What you are about to read (if you haven't been scared off by the length of it) comes directly out of our 50th Anniversary publication. The gap between 1987 and the present will soon be filled but for you history buffs, what's here now is the good stuff.
Special thanks to Scott Yeomans, President of the Andover Historical Society, who wrote all this.
Prior to the establishment of an organized and outfitted fire department, if you experienced a fire for wish you needed assistance, you would call the telephone operator, who would then send the fire signal of ten rings on all the party lines in town. Those that answered were told of the fire. They would then go provide what help they could. At best this help consisted of forming a bucket brigade, at worst everyone would console the owner while the property burned down. As other towns established fire departments, they could be called upon for assistance, but they normally could not respond quick enough to forestall considerable damage.
Early in the fall of 1937 several residents of Andover were awakened by the signal of ten rings on their telephone. Answering the alarm, they were informed that a house owned by Ames was on fire and that aid was needed. Upon arrival at the house, a comparatively small fire was observed in the basement. However, there was no water available and no fire fighting equipment in town. As a result, the house was completely destroyed. The Coventry Fire Department arrived after some time, and they were able to save the adjoining garage. It was apparent to the early arrivals at the scene that the fire could have been easily extinguished with only minimal damage if the proper fire fighting equipment had been available quickly.
As a result of this loss, the Annual Town Meeting held n October 7, 1937 appointed a committee, composed of Bertram C. Wright, Charles W. Phelps and John H. Yoemans, to study the need for fire protections and to make a report to a subsequent meeting. Prior to making their report to the Town, the committee called a meeting of townspeople to discuss the possible formation of the Andover Volunteer Fire Fighting Organization. At this meeting, held on February 25, 1938, it was decided to organize and the following officers were elected: Bertram C. Wright, President; L. B. Whitcomb, Vice President; Ellsworth Covell, Secretary; Arnold Hyatt, Treasurer; George A. Merritt, Chief; George S. Nelson, Deputy Chief.
On March 11, 1938 the newly formed fire fighting organization met again and the group voted to adopt the name "ANDOVER VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT". Also at this meeting the Association's first Bylaws were adopted. The regular meeting night was set for the second Friday of each month and a Board of Directors was established. The Board consisted of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief. Dues were set at $2.00 per year.
The Department being duly established and incorporated, the attention of the membership turned more intently toward securing equipment and a place to store it. It was decided that the members favored Sackett's as the best place, of those considered, for a fire house. The Sackett place had an asking price of $1200, but it was felt that it could be purchased for $1000. The membership also voted to ask the town to pay the entire cost of procuring an engine and housing for it.
Upon recommendation of the study committee, that had been appointed by the Town, the May 1938 Town Meeting approved an appropriation of $5000 for a fire truck and $2000 to provide housing for it. The Sackett property was purchased for $1000 and remodeling plans began to take shape.
After some consideration, a contract was signed with the Maxim Company to provide Andover with a fire engine. The engine had room for 1200 feet of 2 ½ inch hose and 300 feet of 1 ½ inch hose. It was built on a 1 ½ ton Ford chassis and cost $4,766.
While awaiting the delivery of the truck and the remodeling of the Sackett Store Building into a firehouse, the members turned their concerns to water supplies. They established a water hole committee. They mapped existing water sources, gathered plans for cisterns and spent many nights trying to improve availability of water to many areas of the town. This was an important task considering that the engine would only carry 150 gallons of water, with no second truck to supplement it.
In the summer of 1938 it was decided to establish formal ties with the other fire departments by joining the Windham and Tolland Counties Fireman's Association.
In January 1939 the fire signal rang and soon the recently delivered Maxim fire engine was responding to its first fire. Apparently, a garage standing across from the intersection of Route #6 and Bunker Hill Road had been set afire by a truck backfire. The fire was knocked down and close to out when the booster tank ran dry. The men tried to get water from a nearby well, but it was too deep. Chief Merritt ordered the truck to lay 2 ½ inch hose to the Hop River at Bunker Hill Road. Once the engine began pumping from the river the fire was quickly extinguished. The oil truck and the garage were both lost.
