• The History of Westbrook Chemical Engine Company No. 1

  • In May of 1920 a few businessmen in the town of Westbrook met in the Selectmen’s office at the Town Hall for the purpose of organizing an association whose objective would be to promote and assist in forwarding the best interests of the town. The association consisted of Selectman Alfred L. Burdick, H. M. Baldwin, James H. Stannard, and A. C. Knothe, and it organized committees to solicit funds resulting in a fire department being created. At this time the Westbrook Fire Department consisted of 20 members with Stanley Griswold as Foreman. Other charter members were Charles M. Brainard, Charles A. Bushnell, Fred S. Bushness, Eddie Bleischner, Charles C. Clark, Robert D. Chapman, Henry Dee, John W. Doane, Sr., John A. Heissler, Paul H. Hoxsie, Arthur S. Jones, Oscar L. Manstan, William Mulcair, William Neidlinger, Francis C. Palm, Gilbert H. Spencer, Robert W. Trerice, Carl F. Veeser, and Thomas E. Wind.

    Almost 30 years later the Board of Fire Commissioners was formed on January 22, 1949, which contained 5 members. Westbrook’s First Selectman and the Fire Chief automatically comprised 2 of the spots and town residents elected the other 3 positions. In 1980 Valley Shore Emergency Communications was also created to provide 911 services and emergency coordination in the southern Middlesex County area.

    Captain Patrick Murphy started the Smoke Detector Program in 1986 with money from CBT and the Westbrook Fire Department. The detectors, which were purchased at cost from ABC Hardware, were passed out to the children in Westbrook public schools in grades 3 through 6 during the Program’s first year as part of the Fire Prevention Program given by Westbrook Fire Department volunteers. Every year since then 3rd graders are given smoke detectors to be placed in their bedrooms at home, and to date, over 1,200 detectors have been handed out. Annually, a Fire Prevention Program is presented to approximately 700 children, pre-school through 6th grade ages, via demonstrations and discussions over a 3-week period of education.

    1986 was an active year for community involvement for the Westbrook Fire Department. The Westbrook High School girls’ basketball team was treated to a pizza party by the firehouse after winning its fifth straight State Championship. A total of 96 pizzas were purchased and every team member received their own, each individually decorated with the players’ names and jersey numbers. Westbrook Chemical Engine Company No. 1 has always been supportive of the community, and has been hosting an annual Halloween party for the children of Westbrook for years that includes food and prizes for 250-500 youngsters. The Department also sponsors two academic scholarships: the Mark B. Holbrook and Westbrook Chemical Engine Company funds.

    Westbrook Fire Department responds to approximately 750 calls each year: 60% medical emergencies, 40% fires, motor vehicle incidences, hazardous materials events, false alarms, and other calls. The Company’s 63 members continue to train, study, and work hard to improve their skills to better serve the community with the best of their abilities, and this is a brief history.

  • Firehouse

  • 1920 ~ A room at Knothes Factory in Westbrook was used as the first fire headquarters.

    1931 ~ The Fire Department purchased land and buildings from C. M. Post, which was a restaurant at the time, located at the corner of East Main Street and Spencer Avenue. Chief Griswold, Assistant Chiefs Bushnell and Manstan, and Secretary/Treasurer Jones signed the sale agreement. This establishment was renovated to house 2 fire trucks and a siren was eventually mounted on the building.

    1936 ~ Westbrook Fire Department grew to 30 members and the firehouse was taken over by the town.

    1943 ~ Negotiations took place with architect Robert Carter for the design of a new firehouse, resulting in the building of today’s firehouse, which was completed on South Main Street for $65,000 in 1948. The first floor of this building had 4 large stalls for housing fire trucks. The second floor contained a large meeting room, restroom, kitchen, and Chief’s office. The boiler room and alarm system room were in a separate annex building. During construction of the new fire headquarters Chief Mark Holbrook was killed while assisting with clearing of the land. The building was, and is, dedicated to his memory.

    1977 ~ Renovations began on the firehouse, including the additions of a double-bay garage, mechanic’s work area, dispatch room, storage area, and office & conference room facilities above the existing boiler room. The project was supervised under the leadership of the Lester Scott, Chairman of the Building Committee.

  • Engines & Equipment

  • Engines & Equipment

    1921 ~ A Model T. Ford was purchased using contributions made by citizens of the community, costing $1,500. The apparatus housed two 30-gallon chemical tanks and used a ¾-inch booster line, which was kept in a wire basket mounted above the chemical tanks.

