For 2nd Lt. Jack Brand Jr., serving as a firefighter at the Pine Rock Park firehouse is a family affair. Brand’s father, Jack Brand Sr., became a fire company member in 1979.
“I was always down here,” said Brand, a 27-year member and former captain. “I was 8 or 9 when my dad joined.”
Jack Brand’s son Zachary, 15, wants to join the company, and his daughter Abby, 13, also is interested.
Abby, a student at Shelton Intermediate School, said she likes “the trucks and helping out the community.”
“It’s an extended family,” said Assistant Chief Nick Verdicchio, who has been a Pine Rock member for 23 years and previously served as captain.
“We’ve grown together as friends,” Verdicchio said. “It’s a close-knit group.”
Capt. Carlos Chang feels the same way. “We’re like one big family,” said Chang, who joined the company 11 years ago and rose through the ranks from 2nd to 1st lieutenant and captain.
“I like the area and helping people out,” Chang said.
The spirit of friendship at the firehouse is reflected in the Mother’s Day breakfast that members prepare, and a Christmas party they organize for members’ children.
“We’re there to help each other,” Chang said.
When it started
The 81-year-old Pine Rock Park Company No. 4 was established in June 1933, making it the city’s third oldest fire company. The original building was on Seneca Road, and members moved into the current building at 722 Long Hill Ave. in 1979.
Unlike the older companies in town, Pine Rock has plenty of space for apparatus and can support the weight of the trucks because it’s built on slabs, Verdicchio said.
Pine Rock’s apparatus includes two engine trucks, a brush fire truck, a small duty rescue truck, a utility truck, and an 1937 Ahrens-Fox antique truck that’s used in parades.
The company just welcomed a new 2014 ladder truck, a first for the Pine Rock department. “The new truck is versatile and can help out other companies,” Verdicchio said.
“Our area has grown in leaps and bounds,” said Verdicchio, with many new commercial buildings in the coverage area that runs from the Stratford line to Constitution Boulevard South, and from River Road to Bridgeport Avenue.
The Pine Rock Company also has two boats. One of them, a 20-foot Zodiac boat, is used for river and reservoir rescues, and the other, a 20-foot aluminum boat, is permanently docked at the Beacon Point Marina on the Housatonic River, not far from the firehouse.
The company responds to a few dozen water rescue calls a year.
“We started keeping a boat in the water last year,” Verdicchio said. “The presence of the fire department on the river makes people more aware that there’s help.’
In terms of fire calls, there’s an automatic three-company response to structure fires, Verdicchio said, and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., all calls have a two-company response.
The four-alarm fire at Latex Foam in June — within the Pine Rock service area — was one of the largest in recent years, the firefighters said, and surrounding towns were called for mutual aid.
For him, the fire that stands out was the huge blaze on Howe Avenue in January.
“The fire itself was enormous, and the effort was unbelievable,” he said. “We rescued 28 people without an injury.”
“That one has stayed with me,” said Chang, as did the second fire at Latex Foam this summer.
“Firefighters can go in and get lost so quick” in a basement area of a factory, he said. “There a lot of hazards in a factory.”
Pine Rock members schedule walk-throughs of new businesses before they take occupancy in a building.
“They see the presence of the fire department,” Verdicchio said. “It gives them a little peace of mind. And we might find something they overlooked and they could correct.”
Because of the size of the building that houses Pine Rock, most training is done on-site, Verdicchio said.
“The learning never stops,” he said. “We make sure everybody knows how to operate everything. Every member has to learn all the equipment, within the first 18 months.”
Drill nights take place every Sunday and Monday for both veteran firefighters and new members.
There are a dozen drills a month, and members attend fire training school twice a year.
“We run drills with other companies,” said Verdicchio, and conduct mass evacuation drills at Bishop Wicke Health and Rehabilitation Center.
“It gets pretty realistic,” he said. “It benefits us, because we learn about the fire alarms and the contact people.”
In general, “We’ve gotten a lot smarter,” he said, in terms of “precautions to help people in need and keep ourselves safe. The equipment is always getting better.”
Pine Rock has 75 members, including nine junior members and three women, Chang said.
The company does work to benefit TEAM Inc.’s Toys for Kids program and conducts car washes, ziti dinners and pancake breakfasts to raise money for equipment, dress uniforms and supplemental insurance, he said.
The company also allows the Boys & Girls Club and Scout troops to use the facility.
As “incentives to keep up the good work,” the company bestows a Firefighter of the Year award and officer appreciation awards, Chang said.
Firefighting is a way of life that has its own rewards, the men said.
“I love it,” Verdicchio said. “I’ve lived in Shelton all my life, went to Shelton schools and played Little League and Pop Warner. I was entrenched. It’s a way of giving back to the city, and the chance to help somebody in need is a good feeling.”
Brand’s reason for keeping up the firefighting tradition is simple. “It’s just helping people,” he said.