The Badges of the West Haven Fire Department ~ The Fire Police

Welcome to our second installment in our Department Badge series.  This installment deals with the West Haven Fire Police.  Organized in 1899, the Fire Police would play a large role in our department for several years before disbanding in 1913 to make way for the organization of the Borough’s police force.










Above is a photograph of our Fire Police.  The first mention of the “Fire Police” appears in the revised 1898 Rules and Regulations of the West Haven Fire Department.

“#10. The Board of Warden and Burgesses shall annually appoint a corps of Fire Police, as to them may seem fit, such Fire Police to be members of the Fire Department under the jurisdiction of the Fire Commissioners. They shall report at all fires and alarms of fire for the purpose of preserving order and safeguarding property: shall act under the direction of the Chief and shall wear a special badge provided by the Fire Commissioners under such regulations as may from time to time be made by them.

We find it very significant that this is the first time any specific department badge is mentioned in an official capacity.  As we progress further with our Badge series you will see how important our department badges become, even being included in the oaths used in the swearing-in of our members.

Here is an example of of a Fire Police Badge.  There is no numeric designation on this badge.  It is also interesting that the abbreviation “DEP’T” includes an apostrophe. This is common on badges of this era.  As time goes on, the abbreviation “DEPT.” would be more commonplace.


The first Fire Police were appointed on March 7, 1899.  Below is an excerpt from the minutes of the Borough’s March meeting:

Voted that six Fire Police be appointed and that the Fire Commissioners be instructed to furnish same with badges.

Fire Police Appointed:       Lawrence Moore
                                        James Kelley
                                        George Bescher
                                        Lewis Warner
                                       James Fenwick
                                       William Wilson

Once again, the badges are mentioned specifically.  No where in the minutes does it mention any other equipment or uniforms.  In the above photo you can see the men all have white gloves and are holding “Billy Clubs”.  We can assume that these details were discussed at some point but only the badges were deemed important enough to be included in the official Borough minutes.









Here are two more examples of badges worn by the Fire Police.  These both have numeric designations and, if you look at the badge on the right, the abbreviation “DEPT.” has no apostrophe.  This could indicate that this style was adopted later than the style on the left. By clicking on the photo of the Fire Police you can view an enlarged version (most photos included in our articles have this feature).  Although the photo is not clear enough to see all the details of the badges worn by these men, you can make out the outlines.  It would appear that the style on the left was worn by five of the members.  If you notice the man third from the left, he appears to be wearing the badge that has no numeric designation.

We suspect that this member is the “Captain” of the Fire Police Corps.  Although we have no way to confirm this as of this writing, his blouse has two rows of buttons which indicates an officer.  Also, officers usually were issued a different style of badge with no numeric designation.  Again, this is speculation on our part but these traditions continue in our department to this very day.

Because of the short time that the Fire Police were in existence, coupled with the fact that there were very few members, the Fire Police badge is one of the rarest examples of our departments badges.

Look for the next installment of our Department Badge series.  We also plan a more in depth article on the history of the West Haven Fire Police in the near future.

~Photographs courtesy of the WHFD Historical Library.

~Badges (non-numeric) courtesy of the Charles E. Raubeson Collection.

~Badges (numeric) courtesy of the Greg Giaquinto Collection.



Chief Charles A. Cameron

Charles Aubrey Cameron was born on February 28, 1872, in Kingsport, Nova Scotia.  He began his career with the West Haven Fire Service in 1892 as a member of the James Graham Hook & Ladder Company and, upon their demise in 1902, continued as a member of the West Haven Hook & Ladder.  He served as Assistant Chief under Chief Frank Sohn and became the department’s fifth Chief on January 10, 1905. Charles Cameron would hold the office of Chief for 12 years until December 31, 1917, becoming, by far, our longest sitting Chief prior to the modern era. In his quest to modernize our department he would often travel to other larger fire departments and bring their knowledge and experience back to West Haven, adopting these valuable ideas to further fire protection.  Most times he did this at his own expense.

