The History of the Town of Somers, CT Fire Department
Written by Chief William Meier, Jr (2000-2008)
With Technical assistance by Honorary members Harold Eastwood and Harold Pease, and member Pat Loftus.
As the Great Depression was ending, and the events in Europe were leading to a second Great War, the agricultural community of Somers, CT was beginning to grow. Gone was the trolley car to Enfield and Springfield, MA and the dirt roads of the past. Somers, like the rest of Connecticut, was growing and modernizing. The old ways needed to change, and more and more, Somers needed to provide facilities and schools to serve the influx of people from the cities.
One of those needs was their own fire department. Before 1937, Somers relied on neighboring towns to provide fire service. Being closer to Hartford, these Towns had already begun the steps to become more self-sufficient.
During the winter of 1937, a small group of Townsmen gathered to form a Volunteer Fire Department. They had no facilities or equipment. A resident, Fred Thresher, agreed to let them use the upstairs meeting room of his pool hall, located adjacent to 600 Main Street. Known as Mechanics Hall, soon a sign would be mounted on the upper floor of the building labeling it as Fireman’s Hall
Arthur Keery was elected the first Fire Chief. A short time later, a fire commission that consisted of T.J. Hurlburt, Malcolm Keery and F.J Worthington was appointed. (Family names that would long provide their time and energy to the Fire Service of the Town)
The Town was now in need of a Fire Truck and Fire House. In 1938, the Town contracted with the Farrar Body Company to build an open cab 1937 Ford at a cost of $4500.00, with the Women’s Club donating $500 toward its purchase. The 1938 Town report grants a total of $4058.59 for the truck, hose, town maps ($1.80), pails, insurance, badges, gas and storage. It also showed a total of $1,919,64 in Fire Fund revenue.
A single car Trolley ran in Town from 1900 to 1925 along a track in the center of RT 190 starting at the Desso Creamery at 20 South Rd westward to Enfield.
When the truck arrived and was put into service, it was housed in a single vehicle garage building next to the then Chrysler Plymouth building. That building still stands as Barns Package store at 25 South Road. This would continue to be the home of the truck until a new dedicated Fire Station would be built in 1956.
The newly established fire department needed a way to notify its members when a need for their services was requested. From the early days until 1940 or so, when a fire call came in, members and other Town individuals honked their car horns and drove around Town and to member’s farms to alert members. They would even pick up able body men found along the way to help.
(An interesting side note, the expenses of the town for that year showed a sum of $7,144.54 designated for the “support of the poor”, a significant amount for a Town with a total budget of $26,694.21.)
By 1939, the interest and operations of the Fire Department had increased dramatically. They held regular meetings on the second Monday of each month at 7:45 at the Kibbe-Fuller School. They had elected a President, VP and other organizational officers. There also was a new Chief, Fred J. Worthington. They responded to 11 calls that year, included several brush and building fires. “Frequent” fire drills were held. Also, notable this year was their joining of the “Tolland & Windham Counties Fireman’s Association”. The people of the town showed their support by attending the second Annual Fireman’s Ball in April and supporting the Fire Department refreshment stand at the Union Agricultural Society Fair. Proceeds from the annual Ball were used to buy a Fire Alarm siren for the center of town.
A new applicant to the Department would typically wait several years to be admitted to membership as there was a 50-person maximum and a substantial waiting list. When your name came to the top of the list, you had to pay your 25 cents dues, and then you were voted in as a regular member that evening. You were also measured for a jacket and whatever firefighting gear they had, all in that same first evening. (The 25 cent dues were continued well into the mid-1980’s.)
(A total of $24 was received for the sale of Cemetery Lots in 1939)
Calls doubled as we went into the 1940’s to 21. There were 6 building fires, 5 grass fires, and 10 chimney fires. The siren in the middle of town was installed, and the Department bought and reconditioned the top floor of the previously mentioned pool hall) for the members to use as a club room. Sometime in the middle 1940’s, that second floor was removed and relocated to 11 South Road. The Chief asked the Town residents not to call out the department for grass fires, unless there was immediate danger of a building getting caught on fire. The State appoints men in each area of town to fight grass and bush fires. If necessary, they will call the fire department.
The Town budget for Fire Protection in 1940-41 was $200.00.
There were 8 cases of Scarlet fever, three of TB and five of Whooping cough in Town that same year.
Throughout the years 1941 thru 1946, the people were occupied by the great WWII, and the Somers Volunteer Fire Department remained status quo. By 1949, the Fire Protection portion of the town budget raised to $650.00.
