Organized May 13, 1920
Incorporated May 14, 1923
From its original hand-drawn hose reel kept in the corner of a barn to its present heavy rescue vehicle headquartered in a newly expanded fire station on Jackman Avenue, the history and growth of the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department is a reflection of Fairfield itself. It is a history gradual and necessary expansion to serve not only the residents of Stratfield but those of the entire town of Fairfield.
In the early Twentieth Century, the Stratfield area was completely without fire protection. Following several serious fires in the area, the Stratfield Improvement Association, formed in 1911, provided the impetus for the establishment of the department. Beginning in 1913, members of the Association, through various ideas for the improvement of the area, set into motion plans for the fire protection of the Stratfield district. The need for adequate protection was enhanced by the distance for the Fairfield Center Fire Department, Co. 1, and the Tunxis Hill Fire Department, Co. 2, as well as the inability of the Bridgeport Fire Department to always come to the area’s aid.
The origins of the company began in 1918. A group of Stratfield residents formed a fire patrol and the Bridgeport Fire Department sold the Improvement Association 750 feet of old 2 ½ inch diameter hose that was compatible to the handful of hydrants in the area at the time. In 1920, a two-wheel, hand-drawn hose reel was purchased from The Arctic Engine Co. No. 1 in Milford for $25. The reel, equipped with 200 feet of 2 ½ inch hose and hydrant wrench, along with other related equipment obtained by the scraping of the Improvement Association were stored in a barn on the property of Arthur L. Johnson, currently #369 Stratfield Road. When an alarm of fire was reported, the men of the district would be alerted by “passing the word” of the impending emergency. In 1921 the Old Stratfield Baptist Church allowed the firemen to use its bell as an alarm.
Despite these gains, fire protection for the district was still woefully inadequate, especially when the Bridgeport Fire Department announced it could no longer respond to the district. On May 13, 1920 a group of determined Stratfield residents met in an open Jackman Avenue lot to organize a volunteer fire department for the district. This organization grew out of a recommendation from the Fire Committee of the Improvement Association. At this meeting, the need for funding was paramount. The decision was then made to divide the area into districts with each member assigned a district to canvas. It was from this method that the Department’s first fire chief was chosen. When the returns were in, it was discovered that Joseph Schukowske of the Jackman Avenue Sector had collected more than the rest of the Department combined. As a result, he was named the first chief in September of 1920. To help finance future expenses, Stratfield residents were taxed about one quarter of a mill extra.
Aside from Chief Schukowske, the other original members included Arthur L. Johnson (who was the Department’s first Assistant Chief), Captain E. Stanley Hall, Edwin Burr, Allen Gabriel, John Stickney, Fred Irwin, John Moore, Howard Simpson, W.H. Pease, Clifford Beardsley, C.B. Naramore, B.G. Staab, George Hudson, George Humm, Frank Linley, H. Lee, D. Wilson, Dwight Sparks, Merritt Ward, Prescott Nichols and Ed Peterson. At first, meetings were held at members’ homes. In 1924 the town gave the Department permission to use an old auxiliary classroom in front of Lincoln School on Jackman Avenue for meetings. A triangular piece of steel with a hammer, and later an old locomotive wheel, was rigged up in front to act as a warning bell.
In 1923, after an attempt to obtain an old hose wagon failed, the Department and the Stratfield Improvement Association agreed to purchase an American LaFrance Type C hose and chemical engine, mounted on a Ford Model T chassis. The Department’s first piece of motorized apparatus was equipped with 500 feet of hose, a 40-gallon chemical tank, two 30-foot extension ladders and other tools.
In 1924, Bill Nichols, a local builder, built a garage and moved the engine onto the property of the Linley Brothers, now #67 Montauk Street. The truck was manned by Frank Linley for day coverage and by Mike Galla for night coverage. The truck was now dispatched by telephone, with other volunteers being picked up along the way. A blackboard outside the garage would notify others of the location of the fire. The water supply came from brooks, ponds, and the handful of available hydrants, as well as the chemicals on the truck.
In 1926, the garage was moved near the Auxiliary schoolhouse on the grounds of Lincoln School. The next year the first fulltime paid drivers were appointed, each working a twelve hour shift. The garage and auxiliary schoolhouse soon outlived their usefulness and the Stratfield Fire District built a new firehouse at 400 Jackman Avenue, which was formally dedicated in March 1929. The first paid firemen in the new firehouse were Captain Stanley Hall and Vince Knapp. They worked shifts of six 10-hour days and one off and then six 14-hour nights and one off. The volunteers filled in on their days off. Also that year, the town purchased an American LaFrance 500 GPM pumper in addition to the Ford Truck mentioned previously, which was in itself subsequently replaced in 1947 by an American LaFrance 600 GPM pumper. Volunteers were now alerted by new firehorns whichblared from the roof of the firehouse.
With the Department responding to alarms outside its original district and the Town of Fairfield providing the majority of basic fire coverage, the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department began to specialize in the rescue aspect of firefighting. Beginning in 1967, with Truck 15, a converted telephone company utility vehicle, and continuing to the present, the Department has been at the forefront of rescue operations in Fairfield. In May 1974, the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department was the first unit in town, and the general area of the county, to be equipped witih the famous Hurst Tool, or “Jaws of Life,” used primarily for vehicle extrication and now considered the standard and essential rescue equipment. In 1991, the Department became the first in the area to purchase a hovercraft to act as a safe platform during the performance of ice and water rescues. The current Rescue 15, a 1987 Saulisbury heavy rescue, has a complete cascade system for refilling self-contained breathing apparatus at incident scenes, as well as providing air supply for such rescue equipment as air bags used for heavy lifting duties. We can also provide complete lighting for an incident scene, ice and water rescue, and a number of other services. Today, volunteers are alerted by home or car fire scanners and cell phones.
Over the years, members of the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department have given countless hours of community service to the citizens of Fairfield. The Department has sponsored Sea Scout and Fire Explorer Posts and for many years Stratfield volunteer firefighters served as volunteer assistants at Bridgeport Hospital’s Emergency Unit. Each year the Department provides emergency medical coverage by performing first-aid and standbys at numerous events in Fairfield.
The members of the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department still serve the Town of Fairfield through their mutual desire to help others in time of need. During our over ninty-five years of service, we have received the continued support and gratitude of not just the Stratfield area, but the entire town. Public support is critical in assisting us in keeping our organization running strong, so we may continue to serve in times of need and emergency. We thank those who have helped us in the past and ask for your continued support so that the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department can continue its fine record of service. By no doubt, the original members would be quite proud of the current members who have produced a fine record of accomplishments and who will continue that record of excellence in the future.
-Compiled by Matt Kranyik
-Edited & updated by Jason Prevelige