Prospect fire department built by ‘neighbors helping neighbors’

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, right, presents Prospect Volunteer Fire Department Chief William Lauber with a proclamation in honor of the department’s 75th anniversary June 5 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. The department’s 75th anniversary was Sept. 11, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the celebration. –CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — A lot can change in 75 years, especially when it comes to the fire service.

“Fire is a science and science changes every day,” said Mayor Robert Chatfield, who has been a member of the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect since 1965 and is the department’s day commander.

In the early years, Ed Malaspina, who is a firefighter and the department’s public information officer, said firefighters were adorned with little more than a raincoat and some rain boots. Now, he said, firefighters have sophisticated protective turnout gear.

The difference, Malaspina continued, is the same fire 75 years ago that took 30 minutes to be fully involved now takes a few minutes because of the petroleum base used in a lot of products today, making the environment for fighting fires much more hazardous.

Chatfield, whose father, brother and two uncles were also involved with the department, said the fire department has evolved over the years to meet the needs of Prospect as the town has grown.

The volunteer fire department has come a long way since a group of citizens organized a department, called Hose Co. No. 1 originally, in the 1930s.

The department didn’t have its own firetruck at first and the town didn’t want to spend the money for one, according to a summary of the department’s history on its website. Rather, the department relied on assistance from neighboring towns.

After a few high-profile fires, including a blaze in November 1941 that destroyed the former stone building of the Prospect Congregational Church, voters changed their mind and approved buying a firetruck. A Seagraves pumper, which held 500 gallons of water, was delivered in May 1942.

The department continued to evolve over the next few years. It was reorganized in the summer of 1945 and the result was a new company of 40 men. The town voted to turn the truck and firehouse over to the department for a dollar, and, on Sept. 11, 1945, the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department was officially incorporated with the state.

Today, the department’s fleet includes three fire engines, a tanker truck and a rescue truck. About 80 volunteers provide fire and emergency medical services to the town with a motto of “Neighbors helping neighbors.”

“We do this to make the world a better place for us being here. Was I able to make a difference? That’s the good in what we do,” Malaspina said. “What we get is to participate in and witness acts of kindness, courage and generosity, as we are those neighbors helping neighbors.”

Sept. 11, 2020, marked the department’s 75th anniversary, but the milestone was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a celebration planned was put on hold. In early June, dignitaries and present and past members of the department came together to celebrate at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck.

“It was really great to see everyone unwind a bit and celebrate everything that our department has accomplished,” Chief William Lauber said. “Not only what we pushed through in the last year, but what we have been through in the last 75 years.”

Lauber, who has been chief since the fall of 2016, said he’s honored to play a small role in the department’s history. He said it’s significant to have the support of the department’s mission from local, state and federal officials, but the dedication of the volunteers means the most.

“They (volunteers) support our group. They support each other. The night was about celebrating them, and them giving everything they can,” he said. “Missing family dinners, kid’s birthday parties, holidays, taking time off from work, all to help other people.

“It’s our volunteers that have given so much over the last 75 years and it is them that are the ‘neighbors helping neighbors.’”