White Hill Volunteer Fire Company 5 Members Reflects on 75 Years of Service

The volunteer fire company was founded in 1947 and has responded to several major events including the B.F. Goodrich fire.

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It is a 75-year anniversary celebration for White Hills Volunteer Fire Company 5, which is holding several events to mark the occasion this year.

That includes an Easter Flower Sale going on at the station in Shelton on Friday and Saturday. It's one of many fundraisers that keeps the volunteer department running.

In three quarters of a century, a lot of things happen.

"We respond to about 500 calls for service a year,” Captain Daniel Tatun said. “Anything from house fires, car accidents, EMS assists, to cats stuck in trees."

Now, members of Fire Company 5 are reflecting on those events.

"Our saying is ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” Tatun, who has been with the company for 11 years, said. “So we've always been out there helping one another, 24/7, 365."

The White Hills Civic Club was chartered in 1946 to ensure the well-being of families that lived in the neighborhood at the time.

Within a year, the fire company was founded. The first fire truck was purchased in 1948 for just $7,000. That truck was originally stored at the Monroe Firehouse.

"When there was a fire, they had to go to Monroe to get the truck, and come back to White Hills,” firefighter Francis Wheeler said.

Wheeler has been a firefighter with the department for 63 years, almost since its inception. He said things were different in the old days.

“Back then all gear, helmets, coats and boots, were on the trucks,” Wheeler said. “If you didn't get there, you didn't get anything to wear. So therefore, you couldn't go into the fire."

He said passing time means protocol changes.

“When we went into a fire and we had to go through a door, you felt the door with the back of your hand. You didn't have gloves,” Wheeler said “Your ears were your sense of how far I could go into the fire."

Wheeler responded to one of the most notorious fires in the department’s history. A firebombing at the B.F. Goodrich factory in Shelton in 1975 was deemed by the FBI as the largest arson case in the nation at the time.

"When I got downtown, and I looked across Howard Avenue and saw B.F. Goodrich,” Wheeler recalled. “It reminded me of pictures that I had seen of fires in New York City with flames coming out of all windows. And we were there all night."

Subduing the flames took tremendous effort.

"We got accused of lowering the Housatonic River, because our trucks were in the river pumping water,” Wheeler said.

Yet in the line of duty, danger did not cross his mind.

"It was part of my job,” he said.

Fire Company 5 has battled several notable fires over the decades.

"The Sheldon Boys Club fire was downtown, and I remember being up on the third floor there trying to save the building,” Soren Ibsen Jr., Treasurer, with 35 years of service, said. "Fires on Canal Street downtown just two years ago, you could see it from Long Island, the smoke column was so, so big."

These firefighters count on thousands of hours of training.

"I've been in some pretty hot fires!” Ibsen said.

They willingly walk right into the face of danger, all to protect their friends and neighbors.

"Firefighting is a dangerous job, but with the right training, you know, hopefully, we'll all come back to the firehouse safe,” Ibsen said. “I don't really think about that too much. You know, we're here to save lives."

The fire department is partially funded by the city, but heavily relies on fundraising. They're hosting several fundraising events this year as part of the 75th anniversary commemorations.

The Easter Flower Sale kicked off Friday and will continue Saturday at the fire station at 2 School House St. in Shelton. You can also pre-order flowers.

The Fire Company will also be holding a seated banquet for more than 200 guests in September, and advertisers are able to buy space in a banquet pamphlet.

Other annual events run by Company 5 include a Boot Drive, Pancake Breakfast, Tree Lighting, Santa on the Fire Truck, and Fire Safety.

All these fundraisers help them purchase specialized vehicles and equipment, thermal imagers, extrication tools, CO and gas meters and many other necessary pieces of equipment and tools.

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