Gil Spencer's 70 Years' Membership Recognized with a Mayoral Citation
It only took nine more months, but the membership of Co. 5 was finally able to present Gil Spencer with a mayoral citation from then-current Mayor Curt Leng and a Co. 5 plaque commemorating his 70 years' membership with the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Company.
The presentation was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 23rd, the 70th anniversary of Gil's application for membership in the company. All the members were notified that the October meeting at which Gil was to be honored was to be held at the Spencer home that Saturday. Unfortunately, the night before the event Gil returned home from a brief hospitalization and the plans were shelved until a better time - which turned out to be this weekend.
Since the original presentation date, Gil also has acquired another unique distinction. Having been a member of Co. 5 for 70 years and nine months as of August 7, 2022, Gil now holds the record for the longest continuous membership of anyone in a Hamden volunteer fire company.
Gil applied to join the Mount Carmel Volunteer Fire Company on October 23, 1951 and was voted into the company the following month. He served as a lieutenant in the company three years later.
In December 1957 Gil was appointed as a recruit firefighter in the "paid department," and thirteen years later with the adoption of the 42-hour workweek, he was promoted to lieutenant. It was during this time that Gil began to introduce the department to prefire planning, many of his preplans still "in the book" well into the 1990s.
In 1981, Gil was promoted to captain and was transferred to Platoon 4, where he would succeed D/C Francis "Chalky" Leddy as shift commander in 1986. In 1992 after 35 years as a member of the career department, Cmdr. (now B/C) Gil Spencer retired. He maintained his membership in the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Company throughout his tenure as a "paid man."
Karl Olson, V.P. and past captain, Gil, and captain and Co. 5 president Mark Guarino (CLICK to enlarge image)
Mayoral Citation dated October 23, 2021 from Mayor Curt Balzano Leng (CLICK to enlarge)
Gil's son, John, retired at the end of last November after a 35-year career with the department, the last 19 years of which as a shift commander.
Gil's father, the late Raymond K. Spencer, served nearly 70 years with the company prior to his passing in 1995. Gil's grandfather Robbin Spencer also served as a volunteer firefighter, first with the North Hamden Improvement Association (1911-24) in northern Mt. Carmel, and later with Co. 5.
All four Spencers have contributed an estimated 180+ years of service to the Hamden Fire Department.
Gil's fellow members of Co. 5 congratulate him on his impressive milestone, which is not likely to be equaled any time soon, if ever.
Hamden Volunteers in a New Jersey New Year's Day Tradition
Four members of Mt. Carmel were invited to the Monmouth County (NJ) town of Avon-by-the-Sea for the January 1, 1972 swearing-in of the fire department's new fire chief. While there, the Hamden guys were treated to an unusual - and undoubtedly no-longer-practiced - New Year's Day fire department tradition in Monmouth County.
The towns in Monmouth County are quite small, about one square mile. On New Year's Day, members from the individual Monmouth County departments, all of them volunteer, would pile onto a pumper tailboard or hose bed. Then, with red lights and sirens, the apparatus would visit their neighboring departments, where all but the drivers were treated to adult beverages.
The Hamden Chronicle, Thursday, January 6, 1972
It has been 50 years, but the sole surviving member of the Co.5 crew pictured above still remembers his "spirited" ride in the hose bed of an Avon-by-the-Sea pumper as it made the rounds to Neptune, Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, among others. That crazy day started out with a 4:15 a.m. house fire on Thompson Street and ended, on their return from NJ, with the sad news of the sudden passing of Ff. Al Ramelli.
Saturday will mark a significant anniversary for a man who has been continuously affiliated with the Hamden Fire Department since he was voted to the membership of the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Co. on Tuesday, November 27, 1951.
Gilbert Spencer joined the fire company on that date 70 years ago and has maintained his membership as an active member ever since. Almost half of that 70 years was spent as a career member of the department. Joining the career department in December 1957 as a recruit firefighter, Gil retired at the end of November 1992 at the rank of Commander (now Battalion Chief).
Mayor Curt Leng honored Gil with a Mayoral Citation last month on the 70th anniversary of his application to join Co. 5. Gil has been recuperating from a leg infection and will be presented with the citation from the Co. 5 membership when he is up and about once again.
Gil’s father, Raymond K. Spencer,* joined our fire company in August 1925, and was president for nearly 30 years, from the 1950s to the 1980s. With his passing in March 1995, Ray Spencer was just shy of 70 years with the company. Ray’s father, Robbin Spencer, served as a founding member of the North Hamden Volunteer Fire Association in December 1911 and joined the Mt. Carmel volunteers when the former company folded in 1925.
Gil’s son, John, also an HFD battalion chief, will be retiring next Tuesday, exactly 29 years to the day after his dad. John’s fire service career began in the early 1980s as a member of Co. 7, culminating with the last 34 years and 10 months as a career member.
Gilbert Spencer, his grandfather Robbin, his dad Raymond K., and his son John represent an incredible combined total of over 180 years of fire department service to the Town of Hamden.
