Company 2 M.P.Rice
HISTORY OF BRANFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT and M.P. RICE HOSE COMPANY TWO
Prepared for M.P. Rice Hose Company 2 Anniversary Committee
BRANFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT ESTABLISHED
1899 - At 2pm on a Saturday July 1, 1899, the townspeople of Branford gathered for a town meeting. Among the agenda items to be considered was the approval to spend $700 to purchase two hand-drawn hose carriages with appliances for use in fighting fires in town. With the appropriation of these funds, the Town of Branford made its first commitment toward the establishment of a municipal fire department for the community. Two weeks later, a $525 bid from the Eureka Hose Company was accepted and the new equipment, consisting of two new hose carriages, 1000 feet of hose, four play pipes, one dozen wrenches and a dozen lanterns was ordered. The remaining $175 was put toward the purchase of a $225 horse-drawn ladder truck equipped with ladders and pikes.
A town committee, formed on August 9, 1899, was charged with the formation of a team to learn, maintain and use the newly ordered fire equipment. Later in the month, the two new hose carts arrived. With hose loaded, the carts were placed in service, one at Town Hall and one at John T. Sliney’s. A set of finalized bylaws and regulations for the new department were presented and approved by the selectmen on September 19, 1899. These rules called for recruitment of seventy volunteer firemen in addition to a Chief Engineer and two Assistant Engineers. Each of the two hose companies was to require twenty men each. Thirty additional men would be needed for the Hook and Ladder Company. A public plea was printed in the local newspaper, the Branford Opinion, encouraging the young men of Branford to consider volunteering to serve on the team whose mission was to use the town’s fire fighting equipment to protect lives and property from the threat of fire. In order to see who was interested in serving in the department’s ranks, a signature book was placed at F.E. Peckman & Company and the young men of the town were encouraged to sign-up promptly.
Three fire fighting companies emerged, Hose Company 1, Hose Company 2 and the Martin Burke Hook and Ladder Company. Five town residents were appointed to a commission to oversee the fire department during October 1899. Appointed to the Branford Board of Fire Commissioners were residents M.P. Rice, T.P. Carney, David Ashman, J.H. Barker, and W.N. Boynton. On November 4th Martin Burke was elected the first Chief of the Branford Fire Department.
During November 1900, Hose Company No. 2 became M.P. Rice Company No. 2. Named for Michael P. Rice, the son of Edward Rice, one of Branford’s first native settlers from Ireland who came to the states in 1862 with Edward Kennedy to work at the Branford Lock Works. M.P. Rice started and operated a livery and carting business headquartered on Main Street along Veto Street. He and business partner John T. Sliney built the first railroad bridges at Kirkham and Montowese Streets and did a great deal of work on the Blackstone Library. Active in town affairs, Rice was elected to serve as Selectman at the age of 23. He served four consecutive years and was later elected to serve again from 1899 until 1904. During that time Rice was instrumental in the establishment of the Branford Fire Department. He served as the chairman of the fire commission as well as an active charter member of Hose Company No. 2. When a contest was held to see whose name the Fire Company would bear, voters paid five cents to cast their votes. M.P. Rice won the election receiving 1200 votes. Company 2 continues to bear the name of M.P. Rice today.
Because of the difficulty firemen were having mobilizing the hose cart from where it was being stored in town hall, the town purchased land on West Main Street (now 341 Main Street) from Michael Mason for $300. On it, local contractor Benjamin Hosley erected a two-story hose house to store the equipment of M.P. Rice Hose Company 2 for $600. Upon moving their equipment, members of M.P. Rice hosted a house warming at their new quarters in the fourth ward on February 9, 1901. M.P. Rice Company 2 continues to operate from this building today. Equipment operated by L.A. Fisk Hose Company No. 1 and Martin Burke Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 were moved to a new station built on a strip of land at 23 Hillside Avenue purchased in 1901 from T.J. McCarthy for $900. The building was erected for $2,100. It served the fire department in this capacity until 1915 when the building was converted into a school, and later into a police station.