After the war, the GI Bill gave low interest money to Veterans to buy homes. The BABY BOOMER Generation was well underway. Due to this accelerated growth, in 1952, the Fire Department has recommended and justified to the Town the need for a dedicated Fire House and a new Truck. The timing of this request couldn’t be better as the Town had just experienced a budget surplus of approximately $55,000. The Town commissioned a study by their citizens to review this matter thoroughly. The expenses of the Fire Department remained at $650.00
Maple Ridge Drive was the first new street in Town after WWII. Prior to the war, streets were named for where they lead, or for who lived on it. After the War, streets were named by developers to describe the interesting features of the Town.
(Police expense for 1952 was $21.00)
On January 5th, 1955, the Planning Commission met with the Fire House Building Committee to discuss the requirements and location of a new station. Plans were made to add an additional 2 bays to the existing location on South Rd, but when the Cemetery Committee offered land at 451 Main Street, it sealed plans for where the station would ultimately be built.
John Lonesky was the Owner of the Dealership and a member of the Fire Department. He almost always drove the truck to calls, said to be always wearing his baseball cap and light jacket, even thru the coldest months of winter.
Alden Avery had become Chief, and the total calls for the Department had increased to 20. Those were 1 chimney fire, 1 Oven fire, 6 Building and 1 car fire along with 11 Grass and brush fires. The fire protection costs of the Town grew to $1533,74.
Also, in 1955, a 2-way radio was installed in the fire truck. (the 1937, now called the 51 truck) This allowed for radio communication with the base station at the Tolland County jail. In addition, this year, on August 19 was the date of the beginning of the great flood of 1955. The department was called to service in many ways to help the residence of Tolland County.
(With the rapid growth of the Town continuing to be projected, the Planning Commission was also involved with needs for a new Senior/Junior High School which would be completed in 1961)
1956 was a big year for the Department. Although it had only 20 total calls, the new Fire House was dedicated on August 26, which included two bays and a meeting room. The total cost was less than $10,000 as members of the department and general public contributed many hours of time along with their skills to get the work done. The meeting room had ceiling and floor tiles. A parade, which featured surrounding fire departments, was held that evening and said to be well attended.
Just a month before, the Town took possession of its second fire vehicle, a 1956 Ford. This truck carried 500 gallons of water and had a 500 gpm front end pump, a substantial upgrade from their only existing truck. The truck came equipped with the latest and most modern hoses and equipment. Purchased from the Farrar Company of Woodville, MA, the vehicle costs $10, 500.00, of which the Department contributed $4,500.00. By now, 2-way radios are in all the trucks and the Chief’s car.
A new telephone alarm system was installed in the Fire House and the homes of four (4) town residents. It began operation the last week in August. Going forward, this should work as an efficient emergency alarm system in town.
The Somers Lions Club donated an Emerson resuscitator to the town/department. It was used at one call that year and worked well. Fire drills have been held periodically throughout the year, including active participation with Civil Defense affairs throughout the County.
The new resuscitator donated previously, worked well for a call at the Somers Inn in 1957. The department saw a large increase in the number of emergency calls to 50. Better than half were grass and bush fires due to an extended drought. The Fire Chief asked everyone in Town, and out of town too, to try a little harder to prevent fires “so we can cut down expenses and have a better record.” The total fire department budget was again about $1500.00
In 1957, the Women’s auxiliary was organized and has helped the FD a great deal. From their fund-raising efforts, they were able to purchase and give to the FD an electric Hot Water heater and a seventy-two-cup coffee percolator.
The year 1958 was another significant year for the Department. For the first time, the Department and Town talked (February minutes of SVFD) about acquiring an ambulance. It would be purchased by the Somers Lions Club in 1959. The department also talked about having members trained in various rescue techniques, in order to form a rescue team. In all, 8 firemen took a 16-hour light rescue class at the CT Fireman’s training school in Willimantic, and later that year, 7 would continue with a Heavy rescue class at the same location. All paid for the classes themselves.
Also, in 1958, the 1937 Ford truck needed some repair and improvements. The work was performed by James Eastwood at Willard Pinney’s garage, and after the work was complete, was said to be “a good truck for its age”. (20 years).