In 1911, Chief Cameron purchased our first mechanized (motorized) piece of apparatus. Built by the Knox Company of Springfield, MA, this chemical combination engine so impressed the Chief that he purchased two more, one for North End Hose and one for Savin Rock Hose, as well as a three wheel tractor for Hook & Ladder to pull their ladder wagon.  These four pieces of apparatus were all in service by the end of September, 1911, making the West Haven Fire Department the first fully mechanized fire department in the United States.

In 1917, after serving as Chief for twelve years, Charles Cameron would fall out of favor with the firemen and be replaced by Chief Arthur Travis. This was not to be the end of Charles Cameron however. On January 1, 1918, just one day after the end of his term as Chief, he was appointed as Fire Commissioner along with James M. McDermott. They would be the first two official Fire Commissioners appointed under the new law (House Bill 177) and would prove (with great controversy) that the law was flawed and needed to be revised. Ironically, upon the revision of the bill neither man would retain his position as commissioner, however, Charles Cameron would be appointed Fire Commissioner once again on May 1, 1921 and would serve as Chairman of the Board for only two months before his death on July 7, 1921.


The Badges of the West Haven Fire Department ~ Our First Badge

From our department’s inception in 1888, on through to the present day, our members have worn a variety of different badges.  The department’s Historical Library staff has been busy researching and documenting the evolution of the department badge.  We have scoured our archives, reached out to our members both past and present, and have studied several private collections.  We invite you to join us on our journey through the years.  This is a work in progress and will continue to be updated as we gather more information along the way.

Now, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

The First Badge

The earliest evidence we could find in regard to our badges was the badge in the portrait of our first Chief, William V. Wilson.  Although, as of this writing, we can find no written documentation of when or where this badge originated, we do have several examples of this style.


Above is the badge in Chief Wilson’s portrait. Below is the badge from Chief Thompson’s photo.  He became Chief in 1893.


Adolphus Jonah ThompsonAdolphus Jonah Thompson 2

These are the earliest examples of our department’s badges on record.  The New Haven Fire Department had a very similar style badge featured below.


New Haven VolunteerNew Haven VFA (2)









You will notice that the initials “VFA” are included on the lower portion of these badges.  In 1862, the thirteen volunteer companies that made up the New Haven Fire Department were disbanded to make way for the paid department. In 1879, the former members of these volunteer companies formed the Veteran Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Being that the West Haven Fire Department was formed just nine years later, we can assume that our first badges (featured below) were either patterned after the New Haven badges or that this style was just what was available and popular at that time.

First Design - #4

First Design - unnumbered









Although it is difficult to see clearly, the above righthand badge seems to match the badge in the photograph of Chief Thompson.  The angle of the trumpet in the center scramble appears to be the same.  The portrait of Chief Wilson is less clear and, being a portrait as opposed to a photograph, we can only assume that the artist took no liberties with their representation of his badge.

So there you have it, our first badge.    This article is the first of a series showcasing our department’s badges throughout our history.  Look for our next installment.

~Photos Courtesy of the WHFD Historical Library.
~Badges Courtesy of the Charles E. Raubeson Collection.

Chief Adolphus J. Thompson

On June 6, 1893, just a couple of months after the resignation of Chief William Wilson, Adolphus Jonah Thompson became the second man to hold the position of Chief. In 1894, he would see the end of the two year feud between the James Graham Hook & Ladder and the West Haven Hook & Ladder as well as the construction of a state of the art Town Hall (which, ironically, would catch fire shortly before it was scheduled to be occupied). In 1895 Chief Thompson would see the formation of North End Hose Company #3 as well as Seaside Hose Company #4 (later known as Savin Rock Hose), expanding our department to five independent volunteer companies. On March 17, 1898, Chief Thompson would tender his own resignation. Upon his resignation, William Wilson stepped into the role of Chief once again thus becoming the only man to hold the position twice. Chief Thompson resigned so he could run for the position of Warden which would be similar to what the Mayor of West Haven is today. He ran against a man named James Peck and he lost. In 1899 William Wilson stepped down and Adolphus Thompson would run for the position again. Although the Chief was “officially” appointed by the Warden and Burgesses of the borough, the firemen would first vote themselves and then inform the Warden of their choice. At this time a man by the name of Andrew B. Wilkinson decided to run against Thompson and a very tight race it was. Andrew Wilkinson was a very popular man and was Captain of the James Graham Hook & Ladder for five years running. In the end, Wilkinson would become the third man to be Chief of our department and Adolphus Thompson would fade into obscurity.