In April of 1939 the Works Projects Administration approved the Department's request for aid with the firehouse and recommended that a new building be constructed rather than the old one remodeled. The membership voted to go on record as favoring a new building as well provided the cost was reasonable. Apparently the cost was too high as the membership spent the remainder of 1939 and the spring of 1940 remodeling the existing building.
Early in 1940 a committee was appointed to investigate the purchase of an auxiliary truck and was empowered to purchase it for an amount not to exceed $50. A suitable truck was purchased and the membership voted to turn it over to the town. This vehicle was acquired from the Groton Fire Department and was known as the Kelly car.
In the spring of 1940 the department was able to move into the freshly remodeled firehouse. The May meeting was the first to be held in the new quarters. All prior meetings had been held in the Old Town Hall.
The late fall of 1941 brought the approval of a plan to admit boys between the ages of 16 and 18 to membership. These youths were designated "Junior Members" and were restricted from driving any fire equipment. Also at this time, ten of our men graduated from a First Aid course given by the State Police. This was the beginning of a long tradition of Andover's people investing large amounts of personal time in First Aid certification classes.
In April 1943, due to a lack of communications equipment that would allow firemen responding to the siren sounding to know the location of the request for assistance, it was voted to equip our trucks with red flags. These would be used to mark the direction to the call at road intersections. This eliminated the need for a fireman to continue to the firehouse to find out the location of the call. If he passed a flag dropped at an intersection, he would turn to follow the apparatus to the scene.
In 1944, Mutual Aid, as well as communications equipment, was very different than it is. Some towns did not have their own equipment. When they called for help, they would be billed by the town rendering the aid. This led to many problems. Bills were at times contested. A general air of ill-will surrounded the whole situation as is illustrated by this entry in the minutes - "John Yeomans made a motion, seconded and carried, that it be recommended to our Fire Commissioners, to notify Columbia Selectmen, that we do not respond to fires in that town under existing conditions of notification. At the present time, residents of Columbia are not allowed to notify our department direct. But must inform their First Selectman, who in turn, determines whether it is desirable or necessary to call the Andover Department, resulting in a considerable loss of time." This problem was soon ironed out without aid to Columbia being stopped. As more towns established fire departments and bought equipment, mutual aid evolved to where it is today, with help being started without it having to be asked for and at no charge to anyone.
In 1947, as a gesture of appreciation for his many years of service, past Chief George Merritt was made a Lifetime Honorary Chief of the Andover Volunteer Fire Department. Chief Merritt, our first Chief, remained active for many years and passed away in October 1961.
In the spring of 1948, in an effort to enhance their skills and broaden their knowledge, the membership set up a ten-week fire school. This course was given once a week in Andover by a professional firefighter from the Willimantic Fire Department. When the class was completed, it was felt that this had been a valuable experience. Since this early success, many more courses have been brought to town to supplement the in-house training given every week.
By the summer of 1948, it was quite clear that we needed more water on wheels to back up the 150 gallons carried on the engine. As it happened, the Radcliff Oil Company had several used Oil Tank Trucks for sale. A committee was dispatched to examine these trucks. It reported back to the department that one would be suitable for meeting our needs as a water tanker. A special meeting approved the purchase of a 1941 chassis and tank. They also approved the purchase of a centrifugal pump, booster reel and related plumbing. The total price was $1,200.00.
The membership decided to raffle off the old Kelly Truck among themselves, since the highest outside bid they could secure for the truck was $35.00.
By 1949, the Telephone Company was doing away with the operator controlled phone system. In its place they were installing dial telephones in all rural areas. This necessitated a new type of emergency alerting system. The answer for Andover was to join the central dispatch system that was set up with the main switchboard located at the Willimantic Fire Station. The cost of this service was approximately $20.00 per month. This provided for someone to answer phone calls that were reporting emergencies and to activate the siren. The first person arriving at the station would then call the "dispatcher" to find out what the emergency was. He would then write the location of the call on a blackboard at the station for those that followed.
Since industry had not yet begun the manufacture of personal fire fighting equipment, as we know it today, items were adapted from other uses, to that of fire fighting. One such early adaptation was the use of gas masks to protect firemen from smoke. Early in 1950 four such masks were donated to the department by United Aircraft Corporation (United Technologies). Also in 1950 the town established an insurance fund for firemen. This fund would cover active firemen in the event they were injured in the line of duty. The fund was started with a deposit of $5,500 and grew to $13,300 before it was discontinued and the money put toward the purchase of a new engine later in the decade.
