Editor’s Note: Monroe Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Catalano and Fire Captain Chris Krize contributed historical notes for this story.
MONROE, CT — Monroe volunteer firefighters led the response to an electrical fire at a residence on Purdy Hill Road on Feb. 16, quickly containing it before it burned out of control.
Town residents and businesses have depended upon the volunteers of the Monroe, Stepney and Stevenson fire companies for decades and, this year, the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department is celebrating a significant milestone.
Established in 1923, when it set up temporary operations at Herbie Johnson’s barn, the fire company is now 100-years-old. It is the second oldest fire company town (The Stepney Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1917.)
“We’re still 100 percent volunteer, run by neighbors in the community,” said Monroe Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Catalano. “Our reach extends far beyond just responding to fire calls.”
Town firefighters respond to approximately 500 calls per year, including motor vehicle crashes with extrications and spills, smoke and carbon monoxide detector calls. The volunteers also visit schools to educate children about fire safety, host open houses with demonstrations and touch-a-trucks for the public and participate in the annual Memorial Day Parade.
“We feel our active presence in the Monroe community over the past 100 years helps raise awareness of fire safety, showcases our firefighters’ equipment and capabilities, and helps with recruiting new volunteer firefighters,” Catalano said.
“This also allows us to continue to build strong support and relationships with our residents; both adults and children, in more relaxed settings as opposed to only 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 town’s Community and Social Services’ Giving Tree program.
“It has been a long-standing tradition and continues to be very important for us to be active in community events and to support as many other town organizations as possible,” Catalano said.
When the Monroe Playground Foundation held a community build of the new Wolfe’s Den Playground at Wolfe Park last May, Monroe firefighters were among those who volunteered, putting equipment together 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 use of Fireman’s Field for curbside pickups.
Masuk High School seniors gathered on Fireman’s Field for a drive-thru graduation ceremony during the pandemic.
Firefighters have also shown support by allowing the field to be used for parking for the St. Jude Carnival, St. Peter’s Apple Festival, and Monroe Congregational Church’s Strawberry Festival.
The Monroe Volunteer Fire Department has planned several events to celebrate its 100th birthday:
- May 20, 2023: Firematic and Community Truck Show at Fireman’s Field
- May 28, 2023: Firefighters will march in the Memorial Day/Bicentennial Town Parade
- June 10, 2023: A Dinner and Celebration will be held at The Waterview
The first firehouse
In 1923, a carnival was held to raise funds to purchase 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 Monroe Turnpike. The property, where a cottage house had stood, was donated to the fire company by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Once the new station was built, ownership reverted back to the church, according to the deed for the property.
When 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 determined a new building on a larger lot was needed to accommodate the growing department.
The fire company accumulated adequate funds to acquire land and construct a new station, but members had difficulty negotiating with the owners of acceptable sites. Amid the challenges, World War II broke out, causing a period of uncertainty.
Eventually, the department was able to purchase its current site from Mrs. F. Hurd at the intersection of Route 110 and Moose Hill Road, on land that was centrally located with ample room for the building, parking and hosting social events.
A modern firehouse
In 1947, the cornerstone was laid for the new firehouse and the next two years would prove to be a challenge for Chief Ray Michel and President Andrew Bardugone.
The building committee, led by William Renz, grappled with labor and material shortages and budget concerns. But fire company members worked “countless hours” to construct the building under the direction of President Andrew Bardugone and the building committee.
Skilled members performed carpentry — some working at cost and others volunteering their time, while non-skilled members assisted with excavation and concrete work. The department made check payments to members for payroll as evidenced by the 1948 cash disbursements journals.
By December of 1948 the work was done and a new two-story, three bay, 40-by-70-foot building stood. The upstairs featured a meeting hall and a kitchen was located on the ground floor. The building was praised as being one of the finest firehouses in Connecticut at that time.
Completion of the new station in 1948 highlighted the 25th anniversary of the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department and members vacated the original building, which was subsequently demolished, leaving what is now a vacant wooded area.
By 1965, Station 1 took its modern day shape by adding three additional apparatus bays to the existing three bays.
The building remains essentially the same with the exception that the upstairs hall was renovated in the early 1990s, and the building and grounds received some aesthetic upgrades in 1998, in preparation for the 75th anniversary parade and celebration.
The latter included a redone parking lot, landscaping, new exhaust systems in the apparatus bays, and a fresh coat of paint throughout.
About 15 years later, the members’ room and downstairs and upstairs kitchens were renovated and in 2022 the department added four bunk rooms enabling volunteers to sleep at the station overnight.