HISTORY OF THE MORRIS VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT
The Defense Council, under the chairmanship of the late Frank E. Wedge, first brought up the idea of a fire department for the Town of Morris, shortly after the advent of World War II, in December, 1941.
Organization was completed in the summer of 1942 and the first officers elected in September of that year. Elliot Stiles was the first president and the late William Weik was the first chief. It was meager by today’s standards, with only one truck, the body of which was designed by the men to meet their needs at that time; a portable pump, 2000 feet of l-l/2” hose and sundry small equipment, none of which had Underwriters rating.
Through the efforts of the men, the Old Town Hall was converted into the first Morris Firehouse. Presently, that building still stands at its original location on South Street, across from the current firehouse and houses the Morris Historical Society Museum, which includes a display of the original firefighting equipment.
In 1947, the Bantam Lake Yacht Club donated an O.C.D. pumper on a trailer mount. This was accepted by a town meeting in October, 1947. At the same meeting, it was voted to purchase a 4-wheel drive truck for the Department. Here began the long path to Underwriters Approval. Equipment was assembled, piece by piece, as money was raised. The O.C.D. pump was towed behind the Dodge Power Wagon during this period. During the fall of 1948, an attempt to borrow money was unsuccessful as the Department owned nothing for collateral.
During the summer of 1949, portable lighting equipment was purchased. Other necessary items were added during the next two years. Early in 1952, the pump for the Power Wagon was purchased and installed. There was another problem that developed: fire calls had always been handled by telephone operators, but the dial phone’s tone was to replace the familiar “Number Please.” The Fire Department took the initiative and secured the cooperation of the State Police to handle this important phase of firefighting, which was the prompt transfer of emergency calls.
During the winter of 1952-53, a personal loan of several thousand dollars was negotiated and the note signed by several of the firemen who had faith in what they were doing. This paved the way for Underwriters Approval, and the Power Wagon was sent to Massachusetts for completion and testing. Early in 1954, a third truck was added. This was one of the first Tank Trucks owned by any department in the area. It was converted from an oil tanker, once again by volunteer labor, and has since been changed to a new chassis.
In 1955, a committee was formed to secure land for a new fire station. This was also the year of the flood, when over 1000 man hours were logged by the men of the Department in service to the people in this community, not to mention time spent in Torrington, Thomaston, and elsewhere. It was in this year the Department became one of the first in Litchfield County to be radio equipped.
In 1956, a fourth truck, one with a very short wheelbase was purchased. The volunteers went to work and transferred the O.C.D. pump from its trailer mount to this chassis, thus providing an auxiliary pump which could be used and moved from place to place without tying up other equipment. This has since been changed to a more modern chassis by the volunteers.
In 1957, a base station was added at the firehouse. There has been other equipment added since, either through personal contribution of funds or the efforts of the members in various fund raising endeavors. Among these were Scott air packs, used to protect the men in smoke filled buildings.
The Department continually moved forward, largely through the tireless effort of those who make up its membership. Twice it has been chosen the outstanding department of Litchfield County. Its efforts were rewarded in 1960 with the completion of a new fire station, which was occupied December 4th of that year. This building is more than a garage for firefighting equipment; it is a memorial dedicated to a group of men whose time and talents have contributed to a better and more efficient Fire Department for the residents of Morris.
During the immediate years that followed, many technical improvements and changes occurred including the 1962 adoption of a radio tone alert system which alerted firemen in their homes. This “new” system proved to be highly effective in notifying the volunteers of emergencies both day and night.
In 1966, the Department purchased an International/Hahn pumper with town funds, which served the Department until 1991. This truck featured a 750 gallon per minute, 2 stage pump and carried 1000 gallons of water. Engine 5, as it was designated, was the pride of the fleet and earned several trophies whenever it went to parades. Its main purpose, to aid in fire suppression, was also achieved during its many years of service.
The rescue truck, a Metro step-in van, was purchased with Firemen’s Funds in 1969 and has undergone several minor changes to allow it to carry the various medical and rescue equipment needed by volunteers. The Department added a Dodge/Salisbury four-wheel drive mini pumper/brush truck in 1979, known as Engine 4. This piece of apparatus has responded to many calls, both on and off roads. It had a 1000 gallon per minute front mount pump and carried 250 gallons of water.
It was about this time that the MVFD made the commitment to enter the emergency care field. Several members took courses and passed tests to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) and Medical Response Technicians (MRT’s). By May 30, 1982, sufficient personnel were certified by the State of Connecticut Office of Emergency Care to allow the volunteers of Morris to operate as an Emergency Medical Service for the citizens of the area.
Old Engine 1, the short wheel based truck, was replaced in 1984 by a new International hose reel truck carrying a little less than one mile of large diameter hose (LDH) on two hydraulic reels. This apparatus allows the Department to efficiently move large volumes of water from a source pond, stream or lake to a fire scene with its 1000 gallon per minute pump, saving manpower and precious firefighting time.
The winter of 1985 found the MVFD in need of special ice rescue suits. Two suits were purchased as protection during the cold water and ice rescues. Since then, four more suits have been obtained and used on many rescue calls. The volunteers and the Town of Morris were able to foresee future needs of the Department, when an ambitious effort was made to building an addition to the firehouse. This addition contained three double bays to house equipment and to keep the Department technically efficient and up to date. The addition was completed in the fall of 1985.