Congratulations, Gill. Your fellow members of the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Co. congratulate you on this remarkable milestone and wish you a speedy recovery.
* Not to be confused with Raymond C. Spencer (1895-1978), who served as Hamden's first career fire chief from 1942 to 1960. Raymond C. and Raymond K. were actually distant cousins.
The January meeting marked the 95th anniversary of the first meeting held at the fire station, AKA "Station 5," which was built in the summer and autumn of 1925 through the fundraising efforts of the volunteers.
This was a somewhat ironic anniversary because the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the group from conducting meetings on the fire station property since June, when the meeting was held outdoors. Since autumn 2020, monthly meetings have been held on Zoom. The January meeting concluded with a replay of the 2011 ten-minute video about the history of the fire company, which was shown at the November 11, 2011 Centennial Dinner.
It was a very different and tulmultuous era. Connecticut National Guard soldiers were stationed on the four corners of all central downtown New Haven streets. In Hamden, fire and police department preparations for the 1970 May Day Weekend were perhaps the most stringent since Pearl Harbor. Nine members of the Black Panther Party were about to stand trial in New Haven for the 1969 murder of an alleged FBI informant. Hamden's fire and police departments were among the many New Haven Area public safety agencies that went on high alert due to the possibility of civil unrest promoted by "outside leftwing agitators."
Courtesy of the Miller Memorial Library Microfilm Collection - CLICK TO ENLARGE
The number of Hamden career firefighters assigned to each of three platoons, already bolstered by the impending addition of a fourth platoon several months later, was enhanced even further over the three-day weekend that began with Friday, May 1st.
Hamden's four volunteer fire companies also manned their stations continuously from Friday evening until Monday morning. For the first time in memory, if ever, a career officer was assigned to Station 5 for the Friday and Saturday night shifts, Lieut. Bill Hines on Friday and Capt. Paul Rosadina on Saturday. Department-wide anxiety was heightened ever further on Saturday night with reports of a bombing at Yale's Ingall's Rink on Prospect Street.
Fortunately, when the standby was all over, the only fire department activities in Hamden were a number of false alarms, most originating from Quinnipiac College (see the May 7, 1970 Hamden Chronicle article below).
Don Steele was the captain of Co. 5 at the time. At right is the page from his record book showing the May Day stand-by the company's volunteers. Other logbook entries list the remaining volunteer calls for the 1969-70 fiscal year, which ended on September 30th.
CLICK to enlarge
Brush fires, especially on Sleeping Giant, usually covered large areas and were very time consuming. The two career firefighters assigned to Station 5 truly appreciated their volunteers for those jobs. Most of the "paid men" at 5's were also members of the company. Several of them are also mentioned among the volunteer personnel who responded. It was a very different era.
Bob Viglione was appointed to the career department in 1969. He retired twenty years ago at the rank of captain. For many years Bob was in charge of the department's Haz-Mat Team, but in all those years he never faced the kind of invisible enemy that he faced during the last few weeks..
After Bob retired in 2000, he opened his barber shop on Rt. 80 in North Branford. Many of our other local retirees are his regulars (he gives damn good haircuts). Several years ago Bob got involved in local politics and last November, by virture of acquiring the most votes of all council candidates, he was elected Mayor..
Sometime in March, Bob Viglione became infected with the coronavirus that has been plaguing the nation and the world. He endured some very scary moments - indeed, weeks.
We regret to report the passing on April 20, 2020 of former member Frederick Marsh Raban (79), in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Fred resided at 34 Willow Street when he joined the company on December 10, 1957.
Fred ran his own graphic design business for 13 years before going on active duty with the United States Army, where he was stationed in NYC, DC, Bosnia and Germany. He retired in January of 2001 with the rank of Master Sergeant.
He is survived by his wife Susan, daughters Kristin and Meredith, and their families. CLICK HERE for the complete obituary for Fred Raban. Fred's cousin, Bob Slater, served as a career member of the department from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Note: All past Company 5 obituaries are now archived on the new "REMEMBERING" page, available in menu above.
Co. 5's 1930 Maxim 600 GPM pumper inb the 1952 Hamden Fire Prevention Week Parade of HFD apparatus (Chan Brainard photo)
A few years later in 1956, the 1930 Maxim was the department's spare pumper, stationed at Mt. Carmel for the Civil Defense Fire Auxiliary. Organized the year before, auxiliary was made up primarily of Co. 5 volunteers and led by future Hamden Fire Chief, V. Paul Leddy, who was a Batt. Chief at the time. This newspaper photo below reported on the auxiliary's efforts to raise monmey for the 1956 Heart Fund campaign.
The New Haven Evening Register, Friday, February 10, 1956 (Chan Brainard)
New Haven Evening Register, Saturday, January 31, 1959 (Chan Brainard)
The 1930 Maxim was stationed at the Putnam Avenue station and still the department's spare pumper in 1959 when the Hamden Civil Defense Fire Auxiliary was led by lieutenant future B/C Francis "Chalky" Leddy. Co. 5's captain at the time was Charles Esposito, who would join the career department in November 1963 and would evenutally become the department's second Emergency Medical Services Officer in 1988. Charlie retired in 1993 and passed away in 2007.
