Editors Note: Monroe Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Catalano and Fire Captain Chris Krize contributed historical notes to this story.
MONROE, CT — Monroe volunteer firefighters led a response to an electrical fire at a residence on Purdy Hill Road on Feb. 16, quickly containing it before it burned out of control.
City residents and businesses have depended on volunteers from the Monroe, Stepney and Stevenson fire companies for decades and, this year, the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department is celebrating an important milestone.
Founded in 1923, when it set up temporary operations on Herbie Johnson’s barn, this fire fighting company is now 100 years old. It is the city’s second oldest fire department (The Stepney Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1917.)
“We are still 100 percent volunteer, run by neighbors in the community,” said Monroe Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Catalano. “Our range goes far beyond simply responding to fire calls.”
City firefighters respond to about 500 calls per year, including motor vehicle accidents with discharges and spills, smoke and carbon monoxide detection calls. Volunteers also visit schools to educate children about fire safety, host open houses with demonstrations and touch trucks for the public and participate in the annual Remembrance Day Parade.
“We feel our active presence in the Monroe community over the last 100 years has helped raise awareness of fire safety, showcase the equipment and capabilities of our firefighters, and help recruit new volunteer firefighters,” said Catalano.
“It also allows us to continue to build strong support and relationships with our citizens; both adults and children, in a more relaxed setting than just when they need our services in an emergency,” he added.
Every year, firefighters participate in Christmas events and deliver holiday gifts with Santa to families in need through the city’s Community Giving Tree and Social Services program.
“This has been a long tradition and continues to be very important for us to be active in community events and support as many other municipal organizations as possible,” said Catalano.
When the Monroe Playground Foundation undertook the community building of its new Wolfe’s Den Playground in Wolfe Park last May, Monroe’s firefighters were among those who volunteered, putting together equipment for children.
In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Monroe Farmers Market from being held on the green in front of Monroe Town Hall, the fire company allowed the use of the Fire Station for curbside pickup.
Entrance High School students gather at Fireman’s Field for a drive-thru graduation ceremony during a pandemic.
The firefighters also showed support by allowing the field to be used for parking for St. Mary’s Carnival. Jude, St. Jude’s Apple Festival Peter, and Monroe Congregational Church Strawberry Festival.
The Monroe Volunteer Fire Department has planned several events to celebrate its 100th birthday:
- May 20, 2023: Fire Truck and Community Show at Fire Ground
- May 28, 2023: Firefighters will line up the Memorial Day/Bicentennial Town Parade
- 10 June 2023: Dinner and Celebration will be held at The Waterview
The first firehouse
In 1923, a carnival was held to raise funds to buy the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department’s first truck—a 1923 Red Chemical Fire Engine.
The Monroe company’s first firehouse was built at the corner of Moose Hill Road and the Monroe Turnpike. The property, on which a cottage house stands, was donated to the fire company by St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Peter.
After the new station was built, ownership returned to the church, according to the deed of ownership.
When the firefighters formed a building committee to expand their headquarters in 1941, members found the surrounding land was not available for the project. Two years later, they decided that a new building on a larger site was needed to accommodate the growing department.
The fire company raised enough funds to acquire the land and build a new station, but members had difficulty negotiating with an acceptable site owner. In the midst of these challenges, World War II broke out which created a period of uncertainty.
Finally, the department was able to purchase its current site from Mrs. F. Hurd at the intersection of Route 110 and Moose Hill Road, on centrally located land with ample space for building, parking, and hosting social events.
A modern firefighter
In 1947, the cornerstone was laid for a new firehouse and the next two years proved to be challenging for Chief Ray Michel and President Andrew Bardugone.
The building committee, led by William Renz, grappled with labor and material shortages as well as budgetary issues. But firefighters worked “hours” to get the building under the direction of President Andrew Bardugone and the building committee.
Skilled members do the carpentry – some work for a fee and others volunteer their time, while unskilled members help with the excavation and concrete work. The department makes check payments to members for payroll as evidenced by the 1948 cash disbursements journal.
In December 1948, the work was completed and a new two-story, three-bay, 40-by-70-foot building stood. The upper floor features a meeting room and the kitchen is located on the ground floor. The building was hailed as one of the best firehouses in Connecticut at the time.
The completion of the new station in 1948 highlighted the 25th anniversary of the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department and members vacating the original building, which was later demolished, leaving what is now an empty forest area.
In 1965, Station 1 took on its modern form adding three auxiliary equipment bays to the existing three bays.
The building has remained essentially the same with the exception that the top floor hall was renovated in the early 1990s, and the building and grounds received some aesthetic upgrades in 1998, in preparation for the parade and 75th anniversary celebrations.
The latter included a renovated parking lot, landscaping, a new exhaust system in the equipment bay, and a fresh coat of paint throughout.
About 15 years later, the members’ quarters and kitchens downstairs and upstairs were renovated and in 2022 the department added four bunk rooms allowing volunteers to sleep in the station overnight.