History of the Stratford Fire Department
Stratford, CT was founded 35 years after Jamestown, Va and a mere 19 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
In the early colonial days of Stratford, from the 1600’s to the 1800’s, fire protection consisted of church bells bringing out the men of Stratford Center by day and night, who lived within a thousand feet of the Center.
Each citizen was required to have a water bucket, usually of leather, with which they joined in the “bucket brigade”.
Stratford’s first organized fire protection began in 1875, was called the Mutual Hook & Ladder Co, and was under the leadership of Chief Rhoades.
Basic fire equipment consisted of a hand-drawn hook and ladder apparatus with several heavy ladders, a pump operated by four men, buckets, helmets & a trumpet. This equipment was kept in a small building behind the Congregational Church.
The hook and ladder took a dozen men or, if lucky, was driven by a team of horses, whose owners competed to be the first on scene to receive a generous $5 fee. Often however, buildings were lost due to the time getting to the fire.
In 1895, funds were acquired to build a central firehouse in the center of town, between where the Lovell Building is situated today and the Thruway. The Mutual Hook and Hose Co, at this point, was under the direction of Chief Clarkson and occupied the building in 1897.
A competing fire company was the Chemical Hose Co, also on Main Street near the Center.
On February 17, 1909, the Mutual Hook and Ladder Co and the Chemical Hose Co voted to merge and became the Stratford Fire Department. Allen Judson was hired part-time in 1909 and in 1910 became the full-time Chief.
Chief Judson was on duty 24hrs a day living near the firehouse. His duties included taking care of the jail, Town Hall and inspecting all the fire hydrants in Town. He did this single handedly for 9 years untill a second man, William Anthony, was hired.
The Chief had a full and interesting career, from bucket brigades to gas powered fire engines, and retired in 1951.
In 1930 Stratford had three firehouses: Center, Lordship, and one on Nichols Ave. In 1935 fire losses from 223 fires totaled $15,000. The second Fire HQ was started in 1938 when the department boasted 4 vehicles and 23 trained men.
By 2008, the Stratford Fire Department had 97 men and women who responded not only to fires but Haz-mat calls, vehicle extrications, medical calls, water rescue and plane incidents.
The SFD does all this in a Town which today has 50,000 residents, is bordered by 18 miles of shoreline, is intersected by I-95, the Merritt Parkway, Metro-North Railroad and has an airport within its’ borders.
Todays’ firefighters are linked through progressive work back to Chief Judson, Clarkson & Rhoades. The job has expanded & changed dramatically over the years, becoming more complex and dangerous.
Stratford has come far from the days of a dozen men pulling a hook & ladder up dirt roads, but as we advance into the 21st century, let us not forget those who came before us.