Deputy Chief – The Department Doormat

William Vincent Miller was the last of a dying breed but he was very far from the first.  From the very beginning, the position of Deputy Chief was in great demand, however, once it was achieved, it was usually abandoned just as quickly.  The West Haven Fire Department expanded to three volunteer companies in 1892.  These were Engine Company #1, The James Graham Hook & Ladder, and West Haven Hook & Ladder.  Firemen, as a rule, expect to be under the command of a Chief Officer.  The second in command was another story altogether.  Now that there was more than just one company, the Assistant Chief or Deputy Chief (they seemed to change them back and forth at will back then) was left to the mercy of his fellow firemen.  Unfortunately the firemen showed little or no mercy when it came to the Deputy Chief.  In 1895 Engine Companies #3 & #4 came into being and things really heated up for the second in command.  Now there were five separate volunteer organizations.  If, for instance, the Deputy Chief was from West Haven Hook & Ladder, the men of Hooks would revere their man in the front office while the men of the other companies would show him little or no respect.  Since he was not a member “of their company” they would have no trouble ignoring him or outright defying him, even on the fire ground. “You’re not my Chief” would be a comment heard quite often in the heat of the moment.  Since all the firemen of the day were volunteers, it left little recourse for any disciplinary action.  In most cases it just lead to the resignation of the Deputy.  All this would finally come to a head in the fall of 1927 – after almost 40 years of conflict.

W. Vincent Miller

We take you now to the year 1919.  Connecticut had just passed (and revised) House Bill 177 and with the new law the Borough of West Haven now installed three new fire commissioners.  One of their first official acts was to remove the current Chief of Department (Arthur Travis) and the current Fire Marshal (Andrew Condon) and replace them with their own choices.  On July 16, 1919 Lloyd Cameron became Chief of Department and W. Vincent Miller was appointed Deputy Chief / Fire Marshal.  And so began the short but colorful career of W. Vincent Miller.  The new law (commonly referred to as “The Firemen’s Act of 1919”) was widely untested and, right out of the gate, Marshal Miller was the object of some controversy.  Although it was agreed to pay him the sum of $100.00 per year, the maximum allowed by the new law, the Marshal submitted an expense report which included office supplies (which were paid) and his cigars (which prompted the board to table the request until further information was obtained).  These were small and even slightly amusing events but the bigger problem arose when the Fire Marshal began charging two dollars for inspections (as outlined by the new law) and assumed that, since he was performing them, the two dollars was his to keep.  In Vincent Millers defense, the law was not very clear in this area and the borough had to use the services of town attorney Charles Roberts to clarify the situation.  In the end, the legal opinion stated that the money collected in the performance of the Fire Marshal’s duties was to be turned over to the district.

The Curse of the Second in Command

West Haven became a town in it’s own right in 1921.  Even though we were officially separate from the Town of Orange and had our own Board of Selectman, the Fire Department was still governed by the Board of Fire Commissioners (as it still is today).  As the years marched on, W. Vincent Miller fell victim to the “Deputy Chief Curse” more and more often. Being a card carrying member of North End Hose Company #3, he had no problems when dealing with the men on Spring Street.  The rest of the companies were another matter all together.  Having his authority questioned or blatantly disregarded by the men was taking its toll.  The situation finally reached the boiling point in October of 1927 when the Marshal brought Fireman A. Stocker before the Board of Commissioners on charges of insubordination.  Stocker, a member of Engine Company #1, openly defied Deputy Chief Miller and “said things that were not very pleasant” when he was confronted as to the use of a can of polish that the Deputy said belonged to the police department.  When ordered to return the polish Stocker refused.  Although the records of the time are brief (and a little more than “politically correct”) one can imagine the heated exchange.