The spring of 1952 brought two new and very useful items to the department inventory. The first, was an E & J Resuscitator. This was first demonstrated to the firemen at their February monthly meeting. At that time the membership felt that it would be a useful item and decided to raise the funds necessary to purchase one, about $600.00. By July the men grew impatient, The fund raising was not going well. They voted to take the remaining funds needed from the department treasury and make the purchase. The second item, radio communications, came about through two events. The first being the installation of a two-way base station at the Willimantic Dispatch Center. This base, as with the telephone switchboard, would be manned on a 24 hour a day basis. Andover contributed $50.00 to help defray the cost of the installation. Soon after the base station was broadcasting, our meeting voted to provide half the cost of a mobile radio for the engine, with the town paying the other half. By July, the radio was installed and working well. It was then no longer necessary to have the State Police come to each fire to provide radio communications to request aid, as had been the practice up until this time. Later, in 1954, the department would get its first portable radio.
In the fall of 1952, Clarice Yeomens and her sister, Dorathea Raymond, were both given Honorary Membership. This was for their long and very dedicated service to the fire department. These were the first women voted into membership of the Andover Volunteer Fire Department. We would not get our first female regular active member until 1980 when Lauren Breadheft joined.
By the end of the summer of 1954, the department placed an additional truck in service. This vehicle was the result of a motion, passed at the April meeting. This motion empowered the executive officers to purchase "the most suitable truck in a price range within the means of the department, to be used as an emergency truck". This truck became Andover's first patient carrier.
Shortly after the addition of the emergency equipment, attentions turned to an addition to the firehouse itself. The costs were estimated to be $1,500.00 for materials and the same for labor. Due to numerous problems, construction way delayed until the spring of 1955. In the end, an additional bay was added to the existing two.
Early in 1957, the department voted to purchase its first Scott Air Pack. This proved to be a valuable tool, as it could provide clean air to breath in a hostile environment, rather than just filter out some particles as the gas masks previously used had done. Today's air packs follow the same basic design, but are of far greater importance. In today's homes, modern materials give off many more hazardous and toxic gases than those in 1957 did.
Later that year, the Town decided to discontinue the Fireman's Insurance Fund and moved its money into the Truck Fund. This money was to be used to purchase a new engine. The Maxim was nearing 20 years old and was in need of replacement. It was decided to purchase a new 1957 FWD (Front Wheel Drive Company), Pumper with a 750 gallon per minute pump and a 500 gallon booster tank. The Maxim sold for $1,000.00.
Another truck arrived in 1957 as well. A surplus Army 6 X 6 was acquired and work began to convert it into a tanker to replace the old oil truck. The tank was moved from the old tanker and a new Hale pump was purchased for $1,056.00. The conversion was completed and the truck on line in December 1958.
In November of 1958, discussion began about replacing the old Ford Emergency Truck. There was a faction within the department that wanted to buy an ambulance rather than upgrade the rescue truck. In the end, it was decided to go with a new rescue truck and forego the ambulance at that time. By December of 1959 a new truck was purchased for $600.00 from the Department treasury and placed in service.
1962 brought the raising of the departmental dues from the original sum of $2.00 per year to $3.00 per year.
In 1964 the membership purchased a 1938 American LaFrance pumper from the City of Hartford. They paid $257.00 for the truck and had planned to use it as a muster piece. The truck proved to be more trouble than it was worth, consequently it was sold in 1965 for $425.00.
1965 started out on a bad foot when the town turned down a request for $17,000.00 to purchase a replacement for the 6 X 6 tank truck. But, by the end of the year, things had turned around. The firemen and the town road crew has installed the town's first dry hydrant on Long Hill Road at Hop River and the town reversed its decision about replacing the tanker and gave approval for this purchase.
In January of 1966 the new tanker was ordered. It was delivered in September. This truck was built by Farrar Company on an International chassis. The new tanker had a 750 GPM front-end pump and a 1,200-gallon water tank.
1968 saw the placing in service of our first portable "waterhole". This consisted of a 1,500 gallon folding tank that could be carried on an Engine Tank. At the scene of a fire, it could be set up for trucks to deposit their water in for use on the fire ground.