(To be noted that former Chief Lawrence McCann passed away in July of this year)
Chief Alden Avery’s work as Chief was still not done. Aside from the Fire Department becoming incorporated in 1958-9, a rescue crew was formed. The Department, from its treasury, purchased a 1959 Dodge Van for $200 from member Richard Navakonis. The vehicle was to be used as the Department’s first rescue truck. It needs to be fixed up and painted, but soon would carry rescue equipment, a portable generator, protective gear, and other special equipment. It was parked at the station, cross-ways in the bays behind the fire trucks.
Call Volume averaged around 20 calls a year thru the late 1950s, with the number jumping to 35 in 1959. Grass and brush fires were over half of the calls. In 1959, there were no calls for the resuscitator. One of the large, more notable fires in Town history was the Piedmont Mansion fire on February 25, 1957. Located at 735 Main Street the mansion was built in 1882 on the working farm of Henry Kibbe. After the house was sold, it became known as the Somers Inn. (The building currently known as the Somers Inn at the corner of RT 190 Main Street and RT 83 Springfield RD, was known at this time as the Homestead Inn)
The Somers Lion’s Club was instrumental in the purchase and operation of the previously mentioned Ambulance, a new Cadillac. Once delivered, since it was not part of the Fire Department, it was parked in a garage at the old creamy Building at 20 South Road. (At the time owned by the Desso Family) The service was started on February 10, 1959 and was called the Somers Emergency Ambulance Service. The service was free to the residents of Somers, but donations were encouraged and accepted. An intense training program was provided by the American Red Cross, and those that received certificated were certified as “Ambulance men” Joseph Kulas was their first president, along with Raymond Hardy as Secretary and William Goodwin as Treasurer.
As the 1960’s began, the Somers FD Spring Chicken BBQ had been well attended by residents of the Town for the last several years. (Started mid-1950’s) Held annually in the Spring behind Town Hall, Members recall hauling cement blocks from the fire station to set up the many cooking racks. UCONN Professor Jones was the first cook and had the secret recipe that kept people coming back for more. In addition, another secret recipe for cookies was used to sell hundreds and hundreds of them. There was a traffic jam around town hall all day, and it got so bad that members began delivering meals and treats throughout the town. Plans are in the works to have the biggest one yet in the Spring of 1962.
Still averaging around 20 calls a year, the annual fire protection budget has risen to $3,025.
The department also purchased a 2300- gallon Tanker. It had proved particularly handy with the large number of sizable grass and bush fires recently. Not having enough room to house it at the Fire Station, arrangements were made to rent space at the old Desso Creamery. Plans have begun to add additional truck bays to the existing fire house.
As 1964 was ending, a four (4) bay extension was competed on the existing firehouse for a total of the current six (6). The fleet now contained a 1937 ford pumper, a 1956 ford pumper, a 1953 Dodge 2300-gal Tanker, a 1959 Dodge Van light rescue and a 1959 Cadillac Ambulance.
Call volume rose to 65 in 1964 and 105 in 1965.Members attended a 40-hour class on firefighting, with more than half receiving a certificate. With the increase in call volume, a new 10 hp siren, giving complete coverage to the Town, had been installed in the Fire House.
From a picture in the 1964 Town Report, it appears someone is trying to develop Rattlesnake Mountain into a ski resort.
1965 brought a special honor to one of our fire fighters. In December. 1964 Daniel Glogowski received the Fireman of the Month Award in the State of Connecticut for saving the life of Eric Greenlund who was drowning in an irrigation pond. He then automatically became eligible for the State’s fireman of the year award to be presented later that year.
Also, during this year, the people of Somers donated the funding to buy a used, but larger, Emergency rescue truck. The truck was a 1955 Chevy with a closed body and side compartments, and was purchased from the Deep River Fire Department
Having a passenger seat for a rider, the truck was a real step up from the previous rescue vehicle. No more riding in the box! It was much needed and went into service almost immediately.
The Fire/rescue emergency call number during this period was 749-8900.
The last few years, a Fire Police unit was organized and trained as part of the Fire Department. With the rapidly increasing number of calls, roads and people in the Town, the assistance of the fire police at calls has been immeasurable.
In late fall of 1966, the Department took ownership of a new 1967 Ford 750 gpm fire truck. By holding 1250 gallons of water in its tank, the vehicle will deliver “The Big Punch “for initial fire attacks.
In the Spring of 1967, the Lion’s Club turned the operation of the Ambulance over to the Town. The Lion’s Club ran the Ambulance from 1959 to 1967. Their call volume increased from 24 calls the first year, to nearly 90 calls in 1967.
