Washington Volunteer Fire Department – November 21, 1926
Prior to 1926, fire protection in Washington was limited to the Depot itself and provided by a hand drawn pumping cart garaged in a shed on Titus Road.
The official formation of a town wide fire department was approved at the October 1925 town meeting consisting of the Board of Selectmen along with William H. Foulouis, Robert J. Benham, and Myron S. Couch.
By February of 1926 an open cab American LaFrance 500 gallon per minute pumper arrived in town. And in 1932 the first fire house was completed – at a cost of $10,870.80.
By 1936 the department decided that a new engine was needed due to the deterioration of the LaFrance. A proposal to spend up to $7,000 for a new fire engine and to make repairs to the old one was approved in an October meeting of that year and an order was placed with the Maxim Motor Company of Middleboro, MA for a new, larger, 750 gallon per minute (GPM) pumper that would give more adequate protection.
With the completion of the new concrete State Route 25 through New Preston, this engine could attain speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour!
This engine was delivered in mid December and the truck (shown right) was in service until 1978.
World War 2 Era
When war was declared in December 1941 the fire department was in good shape with two of the largest custom built fire trucks around. The number of fire police were increased from five in 1941 to thirteen in 1942. Air raid drills were held by blowing the sirens, turning off all lights and extinguishing all flames. Department money that was in the bank was invested in War Bonds. Fire fighting equipment was difficult to obtain and, at times, delayed indefinitely.
At the January 1944 meeting, Fire Marshal Robert J. Benham reported that there had been 411 fires since 1926. The secretary’s annual report for 1944 reported that the roster was at sixty, however nine men were serving with the armed forces overseas.
Post WW2 – 1955
In the years after WWII company records indicate new fire fighting techniques using nozzles such as “Navy style” with multiple use tips for foam, cellar, and forcible entry were learned.
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) was demonstrated to the men for use in smoke-filled environments. The officers formed drill teams with the men to enhance their skills. A pumping demonstration was attended in Roxbury with several other area departments in which water was pumped through 4000 feet of hose.
A fund raiser was held in the form of fire extinguisher sales to home owners which netted a profit to be used for more fire fighting equipment. The first of many summer time carnivals to come were held to raise more money. Fire schools were attended by members in New Milford when they were available. And blue lights were allowed for use when responding to fires.
Then one night in March 1955 the unthinkable happened. A working house fire was reported on Lake Waramaug near Ash Swamp. The fire department responded and brought the fire under control. After the fire was out, the men went back to the fire house to clean equipment and repack hose. Carl E. Johnson, a 12-year member and the company secretary, got into his personal car and started back around West Shore Road.
The car veered off the road just before Cherry Point and went into the lake. Sometime later that night a report was received that a car appeared to be in the lake under water with its head lights still on.
It proved to be the darkest day in the history of the department.
The Flood of 1955
Around 10 p.m. the night of the 18th the Shepaug River overran its banks and began flooding Washington Depot. The Washington Fire Department stood by and helped wherever they could as a flood destroyed the town center.
Many residents were helped from their homes along the river by firemen using ropes and, at times, wading through deep water to make rescues. Another, smaller flood in October of 1955 hit the town and once again the fire department helped where needed.
New Trucks, Technologies, and a New House
In the late fifties a “calling system” was initiated to notify firemen of fires in town, in addition to blowing the sirens. This was put into action by a dispatcher who, once the sirens were blowing, would call half a dozen or so women who in turn would call a list of firemen, drivers being at the top of the list.
In 1959 two way radios were first purchased for the fire trucks allowing for communication between the drivers.
In 1963 a Fire Investigating Committee gave its report and recommendation to ask for approval to spend $52,000 to buy land on Route 25 in New Preston for the purpose of building a three bay fire house, and also to make improvements to the existing Washington Depot fire house. The town purchased land on the “old Cogswell property” for the new fire house and in 1964 a contract was awarded to Wyant & Co. in the amount of $23,780 to build it. The firemen moved into their new house in 1965.
In 1977 he town obtained high frequency radios and pagers for both the fire department and the ambulance. They new radios were capable of transmitting farther. And the town police cars were outfitted with the same radios, which allows communications between all town agencies in the event of major emergencies.
And in September of 1979 the Ladies Auxiliary was formed to support the firemen. This included bringing food and hot or cold drinks during fires.
The first large diameter four inch supply hose was delivered to the department in February of 1980, replacing the old 2.5″ supply hose on Engine 5.
At the November 1984 monthly meeting, Dave Showalter brought up the subject of having a new fire house built in Washington. After a discussion, a motion was made by Bruce Cannavaro and seconded by Harry Wright to have the Chief and Dave Showalter set up a committee to “check on a location and building of a new fire house.” The motion passed.
In February 1985, a committee headed by Steve Williams was formed to purchase a Cascade system for the refilling of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Before this time empty air tanks had to be taken to Water Witch Hose Co. #2 in New Milford or Torrington Fire Headquarters to be refilled.
And at the December 1989 monthly meeting, Alice Hull was voted in as a member and became the first female to become a Washington Firefighter.
In 1992 the fire house committee was busy finalizing plans for the new fire house to be built on town-owned land on Bee Brook Road. At the November 1993 meeting, fire house building committee chairman Dave Showalter reported that the footings for the new fire house were being poured within a week. Construction began and continued, weather permitting, throughout the winter and by the summer of 1994 it was nearing completion.
The fire department held its first meeting in the new meeting room of what is now the Depot Headquarters in September of 1994.
In September of 1995 the last charter member, Clifford H. Couch, passed away. Cliff was a dedicated member, supporter, and served as Chief twice during the 1940s. He had mentioned attending the first meeting of the fire department held in the old town hall in 1926 and lived to attend the dedication of the new fire house on Bee Brook Road.
2000s – Today
In 2001 the Washington Volunteer Fire Department celebrated our 75th Anniversary.