1969 ended with Andover putting its first ambulance in service. It was a used 1965 S & S Cadillac that had originally been used in the town of Bethel, Connecticut.
In 1971 all two-way radios used by the department were converted to two frequency units. This gave us an alternate channel, should the normal one be very busy due to other department activities. Andover also became a Charter Member of the Tolland County Mutual Aid Ambulance Association. In the summer of 1971 an addition to the firehouse was started with a $12,000.00 appropriation from the town. Most of the labor for this addition was provided by the membership.
In 1972 Rescue # 5, the 1958 Ford Emergency Truck, was removed from patient carrying duties. This vehicle became our Rescue Truck, carrying all of our rescue tools and equipment. Also, a 1927 American LaFrance was purchased by the membership from the Willimantic Fireman's Training School for $1.00. This antique is still used for parades and other special events.
In 1974 the membership voted to purchase "Tones" (special frequency radio signals) for the Willimantic Dispatch Center. With this purchase, we would be able to make use of tone alert monitors and pagers ("beepers") in the future.
1976 was a year full of events. The Fire Commission moved dispatch responsibilities for Andover from Willimantic to the Tolland facility, where we remain today. They also requested and received $20,000.00 from the town to purchase a new Ambulance to replace the Cadillac. A 1976 Horton van type ambulance, on a Dodge chassis, was purchased with these funds.
In February of 1976 the department participated in implementing a new call letter system, that is still in use today. Andover was assigned as Station # 15, with all units being assigned 15 numbers. This, combined with other designations as qualifiers, make it easy to determine if a radio transmission is from Andover, or some other department. Some examples: The old Rescue 5 became Rescue 115, the Ambulance went from Rescue 511 to Rescue 515, Engine Tank 8 became ET 115. Department officers are Car 15 through Car 815.
By the end of the year the membership has purchased a 1972 Chevrolet Step Van for $1,800.00 and converted it into a new rescue truck. This unit replaced the Ford Truck that had been purchased and in use since 1859.
In March of 1977, Chief Armstrong announced that he had applied for a DOT/OEMS grant toward the purchase of a Hurst Extrication Tool (Jaws of Life). The grant, which was received, was for $3,750.00. The remaining $1,200.00 needed, was appropriated from department funds. The tool was put in service in late May and remains in service today.
In July of the same year, the town approved the purchase of a new truck to replace the 1957 FWD. A Hahn custom pumper was ordered at a cost of $78,000.00. It came with a 1,250 GPM pump and a 1,000-gallon booster tank. This truck was the first of Andover's fire trucks to be powered by a diesel engine.
1978 saw the department convert a surplus Army ¾ ton 4 X 4 weapons carrier into an off-road Multipurpose Attack truck for forest fires.
1980 saw the old FWD engine sold to Fire Island, New York.
In 1981, due to the number of tone alert pagers assigned to members, it was decided to no longer sound the siren to rescue emergencies at night. By early spring the Town had approved the replacement of the Chevrolet Step Van that was serving as a rescue truck. The truck purchased for this purpose was a Ranger built truck, designed as a rescue truck, on a Ford chassis. The truck cost $35,000.00.
After much discussion, it was decided to seek the Fire Commissioners approval to build an addition on to the firehouse. This was needed to alleviate the crowding on the engine floor. The Commissioners granted approval and an extra bay was added. This bay was 25 feet wide and as deep as the rest of the station. The addition was completed with volunteer labor and donations of material and monetary funds. All activities were carried out in memory of Dorethea Raymond. The addition was completed in the fall of 1982.
In January of 1984 the department took delivery of a new Emergency One Engine Tank. This vehicle replaced the 1967 International/Farrar. The new truck has a 1,000 PGM pump, 750 gallon of water and is built on a Ford chassis. The cost of the truck was $101,000.00.
In August of 1986 the Horton van type ambulance was replaced by a new Horton Modular Type I ambulance built on a Ford chassis. This unit cost $72,000.00.
In 1987, a Firehouse Study Committee, that was established in 1986 by the Board of Fire Commissioners, presented its report to the Board. It recommended the Town be asked to build a new Public Safety Complex to house the Fire Department.