    1925 ~ A Maxim pumper was purchased by the town from Maxim Motor Co. This truck had a 750-gallon Northern Rotary Pump and was capable of carrying 1,000 feet of 2 ½-inch house and 70 gallons of water, with 500 feet of ¾-inch booster hose on a reel that was mounted at the rear of the truck. The Pumper remained in service until it broke a crankshaft in 1955 and was sold for junk.

    1942 ~ A Maxim 750-gallon pumper was purchased by the town of Westbrook. This pumper carried 300 gallons of water, a hose reel with 500 feet of ¾-inch booster hose, 750 feet of 1 ½-inch hose, and 1,200 feet of 2 ½-inch hose. Also in 1942 Katherine Prentiss Murphy donated a Lincoln car to the Fire Department that was converted into a hose truck to replace the Model T. Ford.

    1950 ~ Radio communications were installed, including a base station and mobile units in the fire trucks and Chiefs’ cars. Plectrons were also placed in the homes of firemen, who received signals and announcements for fires and their locations, making emergency responses quicker and more efficient.

    1955 ~ A Reo truck chassis with a 225-horse power V8 motor was bought from the Farrar Company of Massachusetts. This truck was equipped with a 750-gallon American-Marsh, 4-stage, centrifugal pump, and a booster tank holding 600 gallons of water, as well as 2 hose reels. Each hose reel carried 250 feet of ¾-inch booster hose, 750 feet of 1 ½-inch hose, and 1,200 feet of 2 ½-inch hose.

    1975 ~ The first Jaws-of-Life was purchased and funded by the Westbrook Fire Department, Westbrook Ambulance Association, and the Town of Westbrook. Westbrook was the first town in Connecticut to own this apparatus and therefore called to aid several neighboring towns during emergencies.

    1976 ~ A two-channel radio system was initiated for Westbrook: one for ground fire and the other for dispatch & administration.

    1977 ~ A truck committee was appointed to develop a new pumper capable of providing innovative fire-fighting capabilities as well as the ability to provide foam dispensing for hazardous material incidents. The result of this committee’s efforts was the construction of one of the largest pumpers ever built by Mack Trucks, Engine 467, which is still a primary piece of equipment utilized today.

    1982 ~ In August the Westbrook Fire Department acquired a new truck that became Engine 488, the Department’s brush truck. This purchase was made without the use of any town funds.

    1987 ~ Westbrook Fire Department changed from a one-truck house to two when it bought Engine 499, a GMC Suburban used for oxygen/medical calls and as a backup to large rescues. In November the Westbrook firehouse also took ownership of truck 494, a Heavy Duty Rescuer that carried most of the fire-fighting extrication equipment. This truck was set up to be a command center for major fires or emergency situations.

    1988 ~ Edward Wininger, a second-generation Westbrook Fire Department volunteer and Captain at the Groton Submarine Base Fire Department, suggested to Chief Tony Palermo that the Department research into a newer concept in protective fire gear. After some consideration, Chief Palermo implemented a program to outfit the entire Department over a 3 to 4-year period. The same style of suit is still being worn today.

    1989 ~ Ralph Buck, a Lieutenant in the Department, investigated and discovered the Interspiro Air Pack, one of the first devices with a built-in microphone that was plugged into existing portable radios. This system enabled officers and firefighters to communicate more clearly and effectively when air packs were in use, and is still actively used today.

    1992 ~ Engine 466 was purchased. This truck was the last CF Mack Cab to be produced and possessed a 1,250-gallon per minute pumper with a 750-gallon tank and 2,000 feet of 5-inch hose. At around this same time, the Department completed purchasing 5-inch hose and currently owns 4,200 feet of it. The Department also finished the upgrade of SCBA for 4.5 units with a special appropriation by the Town of Westbrook to buy 16 Scott 4.5 SCBAs. Lastly, a 42-Z, a 14-foot inflatable Zodiac boat, was acquired to facilitate inland and coastal water rescues.

    1993 ~ A 14-foot red Wells Fargo trailer was obtained and placed into service for the Department’s hazardous materials spill response system, and to assist the Valley Shore Mutual Aid Hazmat Team in their work.

