Hooks, Hoses, Ladders, and Lectures

Dorrance Johnson's lecture at the James Blackstone Memorial Library gave great insight into Branford's fire department history.

When I first started looking into the history of Branford's fire department, it was at the recommendation of , who sent me the incredibly useful link to the history of Company 2 M. P. Rice Hose Company. Pete clipped some of the info that directly pertained to my from that page into the comments of last week's column, so to get the short version, head back over and read his notes!

The origin of the is elsewhere on the fire department's website, written in detail by Dorrance Johnson.

From the age of eight, Johnson has been learning about the history of the , under the guidance of several volunteer and professional firefighters. He has served as a volunteer firefighter himself, and is now the department's historian. His collection of images is exceptional; I encourage Branford Patch readers to look Johnson up the next time he gives a lecture. His anecdotes about the people of the fire department and the way technology has changed so dramatically since the early 1900s, when the fastest way to get to a fire was by a horse drawn truck, were, for me, the highlight of the lecture at the on Tuesday night.

As far as those quiz questions I posted (props to for answering by number and letter combination), here are the answers:

1) The current Branford Fire Department is comprised of how many Career Professional Firefighters?
According to , the department currently employs 35 professional fire fighters. In fact, to make sure we had the right info, he texted expert editor , who quickly edited my numbers before anyone made a guess! Thanks, Chief Ahern!

2) How many volunteer fire fighters currently serve?
The Fire Department site says that Branford has over a hundred volunteers. Many of them were present at the lecture -- in fact, so many fire fighters were present that one of the current engines and a couple of ambulances were parked outside on main street, just in case a fire broke out and they needed to jump into action.

3) When was the Branford Fire Department founded?
Branford Fire Department, as a town entity, was founded in 1899. Louis A. Fisk Hose Company 1, named after the first selectman, was the first town-suppoerted fire company, but not the first fire company in town. (See question 5 for more details!)

4) In what year was the first North Main and Cherry Hill Road location built as a central Fire Headquarters?
The "new" Fire Headquarters -- which is currently becoming the new-and-improved Fire Headquarters -- opened in October 1963. It cost $186,000.

5) What was the name of the first fire company in Branford?
Branford's first fire company was not a town entity, but was a brigade organized by Branford Lockworks. That company became known as the Martin Burke Hook & Ladder Company 1. Later, when the Lockworks closed down, the Martin Burke fire fighters joined the Louis A. Fisk company, and both groups were later wrapped into more modern companies as the divisions shifted.

According to Johnson, M. P. Rice Hose Company 2 was a secondary unit, and though Louis A. Fisk Hose Company 1 initially had a lot of volunteers, the second company initially struggled. Eventually, the company was given its current location on Main Street, right next to the Treasure House and across from the Richlin complex, in the Fourth Ward, which, at the turn of the twentieth century, was heavily populated with working class residents. That move helped to get Company 2 up to the population needed to be an effective unit -- and that the location is still in contemporary use shows just how appropriate a place it was to put the fire company!

Bonus question: Who was M. P. Rice?
The bonus question, about the identity of M. P. Rice, was answered correctly by both RB and Pete. Michael P. Rice was a selectman in Branford, elected at the young age of 23, who was also a business partner of John T. Sliney. Under Sliney and Rice, the Kirkham and Montowese railroad bridges were constructed. But it wasn't because Rice was a popular selectman or town businessman that he had a fire company named after him. The company was actually having trouble deciding who should be their namesake, so they raffled off tickets as a fundraiser. Pay a nickel and get a vote for the company's namesake! Rice won that election with 1200 votes.

Steve from SAAC March 23, 2012 at 03:38 AM
I'm sorry I missed this presentation. Branford history is always worth documenting and commenting upon. Thanks Alana. I love the pictures of the old firetruck too! Thoughts and prayers are also with Branford Volunteer Firefighter (Stony Creek Rescue Fire Company 5) Palumbo who was injured in a car crash this past weekend.


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