Many towns in Connecticut have more than one fire department. At the last count I saw, of the 169 towns and three tribal nations in Connecticut there were 310 separate fire departments. For example, Middletown has three (Middletown Fire, South Fire District, and Westfield Fire), Enfield has five; Trumbul and Monroe each have three. The reasons are varied, some are fire districts and issue their own tax bills, and others were established as towns grew and the original fire department could not offer protection, such as in Stamford. A few are private such as Pratt & Whitney and Pfizer.
Naugatuck currently has one fire department, the Naugatuck Fire Department (NFD), but in the past several others also existed simultaneously in town. The original fire department in Naugatuck was the India Rubber Glove Company fire brigade. When the town took over the operation of the department in 1885 the name changed to the Naugatuck Hose Hook & Ladder Company, eventually changing to the Naugatuck Fire Department. For many years the Naugatuck Fire Department, consisting of full time fire fighters, and the Naugatuck Volunteer Fire Department (NVFD) existed as separate fire departments. The Naugatuck Board of Fire Commissioners had oversight of the NFD while the volunteers answered to the Board of Mayor and Burgess. In the early 1990s control of the NVFD was transferred to the Fire Commission. The two departments co-existed until the volunteer fire department was disbanded in 2005.
A couple of independent fire departments in Naugatuck also provided fire protection; the Risdon Manufacturing Company fire brigade and the Uniroyal Chemical Fire Department. The Risdon brigade only responded to incidents in the plant on Arch Street while the Uniroyal Chemical Fire Department responded to incidents in Naugatuck and surrounding towns on several occasions.
One unofficial fire department that served an area of Naugatuck was the Westberg Fire Department, located on Andrew Mountain Road. The Westberg family owned a farm on the top of Andrew Mountain and owned at least three fire pumpers in the early to mid-1900.
There is very little information on Westberg’s fire department. I was sent an article from the Bridgeport Herald from 1949 by Joe Knowles about the Westberg’s and their fire engines. Joe and I have had many discussions on Naugatuck history, specifically the history of the fire department.
In 1949, Ansonia Charter Hose Company #4 offered a 1929 fire engine for sale by sealed bid. Edwin Westberg out bid Oxford Riverside Fire Company and Shelton Pine Rock fire Company. His bid of $615 ($5,900 in 2013 dollars) was far more than the bid of $250 ($2,411 in 2013 dollars) Shelton and Oxford submitted. I imagine the folks in Ansonia were quite pleased with the bid and Mr. Westberg wishing he bid $251. Mr. Westberg mentions in the article that his father owned two pumpers and that he used to play on them as a boy.
Mr. Westberg did complain to the mayor of Ansonia that, while the pumper was sold “as-is”, several items were missing when he picked it up, notably some lights and equipment.
After receiving the pumper, Mr. Westberg offered his services to the town of Naugatuck and Oxford as well as his neighbors. The article states that “a good sized fire” was put out by one of the previous Westberg fire pumpers.
Residents on Andrew Mountain rely on well water for domestic use and there are no fire hydrants. This presents a challenge as a fire department needs people, equipment, and water to extinguish a fire. Without pressurized hydrants, the fire pumper would have relied on the small, maybe 100 gallon, water tank or draw water from a pond. Mr. Westberg had a pond on his property on Andrew Mountain Road near the intersection of Fieldstone Terrace. He installed a fire hydrant to the pond to make it easier for a pumper to draw the water from the pond. The hydrant is still visible, but the pond is long gone.
I do not know what happened to the Westberg fire engines.
A streak of New England independence and the desire to help neighbors seems to have prompted the Westberg family to offer fire protection to the area. Those are pretty good traits to have and, during the February blizzard, we saw that this attitude still exists in many people in Naugatuck.