotchkiss, Walter A Stickney, A. S. Hoffman, E. Gould and Robert Fenn, John Osterhoudt, George E. Everetts and Abner Bunting, the last four named known as the tallest firemen in the department all appearing like giants. Many other prominent residents have at some time or other been connected with this old fire company, the borough’s first fire fighting unit. In 1899 the company was incorporated as the Hotchkiss Hose company No. 1 at Derby, Conn., recorded by Town Clerk Daniel E. McMahon and signed by Captain Chas. Beach.    

Paugassetts Organized 

In old Derby, on the east side of the Naugatuck river, the only piece of fire apparatus was that of the Hotchkiss reserves. Finally in 1904, after a lapse of 74 years, another fire company was organized in old Derby, the Paugassett Hose company. The company took its name from the Indian tribe that owned all of the land in the old town and from whom the first settlers of Derby purchased their grants of land. This name was for awhile the name applied to the village until settlers from Derby in old England made this their home and named it after their homeland. The Paugassett Hose company began with simply club rooms to meet in and used the apparatus of the Hotchkiss reserve when called to duty. William Leim was the Paugassetts’ first foreman and Samuel Sanford the second. A fire house was at length built for them and a hose jumper placed in it for their use. This they continued to manipulate efficiently until when about 15 years ago, the R. M. Bassett Hook and Ladder company disbanded, their old truck was made over into a motor hook and ladder truck and the company in east Derby became known as the Paugassett Hook and Ladder company, No. 4.    

Motor Equipment 

The first piece of motor equipment in the city, however, was obtained through the efforts of the members of the Hotchkiss Hose company, No. 1. In 1914 a Jeffrey chassis was purchased by the Hotchkiss company by subscription of funds solicited among its membership and the businessmen of the city. John J. Booth built on this a body, equipped it with chemical tank and all of the modern fire extinguishing apparatus of the day and in December, 1914, this motor chemical was put into service and was the pride of the city. This apparatus is still in active service as a reserve hose wagon and has rendered valuable aid especially in fighting brush fires where it is possible because of its light weight to take it over old wood roads and even into back yards to the scene of the fire.

Not long after this truck was put in service, a large and modern Seagrave pumper was purchased by the city for use of the Storm Engine company No. 2 and it still performs very efficiently as the apparatus of that company today. However this fire truck has served the city for about 14 years and will eventually have to be replaced by a more modern piece of equipment. The first motorized hook and ladder truck, the old Republic just described as made up for the Paugassett Hook and Ladder company, was put in service soon after this and the city was for the first time in its fire department history, fully modernized in it’s fire apparatus. The next step in the progress of the department took place but a few years ago when the new big combination hook and ladder truck and chemical was purchased from the Seagrave company for the Paugassetts.

In 1924 the old hose house of the Hotchkiss Hose company which was originally built in 1861, enlarged upon in 1878 and remodeled in 1890, was torn down and in its place a new modern brick building was erected for the headquarters of Derby’s oldest Fire company. Chas. Smith & Sons were the builders and the house, designed to meet all of the requirements of a modern fire house, was formally opened amid great festivities in March 1925.

The Hotchkiss Hose company again received recognition, when in 1929, a huge new Seagrave 600 special pumper of latest design and improvement was purchased by the city for its use. This new pumper was put into active service February 24th, last and is a welcome asset to the progress of the company. It answered its first alarm driven by Clarence H. Mallahan on the evening of March 7, when the old Hart homestead on Hawthorne Avenue was razed by fire.    

One Older Company 

It is believed that but one company still in existence in Connecticut holds claim to being older than the Hotchkiss Hose company of Derby and that is the Wethersfield Fire company of Wethersfield, Conn., which was organized in 1803 and bids fair to be the oldest fire company still in existence in the United States according to a survey recently made. On the 100th anniversary of the Derby fire department the Hotchkiss Hose company celebrate their 93rd year of existence which is a record to be proud of. Men who have served this ancient company as foreman or as captain as that office is now called include: Robert W. Gates, Oscar Cornish, Sharon Bassett, John Aspey, Stephen G. Scott, E. Beardsley, Orrin Lathrop, Lewis Hotchkiss, F. V. Crofutt, E. E. Victory, Clark Nichols, J. A. Schofield, Charles Beach, Samuel Ballantyne, George F. Clark, Charles Wernsman, Daniel McLaren, Alfred H. Kelty, W. L. Bradley, E. J. Strang, Edward M. Curtiss, Frank Stanton, Eugene M. Beach, Russell H. Pollard, Roger A. Bradley, Frederick C. Wernli and Walter Eugene Beach the present captain.

The older members have been succeeded by a band of energetic young men in whose hearts is a deep regard for their predecessors and who have a strong determination to keep the standard of the Derby fire department and the Hotchkiss Hose company to where it has been raised. The present personnel of the Hotchkiss Hoe company No. 1 is as follows: Captain, Walter E. Beach; first lieutenant, Walter H. DeForest; second lieutenant, James K. Martin; secretary, Eugene M. Beach; treasurer, Russell H. Pollard who is also the first assistant chief of the department; trustees, Fred C. Wernli, James K. Martin and William T. M. Hogg; steward, Fred Wernli; fire police, John B. Davidson, LeRoy Werneburgh, William Trischman; historian, Bertrand O. DeForest; drivers, chief driver and mechanic, Russell H. Pollard, Fred Wernli, LeRoy Werneburgh, E. M. Beach, Wm. Trischman, Clarence Mallahan, LeRoy Mallahan, Roger A. Bradley, George Christensen, Wm. T. M. Hogg, Albert McConney and Clarence Atwood; hosemen, Harold Butler, Fred G. Clark, Albert W. Coan, Wesley B. Coan, Judge Archibald Duffield, August J. Fascar, Charles A. Glazier, Arthur E. Hall, Chas. L. Johnson, William H. Longfellow, Charles E. Mallahan, William A. Wheeler and Warren E. Shea.

Thus reads the history to date of the Derby Fire Engine company, the parent of the Derby fire department, of 100 years' efficient service, and of the origin of the fire fighting forces in Birmingham which was the commencement of the Hotchkiss Hose company and its 93 years of achievement. And also the history of the beginning and development of the subsequent companies which were formed later as a result of this organization. Today the city of Derby looks with pride upon its volunteer fire department, one of the best in New England. The Hotchkiss Hose company No. 1, the Storm Engine company No. 2 which has had a long and enviable record as a fire fighting unit and the Paugassett Hook and Ladder company No. 4 the youngest company in the city, all are constituted of a group of young men who are loyal and who are giving freely of their services to the city with no recompense and with an efficiency that is hard to equal. Long live the old department and may it be wished many "happy returns of the day".
Months of research have been spent by the writer in the compilation of this historical sketch and reference to the state and city records have been frequently made in an effort to make it an authentic history. The State Librarian Mr. Goddard, the Secretary of State Mr. Higgins, Town Clerk Edw. R. Bergin, Historian Henry M. Bradley, Jr., Charles Z. Morse, Lorenzo Moses, F. V. (Brad) Crofutt, Samuel Ballantyne, Frank H. Gates, E. M. Beach, Miss Ada Shelton, Thomas W. Thomson, Samuel Sanford, George P. Sullivan, F. J. Reilly, Chas. Hart, W. H. DeForest, and others have been appealed to for aid in getting at the facts and to these the writer is greatly obligated. as written - Evening Sentinel - April 1, 1930   

                                                                        backboxani.gif (4578 bytes)