NAUGATUCK — During his career, former Naugatuck Fire Marshal John “Jack” Sullivan was the person to call to investigate an electrical fire.
“He was someone who was way ahead of his time on fire prevention, investigation and training,” said former Naugatuck Fire Chief Ken Hanks, who trained under Sullivan when he joined the department in 1982.
Sullivan worked 43 years for the Naugatuck Fire Department, holding the ranks of deputy chief and fire marshal. As an associate of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sullivan investigated over 2,800 electrical fires throughout New England and also had special assignments at major fires in Chicago and New York, his biography states.
For his work and much more, Sullivan, who died in March 1989 at the age of 68, was posthumously inducted into the Connecticut State Firefighter’s Association Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“It was spectacular. It was quite an honor. He would be so happy,” said Jacquelyn Sullivan, one of Sullivan’s two daughters, about her father’s induction.
Sullivan’s electrical prowess guided him throughout his life.
Sullivan was initially turned down when he tried to enlist in the armed forces during World War II because he had polio as a child, a Sunday Republican Magazine article published in 1983 detailed. His knowledge of electrical wiring — something he gained from his father, James, who was a troubleshooter for the Connecticut Light & Power Co. — helped him pass a test and join the U.S. Army Air Corps.
During his time in the service, Sullivan was awarded the Legion of Merit for his development of electrical courses and equipment.
Sullivan used his electrical knowledge at work and at home in Naugatuck. Jacquelyn Sullivan said her father’s hero was Thomas Edison and he was always inventing things, including a stand to rotate a Christmas tree well before they had become commonplace.
“In my eyes he was a genius,” she said.
Former Naugatuck Fire Chief Charles Doback nominated Sullivan for the Hall of Fame first in 2014 not only for what he did for the Naugatuck Fire Department and borough, but because he was so heavily involved in many organizations in the state and nationally.
Sullivan, who retired in the late 1980s, was the president of both the Naugatuck Volunteer Fire Department and the Naugatuck Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He served as an instructor at the Connecticut State Police Academy and the Connecticut Municipal Police Training Academy. He was also the director of education for the Connecticut Burn Care Foundation, and was active in a number of professional organizations, including the Connecticut Society of Fire Protection Engineers, the Connecticut Arson Task Force and the State Fire Marshals Certification Program.
Hanks said Sullivan expanded the fire marshal’s office into a full-time office and led a lot of public education programs about fire prevention in the borough.
“He was very influential to me personally,” Hanks said.
Jacquelyn Sullivan said her father would host Christmas events at the firehouse downtown and children would line up around Church Street. Each child received goody bags that included items focused on fire prevention. Eventually, she said, her father expanded the event to become Santa’s Workshop at the Park Department.
Sullivan also made sure to spread the word about fire prevention to schoolchildren in the borough, whether it was organizing trips from Smokey the Bear on a firetruck to the elementary schools or providing hands-on lessons to high school students on how to extinguish a fire.
“It was teaching unity, what’s right and wrong, and safety,” Jacquelyn Sullivan said. “That was his life. He was a servant of the community.”