In March 1968, the Fire Department was asked by the Town to take responsibility for running the ambulance, which made sense since many of its members served in the Fire Department. It also was reportedly done to “get full insurance benefits and the use of our Fire Department mutual aid radio system”. Raymond Hardy was the first Chairman of the newly formed Ambulance Division of the Somers Volunteer Fire Department.
In October of 1968, a new Ambulance was put into service. The help of the Somers Rotary and other town businesses were fundamental in raising the funds. Having its first new ambulance, the operating cost went from $500.00 to $350.00 per year.
It was specially mentioned that year by the Ambulance Chair, that since there were so many new streets and houses with NO house numbers, callers requesting emergency services need to be very EXACT with their directions, and to put on outside lights. Additionally, the residents of Town were reminded this Ambulance is for emergencies, and not merely a ride to the hospital for routine appointments.
Chief Vic Worthington mentioned in 1969 that the new Tolland County Mutual aid Headquarters building had been up and running for about one year, replacing the old headquarters located in the jail. It will be manned 24/7.
Formed during WW2, in 1969, with the closing of the Somersville Mill, The Somersville Fire Department was disbanded, and its responsibilities to fight fires at the Somersvilles Mill properties were assumed by the Town of Somers Volunteer Fire Department. With one GMC pumper, housed in the garage at the Mill Office on the corner of Maple and School street, the cost of fire protection for the Somerville Department was paid wholly by the Mill. Lloyd Hunt was the Chief of that Department for most of its existence. Both Departments worked well with each other, helping each other with larger calls. After being disbanded, their pumper was sold to the Union Fire District.
With the onset of the 1970’s, most of our trucks were getting old and tired. As with most years, money was in short supply. The decision was made to purchase a newer cab and chassis for the 1953 Dodge tanker. The new chassis was also a Dodge, but now had a twin rear axle. Not having a truck mounted pump on either Tanker, an irrigation pump was used to transfer water to the other trucks.
1972 was an important year for the Department. On March 17, 1972, a little girl was playing with her brother at a stream culvert on lower Maple Street in Somersville when she fell in and was swept thru the culvert to the other side. Her brother ran to a house to call the Fire Department/Ambulance. Fireman Harold Eastwood and Wolf Schlissel were among the first to arrive. The girl was still in the cold water, under brush. Mr. Eastwood and Chief Harold Worthington, refusing to believe the girl had succumb to the traumatic event, administrated prolonged mouth to mouth resuscitation. The girl was then transported to the hospital where she recovered from her injuries. For his heroic efforts to find and revive the child, Firefighter Eastwood was the 1972 “volunteer” recipient of the Connecticut Firefighter’s Association, “Citation for Meritorious Service” presented at their annual convention at Wethersfield in September. (There was one other recipient for a “Paid” firefighter) There is a picture of Mr. Eastwood with Chief Worthington and approximately 50 members of the Department outside the Fire House in their Class B uniforms showing the triangular orange Department patch.
Also, in 1972, an Explorer Post in Fire, Search and Rescue. was started by the department that consisted of “boys” between the ages of 14 and 18. The organization was affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America and would later be changed to a “Squad 2 Program” that was administered solely by the department. (in 2015, the program would be renamed “cadets”)
Finally starting in that year, the County put into use the new Tone Alert System which allowed County Dispatch to send a signal or Tone to individual voice message alerts in the fire member’s home. The system took many months to initiate, not being fully operational until mid- 1973.
All Ambulance members have either an advanced Red Cross First Aid Certificate, or the State’s new Emergency Medical Technician Certificate. There were 149 emergency calls during the physical year 1973-74, about 3 calls a week. With a budget of $1265, it divides out to approximately $10.00 per call.
It was still a problem into the 70’s of people, when needing emergency services, to call a fireman’s house direct, and not call the established emergency number. (749-8900)
With call volume rising to over 125 calls a year, the mid-1970’s brought 2 new trucks to the department. The first, late 1974, was a new, larger rescue truck containing modern equipment like a 7500 watt generator, and the Hurst Tool referred to as the “Jaws of Life” It was to have a 1974 International Chassis and would be painted lime green for distinction and better visibility. The new truck and equipment, now among the best in the state, would require many hours of the volunteer’s time for training and equipment repair and upkeep. Chief Harold Worthington commented that the State Police consider us a very fine all-around Rescue Unit.
The Department’s original fire truck, the 1937 Ford, was taken out of active service in 1974 after 36 years of service. It remained with the Department for historical reasons.
