The First Urban Legend

The Hinman House Fire

There are many “urban legends” scattered throughout the history of the West Haven Fire Department. The very first one concerns a fire that struck the Hinman House on the afternoon of November 6, 1888.  Urban legend would have us believe that, due to the lack of a local fire department, Hinman House burned to the ground.  The fact that the New Haven Fire Department was called in and could not respond in time to prevent the hotel from being a total loss spurred the residents of the Borough of West Haven to organize Engine & Hose Company #1 on November 18,1888, and thus the West Haven Fire
Department came to be.

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In the beginning…

The formation of the Center District

To start at the very beginning, we need to travel back in time some fifteen years before Engine and Hose Company #1 was organized and the West Haven Fire Department came into existence.  In May of 1873 a resolution was passed through the General Assembly incorporating the “Borough of West Haven”.  Although the Town of Orange was still mostly farmland, the West Haven section of town was quickly becoming commercialized.  West Haven had a sawmill and a lumberyard, the West Haven Buckle Company, a ship building Continue reading

The 1911 Knox


1911 Knox

1911 Knox Combination Automobile Wagon. Click photo to enlarge.


Pictured in front of the old Engine House on Campbell Avenue, this 1911 Knox was one of three Combination Automobile Wagons in service by September of 1911.  On the back left tailboard is firefighter W. Charles Darby who would become one of the first six permanent paid Grade A firefighters in 1933.  The man on the sideboard with the cigar is actually an employee of the Knox Company who stayed in West Haven to teach the firefighters how to drive.  Prior to the purchase of the Knox apparatus all fire equipment was either pulled by hand or by horse.

Who was first, indeed.

The first fully mechanized fire department

Urban legend would have us believe that the honor of the first fully mechanized (or motorized) fire department in the United States goes to the fire department of Savannah, Georgia.  In 1911, after the purchase and successful operation of the new American La France Auto Combination Chemical Wagon, Savannah’s City Council placed an order for 11 of the new apparatus to upgrade their entire department, thus making them the first fully mechanized fire department in the country.  But were they really?  By September of 1911 the West Haven Fire Department had accepted Continue reading