Conn. fire department celebrates 100 years of service
The anniversary celebration in Old Lyme brings firefighters and community together
By Greg Smith
OLD LYME, Conn. — If he had to pick a memorable year in his decades with the Old Lyme Fire Department, former fire chief Ellis Jewett recalls 1982 as one of the more hectic ones.
Torrential rains that summer had drenched the area, swelling creeks and streams in Old Lyme and surrounding towns to the point that roads, bridges and even homes were washed away and destroyed. A dam at Rogers Lake was damaged in the storm and washed out a bridge on Town Woods Road.
“That was something that nobody could gave ever imagined,” Jewett, 82, recalls.
Jewett, chief at the time, said that later the same year a blaze destroyed the Old Lyme Shopping Center on Halls Road and impacted the livelihood of numerous business owners.
Rob McCarthy, president of the Old Lyme Fire Department, who started at the department in 1982 and served as fire chief from 2004 to 2006, recalls a paint store and pizza restaurant were among the businesses at the shopping center at the time.
“The bigger hazard was not the paint. It was the large cans of tomato sauce. They were shooting out into the parking lot,” McCarthy said.
Jewett and McCarthy were just a few of the dozens of Old Lyme firefighters on hand Saturday for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the department. There was a 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit, food, games, a car show, antique fire trucks and a chance for residents and visitors to get a sense of the tight-knit firefighting community in town.
There were also plenty of stories. Jewett joined longtime firefighter and former fire chief Skip Beebe at a display table at the fire department’s Lyme Street headquarters where photos and newspaper clips detailed some of the historical fires in town. Both former chiefs experienced many of them firsthand, including the Jan. 23, 1971, fire that destroyed the beloved Ferry Tavern, a restaurant and banquet hall that used to stand at the end of Ferry Road, where the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection now has it marine headquarters.
Beebe recalls it being a popular place that he heard served up to 2,500 lobsters in a single night to patrons. He also remembers pumping water from the Connecticut River for a full night to extinguish the flames. Other major fires in town included blazes that destroyed the former Old Lyme Country Club, Lake Breeze Inn and several cottages at White Sands Beach.
Old Lyme Fire Chief Steve Super said the town has grown and firefighting had changed since the old days when most volunteers lived and worked in town but a strong camaraderie and passion remains here. The evidence of that is the fact the town has maintained an all-volunteer department in the face a nationwide decline in fire volunteers.
The departments boasts up to 50 active members and averages upwards of 350 calls in a year.
“For a small coastal bed and breakfast town, we’re pretty busy,” Super said. “It’s pretty neat to be part of a such a tight-knit organization where you have chiefs from 20 years ago still responding to calls.”
The department is also a family affair for many. Jewett joined the department as a junior firefighter in 1959 following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Jewett’s grandfather, Dr. Ellis K. Devitt, was elected the department’s first chief when the department was formed on May 15, 1923 and headquartered at Town Hall. Jewett’s two sons would also go on to become chiefs at the department.
“We’ve been at it a long time,” Jewett said.
The Department’s headquarters are at 69 Lyme St. with substations on Cross Lane and Boughton Road. For more information visit: https://www.olfd.org/