Ironically, the 1975-76 fiscal year saw a sharp uptick of auto accidents. Of the 144 call this year, 32 involved automobiles. Grass and brush fires were always at least a third of total calls.
The 1956 Ford pumper was getting old and tired. It needed to be refurbished or replaced. In 1975, the Town contracted with Sanford & Sons Fire Apparatus in Syracuse, NY for a midship,1000 gpm pumper that carried 1000 gallons of water in its tank. Delivered in 1976, the truck would prove to be difficult to shift, allowing only certain members with that ability to drive the truck successfully.
There were 42 Births, 78 Marriages and 44 deaths recorded within the Town of Somers, CT in 1974.
Between 1974 and 1976, a 2 -bay, stand -alone addition was built about 50 feet behind the main Fire House.
The social side of the membership was always in need of fund-raising. 1976 was the nation’s Bicentennial, and what better way to celebrate such an event, but with a parade, carnival and fireworks. The list of the events for the gathering included income from rides. food, Bingo, a raffle, a Cake Booth, and activities such as Milk Can, Large Plush, Toss Game, Housewares, fun and games, Roll ‘em down and High Striker. They had a celebratory parade and Fireworks that evening paid for by the Town, Total revenue for the event was $ 10,280. 98. Total expense was $10, 164.61 for a net revenue of $ 116.87. I believe that was the one and only carnival the Department sponsored and organized.
In 1976, the balance in the checking account of the Department, after proceeds of the Carnival were added, was $2043.08
1977 saw a new generator installed in the fire house, which gave us the ability to use the fire house and radios in case of a power failure. Within the first year after installation, it was used seven (7) times.
As oil prices continue to rise, the residents of the town are burning in their fireplaces more, resulting in more chimney and structure fires this year.
During this period, members of the fire and ambulance have been taking advantage of the training classes for EMT and CPR which are now offered locally.
The Constitution and bylaws of the Somers CT Volunteer Fire Department mandated members to retire at age 55. It wasn’t until circa 1990 that a mandatory retirement age was eliminated.
The end of the seventies saw the Town of Somers, CT continue to grow along with the need for a more upscale and diverse emergency services team. The Department had 52 drills in 1980, but there were still no fire hydrants in Town. As older trucks were getting tired and worn out, the Town decided to purchase two new trucks that would help the fire Department immensely. The first was a 1980 5- star General 1000, 1000 gpm, 3000- gal tanker. (This truck would be replaced in 2015) The second was a gasoline powered 4-wheel drive brush truck on an International Harvester Chassis.
So, as 1982 rolled in, the Department was in pretty good shape and moving forward with new benefits for the members and community. The Department consisted of 49 Firefighters, and six-line officers. The Town created a $1 per call reimbursement for members to help with the rising gas prices. Fire Prevention classes started in the elementary schools. New energy saving insulation and siding were installed on the fire house. A new fire alarm system was also installed. But perhaps the most exciting and memorable event of 1982 was our first female fire-fighter, Lisa Shelanskas.
The ambulance division was also doing well. Francis C “Chuck” Parrett was the Chairman. They responded to 276 emergency calls with their 27 EMTs, 3 MRTs, and 3 nurses. They responded in their 1977 Dodge Van. They were able to install 2- way radio systems with TN in the Chairman’s and Co-Chairman’s vehicle along with that of the training Director’s vehicle. Also, in 1982, the Ambulance Division built a new Emergency Services building at the Four-Town Fair Grounds.
With all the good happening, a warning was issued to the selectman that we would soon be needing daytime coverage for the Ambulance, as our two longtime EMT’s Len and Phyllis Hocking, would soon be retiring.
1986 marked several new landmark “high” points for the Department. A new nationwide “911” call in number would “potentially” replace the many local numbers in service. The easy to remember number would provide immediate phone contact with the local Dispatch center, which in turn would dispatch necessary emergency services. Also, the Department’s new “Box Style” ambulance, mounted on a Ford chassis, was received early this year. The “Box style” provided much more room than the old – style vans, allowing more shelf storage and room for EMT movement.
1986 was also the first mention of Life star assistance to our area. Flying from a landing pad atop Hartford Hospital, Life Star would cut transportation times in half to help ensure critical trauma patient arrival at the level 1 hospital within the “Golden Hour”.
In September 1985, Hurricane Gloria hit the Somers /Tolland County region. The first major Hurricane to hit the region since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, it brought widespread devastation and flooding to the area. Had the Hurricane not ‘collapsed” as the eye approached Bristol, CT, the impact to the Somers area would have been much worse.