A raging fire in the Stony Creek section of town on June 8, 1900 claimed four buildings including the store and home of Charles Gilley, the Stony Creek branch of the Blackstone Library and the Congregational Church. As a result of this fire and the total loss of Frank Abolini’s store that same year, Stony Creek decided to further develop the local bucket brigade that was organized by Harry Page. The first pumper was a hand-drawn unit known as “2 ton 10” and was placed in service at a building on School Street by the newly formed Stony Creek Rescue Hook and Ladder Company. Today the company is known as Stony Creek Rescue Company No. 5 and operates one 1995 Sutphen Class A pumper, one specialized pumper, one medium-duty rescue truck and the town’s primary fire boat from a three bay station on School Street.
To help raise funds for equipment, a six-night fair was held during April 1901. Funds from the event were used to purchase the first rubber coats and helmets, which were supplied by The Candee Company of New Haven. In later years the department’s companies held carnivals and musters and sponsored raffles to raise funds. Today fire companies raise funds through direct mailings in to residents and business owners in the primary districts that they serve.
All companies were called out to the home of the Reynolds family on Hillside Avenue on October 9, 1901. Newspaper reports describe how a wrench missing from the toolbox on the hose cart resulted in a delay getting water on the fire. Mrs. Margaret Reynolds, a well-known resident of the town perished in the fire.
At a meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners held in December 1901 it was decided to allow Company Foremen to call out their companies once each month for the purpose of training the men. Members failing to turn out for the training drills were to be fined twenty-five cents and those that missed four consecutive drills were to be suspended. Chief Bradley was authorized to purchase rope and stakes to keep crowds back at fires as well as a stove for M.P. Rice Hose Company No. 2’s house and pitchforks for Hook and Ladder Truck No. 1.
In 1902 an adjunct of the Pine Orchard Improvement Association purchased a 400-foot reel of hose and was stored in the McLean’s Post Office. All of the males in Pine Orchard were enlisted as members of the Pine Orchard Fire Department. The company eventually disbanded and was revitalized as Pine Orchard Company 6 in 1941. Today, Pine Orchard is provided primary fire protection by a combined force with Indian Neck Company 9, which operates one 1964 Class A pumper and one specialized forestry unit from stations on Linden Avenue and Pine Orchard Road.
Other early major fires that tested the resources and manpower of the Branford Fire Department include:
a fire caused significant damage to Saint Mary’s Church on November 25, 1904 for which the department was criticized because water could not reach the top of the building
A fire that destroyed the barns of Charles H. Wilford on Wilford Avenue on October 9, 1907;
four degree temperatures, a forceful wind, frozen fire hydrant and a broken axle on one of the responding hose carts hampered department efforts to douse a blaze on January 29, 1908 that claimed the O’Brien home;
headlines on February 6, 1910 exclaimed “Fire Epidemic Stirs The Town” as a result of three fires in less than 48 hours that caused damage to the Harbor Street School as well as to property on Cocheco Avenue.
To further support fire fighting operations, Headquarters Engine Company 8 was founded in 1910 and operated from Baldwin’s Garage on John Street. Under the leadership of the company’s first Captain Irving Baldwin, the company eventually combined with the L.A. Fisk Hose Company and the Martin Burke Hook and Ladder Company. Used to alert members about fires, the first alarm was a steam whistle that was taken from the steamer “White Star”. The first engine was a 1910 Hartford Pope seven-passenger touring car that was equipped with fire hose and equipment and was driven by Baldwin and Johnny Barnes. In 1936 Headquarters Company No. 8 and the Branford Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 split into separate operations. In 1963 the company moved to the current fire headquarters building at 43 North Main Street. Five acres of property was purchased from the MIF Company for $51,500 and building was erected for $186,000. Original plans to have M.P. Rice Hose Company 2 move to the new headquarters building along with Hook and Ladder Company No.1 and Headquarters Company 8 was staunchly protested by the members of M.P. Rice.
A grocery store owned by Edward Knowles was the storage location of hose that was used to fight fires in Short Beach in 1911 when the fire company there first organized. Branford Blacksmith Henry Hubbard built a two-wheeled hose cart that was kept in the rear of the Claremont Hotel and was operated by the members of the Short Beach Hose, Hook and Ladder Company No. 4. F.G. Hart donated land on Shore Drive to the company in 1912. Short Beach purchased the first motorized fire engine, a Pierce Arrow with a Northern Pump in 1922. Today Short Beach Company No. 4 operates a 1997 Class A Pierce Sabre Pumper from their quarters on Shore Drive.