The Chain of Command

On October 4, 1927, Deputy Chief Miller appeared at the regular commissioner’s meeting with Fireman Stocker in tow.  Thinking he would finally get the respect that he deserved, he plead his case to the board.  After hearing about the repeated acts of insubordination the board asked Miller if he had ever reported any of these problems before.  He stated he had not and he was reporting them now.  He was then asked if he had ever reported them to the Chief.  He stated he had not, he was reporting them directly to the commissioners.  The meeting did not go the way Vincent Miller expected.  In the end, the board ruled that the Deputy Chief had exceeded his authority and had not properly reported the charges to the Chief.  Chief Cameron was then instructed to investigate “the supposed problems” and report back to the commissioners at a later meeting.  W. Vincent Miller then withdrew the charges against  Stocker and presented his resignation which was to take effect on October 6,1927.

With Regret

The commissioners decided, at first to table Miller’s resignation until Chief Cameron could complete his investigation and report back to the board.  Then they read the letter more carefully.  In his letter Miller stated that the reason for his resignation was “not being supported by my superior officers”.  Officers plural.  When questioned about who these “officers” might be Vincent Miller replied, “The Board of Fire Commissioners and the Chief of the Department”.  The commissioners apparently took exception to this and, at a special meeting held on October 11, 1927, they voted to accept Vincent Miller’s resignation with regret.  This did not sit well with the Deputy.  He informed the commissioners that, since they had tabled his resignation, he intended to withdraw it.  He was informed that withdrawing his resignation was not an option.  They had already accepted it “with regret”.  Marshal Miller fought valiantly, even going so far as to say he resigned from the West Haven Fire Department but NOT the office of Fire Marshal.  This touched off quite a battle but, when all was said and done, W. Vincent Miller’s career came to an end.

Doormat No Longer

As a result of all this controversy the West Haven Fire Department was prompted to make a bold move.  On December 16,1927, they appointed Charles Leake to the position of Fire Marshal.  They did not, however, make him Deputy Chief.  It was made very clear to Charles Leake that his position would be that of “Fireman / Fire Marshal” and that he would hold no rank.  He would hold this position, with little or no problems, until his retirement in 1940.  A quick historical note:  Charles Leake was one of the first six Grade A Firemen hired on January 24, 1933.  Falling ill in 1940, he became the first man to retire from the West Haven Fire Department.  Two weeks prior to his retirement the Board of Fire Commissioners voted to make him an honorary Assistant Chief of the Fire Department.


Dr. William V. Wilson ~ Our First Chief

William Virgil Wilson was born in Milford, Connecticut on December 26, 1845.  His father, Elisha Wilson married Julia A. Benjamin of Milford and together they had eight children.  Of the eight, only three survived; William V., Eugene B., and Lillian E.  William Wilson went on to be educated at Yale, graduating from the Yale Medical School in 1867.  Dr. Wilson then relocated to South Brunswick, New Jersey where he practiced for eighteen years,  twelve of which he spent working as the surgeon for the Pennsylvania Railroad in New Jersey.  Dr. Wilson moved from South Brunswick to Willington, Connecticut and, in 1887, moved to West Haven.  He was married to the former Nellie H. Brayton of North Adams, Massachusetts and together they had five children; Cornelia G., Philip E., Nellie A., Nettie, and Elizabeth B.  Dr.Wilson was a member of the Connecticut State and Yale Medical Societies and was also vice-president of the Medical Practitioners’ Protective Alliance of the United States.

Dr. Wilson’s father Elisha built the first telegraph line through the Naugatuck valley.  He also invented the telegraph repeater about the year 1846.  The telegraph repeater was one of the most successful inventions of the age and without it, long distance telegraphy of one, two, and three thousand miles could not be accomplished on the single circuit over land lines.

