By Rob Novak
The Progressive Bridgeport Fire Department of 1912
One hundred years ago, the Bridgeport Fire Department was in a state of transition. Under the leadership of Fire Chief Edward Mooney, the department shed the last of its “call men” in December 1911, completing the process begun in 1871 creating a fully manned service on duty 24 hours a day.
As the number of “permanent” firemen increased, the number of fire horses decreased, from 67 at the end of 1910 to 58 one year later. This was a direct result of the progressive leadership (and political pull) of Chief Mooney, as well as Bridgeport’s own Locomobile Company.
In 1911, Locomobile was eager to expand into manufacturing fire apparatus, and Chief Mooney was eager to receive them. Locomobile had already provided Bridgeport its first two motorized apparatus by 1911 – his own fire chief’s car as well as the “Chemical 1” fire engine at the Middle Street fire headquarters. Chemical 1 carried a tank filled with carbonated water, which when mixed with a small amount of acid produced a chemical reaction (hence the fire engine’s name) which propelled water through a special hose. So successful was this chemical appliance that they were retrofitted to all remaining horse drawn hose wagons. This was the beginning of the aggressive, interior firefighting strategy which the Bridgeport Fire Department is still known for today.
In 1911, Locomobile provided two additional pieces of apparatus. The first was a motorized four-wheeled “tractor”, which was attached to an older horse-drawn steam powered fire engine. The result was an odd, six-wheeled contraption which relied upon gasoline for locomotion and a coal-fired boiler for pumping water through hoses. Assigned to Engine 5, the Bridgeport Post described it as an “ugly and clumsy looking”, and was nicknamed “the mosquito” by some, and “the freak” by others. It was difficult to maneuver, particularly when it came to backing into the narrow doors of the Middle Street firehouse. This was the first and last time Locomobile provided motor power to Bridgeport’s larger fire engines. When John Street’s Engine 1 returned from Wisconsin rebuilt with a new motorized tractor, the Locomobile tractor was quietly removed from Engine 5 and it reverted to being a horse drawn fire engine. Nevertheless, this short-lived Locomobile can be considered Bridgeport’s first large motorized engine.
A second Locomobile was provided to Bridgeport at the same time, and it was far more successful. Assigned to the newly organized Chemical 2 in a new firehouse on Maplewood Avenue, it remained in service for about 15 years. Locomobile also provided similar fire engines to the Fairfield, Stratford, and Ansonia fire departments around this time.
By the end of the first quarter of 1912, the Bridgeport Fire Department had 8 active motorized fire apparatus, more than any other in Connecticut. Six of these apparatus (2 chemical engines, 2 chief’s cars, and 2 hose wagons) were Locomobiles. The remaining two were Engine 1’s Nott tractor-driven steamer, and a new Waterous gasoline powered fire engine assigned to Engine 2 on Crescent Place. It is interesting to note that at this time in history the Bridgeport Police Department had only one motorized “police patrol”, and there was only one motorized ambulance in the City.