Art Selleck: A Tribute to a Fireman Historian 1920-2004
By Rob Novak, Bridgeport Fireman
Arthur “Art” H. Selleck was born in Bridgeport in 1920, living there for five years before moving to Nichols. He attended Harding High School in the Park City, since Trumbull had no High School at the time. He would later recall witnessing a house fire as a youth in Nichols, where the local volunteers were assisted by the Bridgeport Fire Department’s Chemical 1 and other units. This left a lasting mpression on him.
He attended the Connecticut Junior College, which later became the University of Bridgeport. After college he signed up for the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps, and was sent to a camp in Wyoming.
When World War II broke out in 1939, Art was employed by the British Admiralty Mission as an ordinance inspector – first at the Savage Firearms Plant in Utica, NY, then at Colt in Hartford, and finally in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
He lived in Providence while working in Pawtucket, where he joined the Auxiliary Fire Force under the Civil Defense Program. Completing extensive training at Providence Fire School, Art was assigned to Hose Company 3 (an engine company). Soon after, he completed more schooling and was reassigned to the city’s new Rescue Squad.
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Art entered the Army as an officer, and was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. He was eventually stationed in London with the Signal Corps, receiving a Presidential Citation for working under enemy air raids in London. It was during this period in London that Arthur met the lovely Irene Chalk, who was in the women’s branch of the Royal Air Force. Art first met the London native while exchanging signal traffic with her.
At the end of the war, Art was sent to Berlin where he was discharged to work as a civilian in the Berlin Signal Depot for the U.S. War Department. In mid 1946 he and Irene were married. Arthur severed his connections with the War Department, and was shipped home from Germany. Two weeks later Irene joined him, coming over on one of the “War Brides” ships.
They temporarily resided with his mother in Nichols until a job in New York City dictated moving closer to commuting facilities. He started with the American Fire Prevention Bureau, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, until he was hired by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. He rose to the position of senior fire protection engineer. Working out of New York,
he covered some 26 states for the Underwriters for the next 36 years. Fairfield became his commuting base when he was in the New York Office. He was appointed to the Fairfield Fire Commission, and served some 20 years in that capacity.
Starting in the late 1930s, Arthur started writing for Fire Engineering magazine and continued to write for that publication even after he joined the Army. He wrote several articles while serving in London, Paris, and Berlin. He later lectured, and served as a consultant, to many groups on fire service and fire service history, both in the USA and England. Frequently visiting his wife’s family in England, he aintained close ties with friends in the British Fire Services. He became quite close to the staff of the London Fire Museum.
When the Connecticut Firemen’s Historical Society was formed in 1971, Arthur was a charter member. He served as its President for 8 years, and was on the Board of Trustees and the museum’s curator for even longer.
When the Bridgeport Firefighters’ Historical Society was formed in 1997, Arthur loaned his expertise and experience to the new group. He provided an astonishing amount of facts and photographs to the new organization, and never stopped believing that the BFHS had a great future.
He also provided material and photos for the BFHS book Bridgeport Firefighters, published in 2000. He was acknowledged in the introduction, the book saying “Finally, we would be remiss if we did not specifically thank Arthur Selleck of the Connecticut Firemen’s Historical Society. Art personally witnessed much of the 20th century history of Bridgeport and its Firefighters, photographed much of it, and kept meticulous records. Without his lifetime knowledge of the fire department and his willingness to share such with the BFHS, much of the material in these pages could never have been included”.
Arthur Selleck passed away on November 1, 2004, and he remains greatly missed by the members of the local and fire historical community. He was predeceased by his wife Irene in 2003, and survived by a son, two grand-daughters, and several nieces and nephews.
THE LAST WORD –
ARTHUR SELLECK REMEMBERS BFD’S TOM MAGNER
Those who remember Art Selleck recall he was fond of telling, and retelling, old stories of the Bridgeport Fire Department. He wrote about one of his favorite subjects in his last article in the Connecticut Firemen’s Association newsletter The Trumpet. With the CFHS’s kind permission, we reproduce it below.
Articles on fire service history can make for interesting reading, even for those not directly connected to the fire service. We have had visitors into our museum who really only came in to see what was there, and after a visit with us were fascinated with what they saw and learned from their docent (tour guide). Others read an article that appeared in our newsletter, or perhaps saw a book or technical publication to be found in our library, where we have a sizable collection, some of which go back over a hundred years or more.
One particular technical publication has a number of well-written stories by Mr. Thomas Magner. This writer knew Tom Magner until he passed away.
Tom Magner was born in Waterbury in 1890 and eventually moved to Bridgeport where he went to work as a newspaper reporter. He worked for the Bridgeport Herald, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, and the Bridgeport Telegram.
At about that time, the Bridgeport Fire Department changed from a single platoon to two-platoon system. This new work schedule required adding several more people to the department and Tom was one of them. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1920 and assigned to the fire prevention bureau until he became an aide to Assistant Chief Mellor.
About 1936 a civil service system was adopted and Tom took an exam for Captain and came out near the top of the list. He was assigned to Engine 12 in the north end of the city in 1938, then Engine Company 9 in 1942. During his service he worked out of many fire stations in the city. It was during this time that he also wrote numerous articles for several national publications.
Tom Magner retired from the Fire Department in 1945 and went back to the newspaper business, writing feature articles and a column in the Bridgeport Sunday Post. He passed away in 1968,
but his articles are still a good source of historical material.