In 1987, the firemen once again raised money through Firemen’s Funds and public donations to purchase an air recharging system, which allows the Department to refill air bottles used on the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Previously these air bottles had to be taken out of town to be filled, using valuable time and energy. To further enhance the Department’s fire fighting capabilities, a large capacity tanker/pumper attack truck was added with the purchase of a Kenworth/FMC vehicle put into service in late summer of 1988. This apparatus gave the Department 2,500 gallons of water immediately available. This water is delivered by a Hale 1250 gallons per minute pump and greatly enhanced the Department’s fire attack capabilities. Also in the fall of 1988, the Department purchased a 1985 Ford/Wheel Coach ambulance, known as 87-1, with funds raised over a period of years especially for this purpose. For the first time, Morris had its own ambulance to greatly enhance its emergency medical services and, at the same time, reduce the time factor in getting patients to area hospitals. Prior to this, ambulances from other towns had to be summoned to Morris to transport patients to area hospitals.
On July 10, 1989, at about 5 p.m., the area was devastate by a terrible tornado which rendered the Town of Morris without power for most of the week. During this time, the Department was tested to its limits by constant medical and fire calls. Thousands of man hours were spent helping to get the town back on its feet, through clearing debris from the roads and getting water to elderly residents and shut-ins. The Connecticut National Guard was dispatched to Morris and they quickly set up headquarters behind the firehouse and James Morris School. The kitchen of the firehouse became the food distribution center for the working crews in the area. Firemen were on duty 24 hours a day for a week helping feed the National Guard, CL&P crews and other folks needing meals. This was in addition to meeting the Department’s firefighting and medical responsibilities. This major storm tested the skill and dedication of the volunteers and was recognized not only in our town, but statewide.
In 1990, the Department members decided to participate in marching competitively. A contingent of men and women have represented the Town of Morris well in various northwest area towns as well as in the State Firemen’s parades. In 1990 and 1991, the Morris volunteers won the State Trophy for Best Appearing Unit with under 15 marchers. To accompany the marchers, a band was started in 1990, known as the Morris Tornados, which was comprised of area musicians, mostly youngsters, who marched with the Department at each parade. The Morris Tornados won recognition in the 1991 State Parade as the Best Appearing Musical Unit. The Department has been seriously competing in parades since that time and successfully took top honors as Best Over All Unit in the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and most recently 2008.
The year 1992 saw another change of apparatus for the Department. The old Engine 5 was replaced with our very first custom-made apparatus. This is a Simon Deplux chassis with a Boardman body and features a 1,500 gallon per minute pump with 1,000 gallon water capacity. This engine is still in service today and is a very capable fire truck.
There was a need for office space and in 1993 the members remodeled the downstairs bays in the firehouse to create a day room and offices for the Department’s regular business. This was funded by Firemen’s Funds and is a great asset to the Department.
The Department retired its first ambulance (the 1985) in 1996 with a 1995 demonstration ambulance from Ford/Wheel Coach. The old ambulance had served the community for years and the Department went with the same manufacturer. Another change that same year was the purchase of a new rescue truck to replace the old 1969 walk-in van. This new Rescue 6 is a 16 foot PL Custom. It features an Amkus “Jaws of Life” rescue tool, a board air tool system, an on-board generator to power various electric tools and many more up-to-the-minute features that allow the Department to respond to a variety of fire and emergency situations.
There were technological advances that were made in 1997. The Department purchased, with Firemen’s Funds, a state-of-the-art defibrillator that greatly increases the chances of a patient surviving a heart attack. There was also a new stretcher purchased with money from the Charlie Pack Memorial Fund.
Old Engine 4 served well until 2000 when it was replaced with a new Ford 550 4 x 4 diesel. This new brush truck also serves as a first responder truck in case of multiple emergencies. It ahs a 300 gallon poly tank with a 500 gallon per minute pump. The Department also invested in a Rivercraft 120 horsepower air boat. This is a fan-driven flat bottom boat that can go on ice or snow as well as water. It will greatly assist rescues involving both winter and summer water emergencies as well as ice rescues. It was purchased with Firemen’s Fund donations and grants from the Thomaston Savings Bank and a Teutonic Foundation. A trailer to protect, contain and transport parade uniforms was purchased in 2004.
There was a change in the radios that service the area fire departments in 2002. The older low band radios were suffering from over traffic and the occasional dead spots, so the Department, along with other area departments, went to high band frequencies so communications would be clearer.
There has been much made of Homeland Security and with assistance of a grants from FEMA and Thomaston Savings Bank the Department purchased a new 4,500 high pressure air pack system. These 14 new SCBA’s are Survivair. We also have a compressor with cascade tanks that will these to the 4,500 pressure. These air packs are lighter and smaller than the old low pressure SCBA that were replaced. A hazardous material trailer was also purchased with a grant from FEMA.
The 1995 ambulance served us well in its thirteen years of service to the Town of Morris. It was replaced in 2008 with a GMC/Lifeline ambulance, which will serve the town nicely into the future.
Last page update - October 16, 2013