1987 brought big change to the Department and to the Town of Somers. Being a bedroom community, with the breadwinners of most households working out of town, for many years it was found that trying to staff an Ambulance with volunteers proved almost impossible. Had it not been for an every weekday sacrifice made my two of our volunteers, it would have been impossible. Then, on July 20, 1987, Len and Phyllis Hocking retired from providing daytime EMS services for the town, ending their almost 20-year continuous service and personal sacrifices in this role. For the first time ever in Somers, the Department had two full time EMT/FF employees to provide EMS and Fire service to the Town. Robert Sciaretta and Dave Hallios both previously part of the volunteer serve, would be chosen to fill these positions.
For many years, probably starting around 1975, the SVFD administered the BINGO at the four town Fair. By setting up tables and outdoor lights over near the Rest Room facilities, the Department charged 50 cents for a three (3) game card, with the winner receiving a payout of $3.00. We were able to raise several hundred dollars over the course of the 4- day event. In 1989, a national contractor, Lane Construction, donated wooden trusses from their mechanics shop on the I-91 Enfield project to the Department so we could build a permanent BINGO building at the fairgrounds. Located near the main entrance and exhibit barn, the open sided, gravel floor structure allowed for almost 60 people to play at one time along with offering protection from rain and dew at night. By raising the price per three- game card to one Dollar and increasing the payout to half of the money collected each game, we increased our revenue to more than $3000 per fair. This worked well until the Fair Committee demanded the structure be moved in 2017, with their crews inadvertently demolishing it during that move. ( The four Town Fair Committee owns all buildings on the fairgrounds, no matter who built it or used it during the fair.)
As the year 1990 approached, call volume steadily increased. Water lines with Fire hydrants were being placed for the first time along RT 190 and other major roadways near the center of Somers and Somersville. This would change Fire Department tactics as water to fight fires in the most densely populated parts of town was made readily available. A new 1989 Maxim CL A, 1000-gal capacity, 2000 gal per minute pump MID-MOUNT fire Truck was received. Unlike all previous department trucks, this vehicle included an AUTOMATIC Transmission.
In 1990, Johnson Memorial Hospital began providing an ALS (Advanced Life Support) Fly car. Starting as an “IV”unit and later progressing to a Paramedic, this now put ALS much closer to our town and could be called by our Ambulance for the most serious medical emergencies. However, 1990 also saw a start to a trend of decreased number of volunteers EMT’S to cover the evening and weekend shifts. Yearly Ambulance calls now reached 465, more than 50 percent of total emergency calls.
As the 1990 rolled on, the Fire Department and Ambulance continually worked together, showing that having both emergency services under one roof could work. A new Rescue Truck, fire truck and ambulance in 1995 along with the purchase of 26 new SCOTT Air packs gave the Department the tools they needed to answer the challenges facing them in the modern era.
In 1993, The Town commissioned Fire Consultant Services of Providence, RI to perform a FIRE FACILITY STUDY. Top on the list was the long debated need for a second station to service the north end of Town. The survey did point out the population of Somers doubled between 1960 and 1980 and was projected to have level growth for the next 10 years. Regarding the second station, they recommended, if the citizens in the Town wanted to absorb the cost for quicker response times, an east/west alignment rather than north/south.
Then came the evening of December 7, 1996. A Nor’easter hit the region with blanketing snow and fierce winds. People stayed home, but we had many calls for trees and wires down. Then, around midnight of the morning of December 8, 1996, the Department was toned for a structure fire at 879 Main Street. Travel to the scene was complicated by the many trees and wires covering RT 190 and other streets. Once on scene, firefighting efforts were complicated by the falling trees and blowing snow. Then, about 1:30 am Firefighter/Ambulance LT/ paramedic Craig Arnone would come in contact with a downed high voltage electric line and perish. The Department would never be the same. The State of Connecticut along with neighboring Departments in surrounding states would mourn his loss. However, valuable lessons were learned that night which would make our Department, the County Departments, and all State Fire Departments better and stronger. RIP Paramedic LT Craig Arnone.
After Craig’s passing, an annual memorial scholarship was set up in his name. Applications are available at Somers High School and surrounding High Schools to graduating Seniors pursuing Fire Fighting, EMS or Criminal Justice Careers.
As 1997 was born, the Department rebounded and moved ahead. Plans for a new Fire House emerged and a planning committee headed by FF Doug Snowden was created. On October 1, 1998, the Town began billing all those that used the Departments Ambulance service for Transport. Most bills were covered by insurance or Medicare, and the Town had a private billing company accountable for the procedure. The recovered monies would be put into the Town’s General Fund and be used in part for future Fire Department equipment acquisitions.
