Early Years: Before Organized Fire Protection

First Fire - 1779
The story of Norwalk and fires must include the two largest fires ever to hit the city, both of which occurred before there was an organized fire department.

On July 10, 1779, British troops under General William Tryon ferried across Long Island Sound and landed at Calf Pasture Beach. From there, they moved inland up both sides of the harbor, skirmishing with local militia along the way. After a battle at the bottom of West Rocks hill, the British withdrew back to their boats, setting fire to the town. Destroyed in the fire were 130 homes, 40 shops, 100 barns, five ships, two churches, flour mills, and salt works.

Norwalk Conflagration - 1858
Less than eighty years later, a second devastating fire occurred in Norwalk. This fire led directly to the establishment of the first volunteer fire companies.

Buildings Destroyed
On November 19, 1858, a fire destroyed much of the business district centered at the head of the harbor at Wall and Commerce streets. The fire destroyed at least 16 buildings, including the railroad depot, the Isaacs block of office buildings, a lumberyard, and grocery stores. The Bank of Norwalk was rescued by pulling it from its foundation and hauling it away from the fire. The fire had started in a defective chimney in the Terrell and Down’s cabinet shop.

Norwalk Asks for Assistance
The borough of Norwalk had purchased a small, hand-pumped fire engine at some point to provide fire protection in the downtown area, but there was no organized or trained force to operate it. The hand pump was no match for the conflagration, so authorities telegraphed other cities asking for help.

Danbury put two hose wagons and firefighters on a train and sent it south to help. Unfortunately, their firefighters arrived too late to be of much help. Efforts to get through to Bridgeport and Stamford by telegraph were unsuccessful.

Controversy Over City Fire Protection Begins
On November 23, 1858, the headline of the weekly Norwalk Gazette read, "Great Conflagration in Norwalk Sixteen Buildings in Ashes! Property to the Amount of $100,000 Destroyed."

The paper went on to report: "By far the most disastrous and extensive fire with which this town was ever visited, occurred on Friday, sweeping over one quarter of the “bridge” portion of the town…. It is with mortification that we allude to the fact that in a town the size of Norwalk, nothing but a little garden engine could be brought into requisition at this time.” The controversy over the lack of fire protection was also the subject of editorials in several area newspapers.

First Fire Companies in Norwalk
View more information about the first fire companies to emerge in Norwalk.