We will always remember our brother firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice, and the thousands of other innocent victims who lost their lives twenty-one years ago on September 11, 2001.
Always keep them, their families and the FDNY in your thoughts and prayers.
To bring our members and web followers up to date:
June 2014 - Re-elected were Capt. Russ Olson, and Lieutenants Tom Corbett and Mark Guarino.
2015 - Dan Brown was appointed a career member of the New Haven Fire Department. Dan is assigned on Engine 10 at East Battalion Headquarters on Lombard Street in the Fair Haven section of the City, where Engine 10, Truck 3 and Car 33 are stationed.
June 2015 - Tom Corbett and Mark Guarinio were elected to serve as co-captains, filling the vacancy left by Russ Olson, who was appointed a career member of the Waterbury Fire Department later in 2015. Pete Nizen was elected to fill the remainder of Dave Johnson's term as secretary. Johnson will serve as assistant secretary.
June 2016 - Line Officers elected: Tom Corbett and Mark Guarino, co-captains; Pete Nizen, lieutenant/foreman. Administrative Officers elected: Mark Guarino, president; Pete Nizen, vice president and secretary; Sue Guarino, treasurer.
The building, built and paid for by the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Co., opened in 1926. Career personnel have been stationed there ever since. But it wasn't until the late 1970s that one of the upstairs bedrooms at Station 5 was converted into a real kitchen. Now, after nearly four decades, it was clearly time for a new kitchen, also paid for by the volunteer company.
Some relics of historical interest were revealed during demolition of the old kitchen/bedroom walls two weeks ago. First, was the discovery of many old newspapers dating from 1935 to 1937 tucked away within the exterior walls, presumably an attempt at insulation. Second, was the discovery of a doorway, long since covered up, that once connected the kitchen area (when it was a bedroom) with the adjacent bedroom, which was expanded into a much lareger bunkroom when the kitchen was built in the late 1970s.
The finished product!
The wall opening to the left of George allowed the firefighter in the lefthand bedroom to reach the house phone at night.
This 1978 photo of Firefighter George Edwards talking on the PBX phone to the Alarm Room, was taken just before the inner bedroom (background - right) was converted into the kitchen. To the left of that room was another bedroom of about the same size. The opening in the wall behind George allowed the firefighter in the outermost bedroom to reach out to answer the house phone at night.
When the station was a two-man house, each firefighter had his own room. Once Truck 1 was transferred to Station 5 in 1976, two firefighters occupied each bedroom. Two bunks can be seen in the bedroom behind George.
The obvious need for a kitchen and more room for additional bunks for personnel resulted in the late '70s conversion of the inner bedroom into a kitchen and the expansion of the outermost bedroom into a four-bunk facility. Today, the south wall of the bunkroon is right about where George is standing.
The alarm bells on the wall and the red "house phone" on the shelf behind George were moved to the south wall of the "new" bunkroom. The old 3-slot pay telephone that was mounted on the wall to the left of the calendar (just out of view), was removed and a regular residential rotary dial telephone was installed.
An old doorway to the adjacent bedroom area can been seen to the right of the kitchen door. This doorway was long gone by the 1950s. It was probably removed during the late 1930s when the newspaper "insulation" was crammed in the bays between the studs of the exterior walls.
Also discovered inside the walls were two modest storage areas that may have provided a minimum of closet space for the early personnel.
When the station opened in January 1926, Al Purce was the driver. He was succeeded by Everett Doherty. They both worked a 168 hour workweek. Time off for early paid firefighters was courtesy of call men, or "substitutes," who were qualified to take their places when they wanted a day off now and then.
The workweek was cut to 84 hours in the 1930s and remained so until 1948, when it was cut again to 67.5 hours. Firefighters achieved a 56-hour workweek in 1951 that lasted until October 1970, when the current 42-hour workweek was adopted.
November 13, 2015
Eighty year-old newspapers found during kitchen demolition.
A couple of Co. 5 members demolished the kitchen walls last weekend in preparation for a complete renovation which took place during the week. All of the exterior bays between the 2x4 studs were crammed with local newspapers dated between 1934 and 1937, suggesting that some kind of renovation to that area of the fire station took place when the building was eleven years old.
Studs exposed for new drywall. Some remnants of ancient newspapers, apparently used for insulation, can be seen in some of the bays between the studs.
The newspapers apparently were used for insulation. A few of the newspapers - very few - remained intact and quite readable eighty years later (see photo below).
More photos next week, and a possible answer to what changes were made to the upstairs c. 1937.
These two front sections of the New Haven Evening Register, as it was known until December 31, 1960, were found crammed between the exterior 2x4s of the kitchen. They are dated May 24th and May 25th of 1935. Others were dated 1934 through 1937. CLICK TO ENLARGE