MERIDEN — The Meriden fire department — specifically Company 3 — celebrated its 150th anniversary with a gathering at its Broad Street station Saturday afternoon.
Visitors had an opportunity to explore the facility, the oldest active fire station in New England. From the original wooden trim to the exterior bricks where firefighters carved their names, the past rests easily alongside the present.
A plaque called “The Last Alarm,” dedicated to the seven city firefighters who died in the line of duty — the most recent in the early 1960s — was unveiled on the front of the station.
“It is an awesome thing that we can get together and celebrate. These are the things that would typically go unnoticed,” said Fire Chief Ken Morgan.
The Parker Hose Company — the official name of Company 3 — was founded on Nov. 9, 1869 in a building on School Street. The company had several homes before moving to its current location at 561 Broad St. in 1889. Acknowledging that the wooden floors couldn’t support the weight of modern fire engines, the station expanded in 1996.
In the 1880s the company would average 40 calls per month. Today, firefighters respond to 250 calls monthly, the majority of them medical emergencies, a task outside of the department’s purview in the 19th century. With this kind of volume and its central location, Company 3 is considered crucial to the city’s overall safety strategy.
“We’ve had one of busiest years in terms of structure fires,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “The fire service has been tested harder than they have before.”
It’s a challenge that the department faces head on. Over the past five years, the department has replaced three engines and other equipment in an effort to make sure safety is paramount.
“They take their jobs seriously. They are the best of the best...,” Morgan said.
“We see ourselves as part of a lineage of service. You arrive and you do your time. As long as you left it better than the way you found it, you’re doing OK,” said Captain William Strempfer, leader of Company 3.
The anniversary gave members of the fire service a moment to reflect. Being a firefighter is, in many ways, a calling. Strempfer said that when he asks young people joining the fire service why they are there, he gets many different answers. But the answers ultimately circle back to a single idea — they want to help others.
“There is a sense that you are doing something for the good … we are problem solvers. That is what we are,” he said.
There are sacrifices. Just standing and chatting, Strempfer’s back was killing him. After years in the fire service, there isn’t a firefighter who doesn't have some kind of physical ailment. They are at risk for higher rates of cancer, he said. The hours can be rough. And danger is always one call away.
“There’s no solutions in life, only tradeoffs. For every advantage there is a disadvantage. The rewards are great. The troubles and the sacrifices are great. It balances out,” Strempfer said. “I am very proud to be a Meriden firefighter.”