It is not certain exactly when Dr. William V. Wilson officially became the first Chief of Department.  On April 22, 1889, in the wake of the Hinman Hotel and the M. P. Williams Livery fires, Dr. Wilson put forth a motion before the Warden and Burgesses of the borough “To investigate a combination fire engine and finances”.  This motion was seconded by a Mr. Hoffmeister and a committee of three consisting of Dr. William V. Wilson, Mr. Charles T. Sherman, and Mr. Joseph Andrews was formed.  On the advice of this committee the borough purchased an #3 Crane Neck Button Hand Fire Engine along with 800 feet of fire hose and a two wheeled hose cart.  These were the first pieces of firefighting equipment to be purchased by the West Haven Fire Department.  The department still has the Hand Pumper to this day and it can be seen at the Savin Rock Museum in West Haven, CT.

Although it is documented that Dr. Wilson was Chief of Department from as early as 1889, he was not officially appointed by the Warden and Burgesses until April 5, 1892.  On this date the following motion was brought before the panel:

“Motion that William V. Wilson be and is hereby appointed Chief of the West Haven Fire Department, said appointment to terminate December 5, 1892.  It being understood that the Chief receive no compensation for services rendered.”

Dr. Wilson would remain Chief of Department until his resignation on May 15, 1893.  On June 6, 1893, Adolphus J. Thompson became our second Chief of Department.  Chief Thompson held the top spot until March 17, 1898, when he stepped down to run for the position of Warden.  (He lost).  On March 18, 1898, William Wilson once again took over as Chief of Department and became the only man to hold the office of Chief twice.  He did not seek to remain Chief for another term and was replaced by Andrew B. Wilkinson on January 10, 1899.

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 industry, and all the various businesses that go along with being located on the shore of Long Island Sound.  Along with all these many professions came the people to work them.  With the people, came more businesses to accommodate them.  Now the people of West Haven would have need for doctors and pharmacists, teachers for their children, furniture for their homes, food for their families, and so on and so forth.  What would eventually become the downtown area of West Haven was fast filling up with hundreds of dwellings.  What West Haven really came to need were roads.  The narrow horse tracks needed to be replaced with wider, more modern roadways to allow the movement of people and goods.  The Town of Orange, however, did not want to get involved with building and maintaining roads and so the Borough of West Haven came to be.

In the fall of 1873, West Haven became a borough of the Town of Orange and was empowered to govern itself.  A Warden and a panel of six Burgesses would oversee the the operations of the borough and have the power to appropriate funds from the borough residents.  Most importantly, they had the power to build roads and highways.  They would begin by straightening and widening the existing roadways.  They would determine that all roads running north and south would be called “Avenues” and that all roads traveling east and west would be called “Streets”.  They would raise the roads to keep them dry and harden them with clay gravel or, in many cases, oyster shells.  When it was hot and dry they would employ a “sprinkler” to wet down the roads to keep the dust at bay.  By the end of the nineteenth century they would be lighting the roads at night and installing curb lines and sidewalks.  It would not be until November 18, 1888 that, as a result of the Hinman House fire, Engine and Hose Company #1 would come into being and thus begin the long tradition of the West Haven Fire Department.

But that’s another story…

Borough Resolution

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 delivery of four Knox mechanized apparatus and had placed them in service in each of the four fire houses in town.  Engine & Hose Company #1, North End Hose Company #3, and Savin Rock Hose Company #4 each received a Knox Chemical Combination Automobile Wagon and Hook & Ladder Company #1 received a Knox Three Wheel Tractor to pull it’s ladder wagon.  Although Savannah had placed their order in 1911, delivery of the entire order would not be completed until 1912.  The FIRST fully mechanized fire department in the United States, West Haven, CT, had their apparatus in service by the end of September, 1911.


1911 Knox

1911 Knox Chemical Combination Automobile Wagon – click photo for more info