A small building sits directly behind the South Street Firehouse. Once mobile classrooms on the school campus, the building is now home to the Bethel Historical Firefighters Museum. This museum is a gem hiding in plain sight.
On display is an astonishing trove of fire fighting artifacts. The first piece visitors encounter is Mack, Bethel’s first motorized pump. This beautifully restored 1936 truck was found in upstate New York, abandoned in a field and with a tree growing through it. The names on a bronze plaque bolted to the side of the truck led to our town. Providentially, a matching engine was located in New Haven, and Mack was brought back to life.
Further in the museum, visitors will find a 200-year chronicle of fire fighting, in general as well as in Bethel specifically. The number of artifacts and photographs on display and the breadth of history they cover is remarkable. Among these treasures is the museum’s showpiece, Old Forgotten. This beautifully restored hand pump dates back to 1815. It was manned by five fire fighters, one on each of the four handles and a fifth filling it with water. Fun fact: the exhausting work of pumping the handles and filling the water required teams of five to switch on and off, hence the expression “take five.”
1815 hand pump Old Forgotten
The museum was founded by Richard Reynolds and Walter Dugdale, both former Bethel Fire Chiefs. Much of the museum’s collection comes from Dugdale’s private collection of fire memorabilia. On any given day, visitors can find Reynolds and Dugdale at the South Street Firehouse. Their tour of the museum is time extremely well spent.
The Bethel Historical Firefighters Museum is free, and tours can be arranged at any time. To visit, please contact Assistant Chief Brendan Ryan, 203.778.7414.
L: Mack, Bethel’s first motorized pump
R: fire department patches from around the U.S.
Can you spot the mistake on a local department’s patch?