Jun 28, 2006
Fire Department celebrates 75 years of service
Pokorny, Fire Chief of the Weston Volunteer Fire
Department and Larry Liggett, the department’s
president, enjoy sitting in Old Mack, the first fire
truck the department ever purchased. —Patricia Gay
years, the Weston Volunteer Fire Department has sponsored
the town’s Memorial Day parade and an annual Halloween
party. Now the department is putting on a celebration in its
This year marks the fire
department’s 75th anniversary, and sometime in August there
will be a special event, including a parade, to mark the
occasion, Fire Chief John Pokorny said.
The town’s fire department is
made up of 120 dedicated volunteers who answer fire calls,
operate pumper trucks, and act as fire police during road
closures and emergencies. Volunteers come from all walks of
life and include attorneys and stay-at-home moms.
firefighters undergo professional training and
certification. In addition, the department has two
firehouses, a main one on Norfield Road, and a second one on
Lyons Plain Road. It boasts a fleet of fire trucks and
state-of-the-art fire apparatus.
However, Weston’s fire department wasn’t
always as sophisticated and up-to-date as it is now. Before
the department was formed, Weston’s fire calls were received
by the Westport Fire Department, which in turn blew a siren
in Weston. There would be a series of telephone calls, one
household calling another, announcing the location of the
It was common for interested
residents to carry a bucket and a broom in their vehicles —
a bucket for house fires and a broom for brush fires. If it
looked like a house fire was getting away, the next step
would be to remove as much of the contents of the house as
to say, it was not an efficient system and a lot of homes
were burnt to the ground,” Chief Pokorny said.
Then, in 1931, about 25 Westonites, concerned
about the lack of fire protection, sent a letter to all
residents to consider forming a volunteer fire company.
(Weston’s population was approximately 700 at the time.)
At a Town Meeting that year, the
volunteer fire department was approved. In the next few
years, contributions and personal funds totaling $5,800 were
used to purchase the town’s first fire engine, a 1934 Mack.
“Old Mack,” the engine is still running today, and until a
few year ago was used in interdepartmental competitions and
musters. Now fully restored, Old Mack is driven only in the
Memorial Day parade and at special events.
In three quarters of a century, the
department has had just four chiefs. In 1931, Rolland
Gifford was elected the first fire chief and arranged for
the purchase of Old Mack. Giffords Hill is named after his
Mr. Gifford remained in charge
for about a decade, and was followed by Jack O’Brien, who
served until 1970. Then Fred Moore (Weston’s current fire
marshal) became chief, and 10 years ago, John Pokorny
Mr. Pokorny recalls Chief O’Brien
as a “great guy and good motivator who got the department
involved with the state fire marshal association.” Under his
watch, the firehouse at town hall was established.
Chief Moore was really
progressive, recalled Chief Pokorny. “He brought us up to
the level of a modern fire department, and had the foresight
to purchase fire trucks that could hold a large capacity of
water,” he said.
Fire runs through Chief Pokorny’s
veins. He was christened in the same house that Chief
Gifford lived in. His father, Charlie, was a Weston
firefighter, and the chief remembers going along with his
dad to fire calls when he was 7. “I was always hanging
around firefighters,” he said.
When he was 16, Chief Pokorny
joined the department. In 1977, he was promoted to
lieutenant and later assumed his father’s position of
captain when his father retired. In 1996, John Pokorny
became the department’s fourth chief.
“John has done a terrific job
with training,” veteran firefighter Joe Spetly said. “There
are more members in the department than there have ever
been,” he said.
At 78, Mr. Spetly has served 41
years in the fire department. He is very loyal to the
organization and shows no signs of retiring. “I plan to stay
involved as long as I can stand up,” he said.
has served as a line officer and at one time was president
of the department. He now acts as historian, and because he
is unable to climb roofs, he said, he works with the fire
police, directing traffic during storms and when trees are
Chief Pokorny said
the department has progressed and adapted a lot since he
became a member. In the late 1950s and 60s, Weston became
more populated and went from being rural to more of a
bedroom community, he said.
A fire on Hills End Road woke the
department up to the fact that new homes being constructed —
many around 8,500 square feet at the time — were three
stories high and the size of many commercial buildings.
As a result, the department
bought trucks with higher ladders and more water storage
capacity to handle the larger homes.
Professional training was also
introduced and all volunteers are now expected to take and
pass a Firefighter I class. Many members have taken the more
advanced Firefighter II class as well. “In a small town like
Weston, we don’t have specialists. We need everyone
proficient in everything,” Chief Pokorny said.
By having a volunteer department
and not having to pay salaries, each Weston taxpayer saves
about $1,000 a year, Stephan Grozinger, vice president of
the department, said.
The town provides the department
with money for training and purchasing necessary equipment
like air tanks and compressors, but the department does its
own fund raising to buy additional equipment, purchase extra
insurance for its members and provide food and drink to
members during a fire call.
With its fund-raising dollars,
the department has purchased special equipment such as a
Jaws of Life extractor, an ice rescue sled, and thermal
imaging cameras. Groups like the Kiwanis Club and Weston Gun
Club Foundation have helped with the purchase of life-saving
In order to provide another 75
years of service, Chief Pokorny hopes to “fire up” more
people to join the department. “You must be at least 18
years old and physically fit, and commit to training and
attending weekly and monthly drills and some business
meetings,” Chief Pokorny said.
“Our call volume is going up, and
our new target is to recruit people working in home offices
because daytime is the hardest time to cover,” he said.
For more information on how to
join or support the fire department, visit www.wvfd.
© Copyright 2006 by Hersam Acorn newspapers