For the first 24 years of the department’s history, no fire fighter had ever given his life in the line of duty. That changed during the early hours of March 18, 1924, Saint Patrick’s Day, when M.P. Rice Hose Company No. 2 Fire Fighter Victor George Vickstrom died while fighting a fire in the Toole Block on Main Street. On Thanksgiving Day 1996 Branford Fire Fighter Edward Ramos lost his life performing interior fire suppression at the Floors and More store fire on School Ground Road. Both Vickstrom and Ramos will be remembered for having made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the lives and property of the residents of the Town of Branford.
Founded on February 3, 1934, 13 charter members organized Indian Neck Company No. 9. With funds that were raised they purchased a ½ acre piece of land for $600 from Bertha Wilford Smith and built their station by hand. In 1954 a fire at the Company No. 9 station required extensive renovations to the building. Today the Indian Neck Company No. 9 operates from the same station.
M.P. Rice Hose Company 2’s hose cart was replaced in 1923 by the 1910 Hartford Pope truck that was operated by Headquarters Company 8. In 1928 Company 2 placed a new Maxim fire- pumper in service and operated it for 20 years when a 1948 Maxim pumper with a 250-gallon water tank and a two-stage 750 gallon-per-minute pump was placed in service. This truck served the company for 27 years. In June 1973 a committee was formed to look into the replacement of M.P. Rice’s pumper as well as Engine 7 which was being operated from Headquarters on North Main Street. Purchasing two pieces of apparatus at the same time is a common practice of fire departments that results in significant savings. During the summer of 1976 the two new Maxim engines arrived in Branford at a cost of $49,000 each. M.P. Rice operated the 1976 Maxim engine until 1997 when the current Engine 2, a 1997 Pierce Saber with a 500-gallon water tank and 1500 gallon per minute single-stage pump was placed in service. Features of the current Engine 2 includes an on-board 7500-amp generator, seating for up to eight fire fighters in the enclosed crew cab, air-conditioning for fire fighter rehabilitation, 5 pre-connected rapid attack hose lines, and 1000 feet of four-inch supply hose line. In another two-at-once arrangement, the department saved significant money by also ordering a replacement for Short Beach’s Engine 4 at the same time.
The fire department is largely a tradition-based organization, and M.P. Rice Hose Company 2 continues to uphold a number of these traditions. Starting in 1972, the company began to recognize one member each year for outstanding service to the company. Given each year at the company’s annual banquet, the award is given in memory of M.P. Rice Fire Fighter Charles S. Witkowski who remained an active member until his death in 1972. Beginning in 1980, M.P. Rice began also awarding one member each year for unselfish acts that result in improved morale of the company members. This award is also given annually at the company’s banquet and is given in the name of Paul Maresca who lost his life in a tragic accident. Fire fighting and training activities often require the member to spend time away from their families. As a demonstration of appreciation to the wives of the members who may be called away during family meals and holiday celebrations, the company established an annual Ladies Night. Company members and their wives are treated to an evening of dining and dancing. Each February the members of M.P. Rice gather for their annual banquet, a tradition that has been carried on for many years.
While the department is steeped in 100 years of history and memories, the present and the future of the department are equally important. Today the Branford Fire Department’s volunteer companies work along with the career members of the department to provide Branford’s residents and visitors with the very best in fire protection. Services delivered by the department have expanded to include fire prevention, marine rescue including dive team and paramedic level emergency medical services. Apparatus includes six Class A fire engines, one aerial platform truck, one heavy-duty rescue truck, one medium-duty rescue truck, three paramedic ambulances, three fire boats and two forestry units. Members of the department have never been better trained or equipped to deal with the over 4,500 emergencies that the department is called upon to respond to annually.
Note: If you are interested in becoming a volunteer member of the Branford Fire Department, download the Volunteer Membership Application. Complete the application and return it to headquarters located at 45 North Main St.