Spring, 1998 the Town approved bonding for the new Fire House to be located on the corner of Main Street (RT 190) and Ninth District Road. Also, that year, a TV room and Foyer was added to the back of the main fire station.
As it has been since the mid-1970’s technology in the Fire Service is improving leaps and bounds. The Somers woman’s club donated to us our first multi-gas meter. A volunteer organization S.M.O.K.E (Somers Mothers Organized for Kids and Emergency teams) raised over $ 22,000 in little over a year to secure the Department their first thermal imaging Camera (TIC) enabling firefighters to see through smoke, detect the difference between hot and cold, and rescue people from emergency scenes and minimize property loss. In December 1999, with the use of our TIC, a woman was saved from a structure fire on Sokol Road.
Also secured this year was a 1985 GMC dual axle service truck given to us by the State Prison system. It was the smallest vehicle in our fleet and was used for bush fires and quick response for medical calls. The department purchased a unique 4 -wheel drive “UNIMOG” for brush fire extinguishing purposes. Having oversize tires and 13 forward and reverse gears, the vehicle struggled to reach 40 mph on the open road. The vehicle was not used very often but was invaluable rescuing Town residents during the 2005 localized flash flood event.
One of the major improvements to technology was the cross-Band radio system. By using UHF to transmit our low band frequencies farther, we had many fewer “dead spots” in Town, especially on the mountain. It also allowed us to program many of the neighboring department frequencies into our portable radios. This was a novel idea at the time and made Somers a leader in radio communications in the County.
Tiny Parker won the Selectman’s “Citizen of the Year” award for his 39 years of dedicated service to the Department and Town of Somers.
The NEW MILLENIUM
After much trepidation and concern about Y2K, the Department rang in the new century and Millennium with much optimism and happiness. The Town had recently opened bids for their new $2,095,000 fire house, which when built, would allow them the room for the training and equipment needed to respond to the 800+ emergency calls each year within the Town.
Starting in July, 2001, stipends of up to $250 per quarter were now paid to qualifying volunteer FF and EMTs, in addition to $2 per call gas allowance. Also, a previously established pension of $5 per month times the qualifying years of service, was paid to volunteers over the age of 65.
The Somers Fire Department now had 5 full-time Fire-fighters/EMT on shift from 6 am to 6 pm 5 days a week, including a Career Staff Lieutenant.
However, the happiness would be short lived. Soon the world, and even the lives of those in this small Connecticut Town would change. The attacks on September 11, 2001 changed everyone’s life forever and included changes to the way the fire service operated. The fear of Anthrax mailings or mass attacks to schools and public areas were primary on people’s minds.
None the less, on October 21, 2001, the dedication of the new Station 46 was held with much enthusiasm, fan-fair and community involvement. The 15000-sf building, with 4 double truck bays, a large meeting room, office space for the fire and EMS offices, a workout room, and male and female bunk rooms, was well equipped to start us off into the 21st century.
The original Department letterhead showed a simple colored picture of the 1937 Ford pumper with a caption of Established 1937. The stationary was changed in 2003 to the current block form showing a picture of the new station.
2002 and 2003 brought to the department many donations and state funded suppliers to help counteract the perceived threats of terrorism. A private Citizen donated a sizable pull behind trailer in which could be stored medical supplies for a mass casualty. Funding for addition FF and EMS training was made available. A rescue sled for water and ice rescue was donated to the Department. It was obvious in the Department and throughout the land, the American spirit was alive and well.
A high point of 2002 was celebrating the 60 years of Department service given by Chief Wolfgang (Wolf) Schissel. He is the first and only person in the Department’s history to serve this long. In addition to the wonderful celebration, attended by neighboring departments, Town officials, members and friends, the Department has erected a lasting granite stone in Wolf’s honor near to northeast door to the Fire House, after he passed in 2015.
In 2004, a new group was created within the fire department organization. Having absolutely no authority, and a requirement to be “an active member as old as dirt and in the department longer than any member can remember”, the Tribal Elders were born. There is no oath or pledge to recite and memorize, since the members wouldn’t remember it anyhow. Four Fire Department members were brought in with the initial group, two more in 2015, and one additional in 2019. These members will remain in the Tribe as long as they are active members.
