Department’s Origin Traced To WWII
It all goes back to a pump manufactured by Chrysler Marine that the U.S. government’s Civil Defense department granted the Town of Harwinton in 1942.
The date of the pump’s arrival is no longer recalled, but it was quickly apparent that a place as needed to keep it as well as an organization with folks to operate it. On March 14, 1944, a town meeting was held where townspeople voted to establish the Harwinton Volunteer Fire Department.
Norman Barber was elected Chief and Custodian of Equipment.
A week later, on March 21, 1944, Barber presided over an organizational meeting of the Harwinton VFD. Officers were elected and a set of bylaws was approved.
Hans Thiemann, who ran a store and gas station on property where Harwinton’s EMS facility now sits, was elected Deputy Chief. He apparently gave the department use of his panel truck.
The location where the pump ended up being stored has been lost to time. Perhaps it was held at the town’s highway department garage, then located on North Road behind the Harwinton Congregational Church. Perhaps it was kept at Thiemann’s store/gas station.
The Harwinton VFD purchased a new 1944 Ford with an American LaFrance body and a used 1933 Dodge truck to get the department operating. In 1948, another new Ford was purchased to replace the Dodge.
Over the years, engines have come and gone. The original 1944 Ford lasted until 1972.
In the early days, calls placed by residents to summon the fire department were answered at Thiemann’s store/gas station. Eventually, four other homes were added to the circuit. Firefighters were alerted to emergencies by a siren atop the firehouse, a practice that remains to this day.
The alerting system began changing in 1980 when the Harwinton VFD contracted with the City Answering Service in Torrington. When a call came in, a tone was sent out that activated an alerting signal in members homes. It was accompanied by a voice message giving the type of emergency and the location.
In 1989, 9-1-1 service began with members receiving pagers that alert them to calls. Today, they also receive text message alerts from Litchfield County Dispatch.
The original firehouse at 158 Burlington Road was built on donated land; half given by Thiemann and half by Harry Cleaveland. That stood until 1982 when another slice of land was given by Henry David (who had purchased Cleaveland’s property). A new building was built over the existing building, which was torn down when the new firehouse was up.
While the town provides operating expenses for the department, fundraisers and donations help for other necessary purchases, including vital equipment. To build the original firehouse, 40 original members signed a $2,000 mortgage to help cover the cost.
Today, the Harwinton VFD has nearly 60 active members. For apparatus, it has three pumpers, a tanker, a brush truck and a utility vehicle.