  • Emergency Responses

  • 1982 ~ In June Westbrook received 12-14 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. There was extensive damage throughout the area: roads were washed out, bridges were unusable, and utilities were down. The Fire Department operated for 14 hours with only part of its volunteer base, since 29 of the others were away in Laconia, New Hampshire at Fire School, including 7 of 9 officers. In a 4-hour period, there were 3 structure fires, 3-4 motor vehicle accidents, a bridge out on Andre Drive, and 6 medical calls. Roads and bridges that became impassable were marked on a town map so routes could be carefully planned, ensuring that firefighters and their equipment could reach each of the calls. Mutual aid was not an option since all of the area towns were in the same condition. There were many acts of heroism during the recovery from this storm, including those of Lester Scott and Linda DeSario who were honored by Firehouse Magazine for rescuing 3 people from a stream at Spindrift Farm.

    1985 ~ Hurricane Gloria hit Westbrook as a Category 1 storm and many parts of the town went without electricity for a week. During the height of the storm Engine 488, the brush truck, which was returning to the firehouse after responding to calls, was unable to return because of downed trees. Westbrook also experienced its first Life Star call that year because of a motor vehicle accident on I-95. Lastly in 1985 a double-horse trailer rolled over on I-95 and both horses were safely removed from it, able to walk away unharmed due to the efforts of the Westbrook Fire Department.

    1987 ~ Two young girls were rescued from an ice-covered pond on Salt Island Road on February 20. Captain Patrick Murphy was the first to arrive with his son, Pat, Jr., who secured a rope to a tree so that his father and State Trooper Rich Wardell could enter the icy water and successfully save the first girl. The second girl was discovered and saved after falling under 6-feet of water by firefighter Mark Hoberman, with the help of State Troopers Joe Sudol and Scott Martin, and Old Saybrook firefighter Richard Benak. The girls were then taken to the Shoreline Clinic, and Patrick Murphy was awarded a bravery citation from the Connecticut State Police. He was also presented with a life-saving award from the Connecticut Fireman’s Association, and the story was published in Reader’s Digest.

    1988 ~ A fire at Bassett’s Boat was accidentally started by a welder’s torch against a stack of 4 boats that the Westbrook Fire Department was called to put out. That same year the ductwork in the Elks Club kitchen caught on fire. Upon arrival to the scene Westbrook firefighters realized the fire had extended beyond the kitchen to the second floor and attic. Because of their quick response and skillful work, the fire was extinguished and the building was saved.

    1990 ~ Westbrook firefighters were called to action on April 16 when a tractor trailer truck was stopped by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles on I-95 in front of the State Police barracks under suspicion of propane seepage. After investigating, it was determined that 33 of the trucks propane tanks had been leaking. On October 4, the Westbrook Fire Department again answered a call for a major structure fire in which the Boy Scout Hall and Academy Building were fully engulfed in flames. Nine days later the Department was called to the Lee Company, one of the largest employers in Westbrook, who had a large fire in their oil separator room. Five area towns responded to this mutual aid call, including the Groton Submarine Base HAZMAT Team and the Department of Environmental Protection.

    1992 ~ The Annual Fireman’s Banquet was delayed because earlier in the evening a fully involved mobile home with entrapment was toned out. The lone occupant was safe and uninjured while the home was destroyed. The Banquet resumed after the Westbrook firefighters extinguished the inferno.

    1994 ~ On July 31 a structure fire began at the Westbrook Hunt Club. Westbrook Fire Department responded within 3 minutes and 24 of the Club’s 32 horses were rescued from the blaze. That same year the West Wing Tack Shop and a 2-story home within 6-feet of it were saved from flames. Over 530,000 gallons of water flowed through a 5-inch hose lay: an estimated 203,000 gallons came from a tanker shuttle, 25,000 gallons from the Westbrook High School hydrant, and 327,000 gallons from Hallihan’s pond. The Hunt Club’s fire pond was exhausted in less than 5 minutes. Over 100 firefighters from 10 departments and approximately 20 pieces of apparatus responded to the mutual aid call. The fire was declared extinguished by 2 a.m. and a number of firemen were on fire-watch throughout the next day. In December a winter storm downed several power lines around Westbrook and caused side-by-side basement fires on East Pond Meadow Road. Each home had a one-engine response, and a third Department pumper became trapped in the downed lines. Mutual aid could not get through to assist in the efforts, and both structures only received light to moderate damage because of the skillfulness of Westbrook’s firemen.

    1995 ~ In February Leon’s Pizza Restaurant caught on fire on the coldest night of that year, beginning at 11:30 p.m. Fire crews were forced to abandon the initial attack to search for occupants on the 2nd floor, who were mistakenly reported to be trapped. The frigid temperatures and accumulation of ice on themselves and the equipment further hindered firefighters. Also in 1995 the Westbrook Fire Department helped a horse from a difficult situation when it became stuck in a hole on a trail ride.