In 2005, based on our all-time high call volume, many of which would come within minutes of each other, we were able to purchase a second Ambulance rig (2006 Ford F-350) and initiate the services of two Ambulance vehicles. This was a major growth step for the Ambulance division of the Department. Based on the 10-year cycle life of an Ambulance, the finance board also made the pledge they would realize the need to buy a new ambulance every 5 years in order to keep the fleet in good working order,
In 2006, we were able to purchase a new 2500-gal Tanker which arrived in November. Classified as Tanker 246, this vehicle was equipment with “quick-dump” capability for rapid deployment of large amounts of water for firefighting. It made Somers only the second Department in the County to switch to this method of water deployment. In combination with the old 1980 Tanker 146, we were now able to bring over 7500 gallons of water with us to a major structure fire.
2006 also saw us purchase a Ford 350 4-wheel drive service truck to replace our existing 1985 model. In 2008, the Department bought an inflatable raft/boat for use in water rescue.
The department stayed status quo until 2012, but the year 2012 entered existence like no other in Department history. About 11 pm on January 1st, a mild evening for that time of year, a call was received into the TN dispatch center stating the Somers Congregational Church, at 599 Main Street, was on fire. As one fire fighter was responding to the call from his home, he commented the fire was in the basement of the structure. By the time he arrived at the station and returned to the scene with a truck, the whole building was engulfed. The building would be a total loss. The vinyl siding on Town Hall across the street melted. Even though we have hydrants in the area that supplied the water to fight the fire, the building was just too big, and the fire had too much fuel load, and too much of a head start. Luckily no one was injured. An interesting note, even in 1842 when the church was built, architects and carpenters had enough experience with church fires to know to design the steeple beams to fall into the church area during a catastrophic fire event. This knowledge saved a massive steeple from falling onto many high voltage wires and RT 190 itself.
On June 1st of that same year, the biggest building in Town, the Somersville Mill, was accidentally set on fire by three teenagers inside. The oil-soaked beams in the 3-story structure caught on fire quickly. No one was hurt fighting the fire, but it was a complete loss. Another historic building in Town was no longer. A heavy, heavy rain started falling around Midnight. Many say the rain kept the embers from flying around, and potentially setting fire to much of the downtown area of Somersville.
A decision was made in the spring of that year to sell our three old pumpers (1980 IH, 1989 Maxim, 1995 KME) and purchase a pair of identical Five- Guys 1000 gpm pumpers. This was also the year the decision was made to switch from 4” to 5” large diameter hose beds.
In 2013, the Department purchase a new 3000- gal Tanker to replace the old 1980 GMC Tanker. Designated Tanker 146, it has a small 5” hose rack and quick dump capability, like Tanker 246. Unlike Department Tankers in the recent past, this truck has an exposed oval Tank design, carrying no ladders, or large quantity of large diameter hose.
In 2014, the Association brought back an old tradition of Annual Awards Banquet and Fireman and EMS persons-of-the-year. Having been mothballed for well over 30 years, and now named the Wolfgang Schiessl Member of the Year Award, nominations are made by either Volunteer or Career members. Selections are made by the Chief and Board of Directors President.
As end of year Department elections were being held in 2014, it became apparent there was no other volunteer Department member interested in becoming our next Chief. Those who have served in that capacity in recent years know of the time commitment and dedication that must be devoted to that position. Therefore, in early 2015, the Department began the year long task of laying the groundwork to select a new Career Chief.
On January 1, 2016, we welcomed our first career Chief, John Roach. Hailing from a Tolland County Department, he was familiar with Somers and the operational needs of the County. Chief Roache recognized the long history of our mostly volunteer, but recently established Combination department, and was careful to preserve the officer ranks already established.
The Fire Commission was dissolved with the hiring of the Career Chief.
In 2018, our 1994 Rescue truck began having major mechanical failures, and by years end, the truck was removed from the fleet, again causing major changes to our operational thought process.
Also, in September of 2018, with the loss of the Bingo revenue at the 4-Town fair, the Association began indoor Friday night Bingo at Joanna’s Café. The first event was completely sold out, and was played with the cards, markers, and rules from the Bingo at Four Town Fair. As future evenings were held, the event rapidly migrated into a more conventional church bingo with paper sheets, ink bottle stampers and a buffet provided for additional cost.
On July 1, 2019, the Town of Somers initialed a Paramedic Service. By utilizing a fly car, and in conjunction with our BLS ambulance service, the Paramedic Service in Town should provide its citizens with a better means of emergency medical pre-hospital care.