Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow...
Our story begins prior to 1943. However, just as the image above depicts, the Occum Fire Department was officially founded on August 4, 1943 when the Board of Selectmen voted to accept the department as a regular town fire department. Occum Fire Department, or Station 4, is one of five volunteer fire companies in the City of Norwich, CT, along with Taftville (Station 2), Yantic (Station 3), East Great Plains (Station 5), and Laurel Hill (Station 6).
Occum Fire Department is the northern-most district in the city of Norwich. Within its area of responsibility is I-395 between exits 14 and 18, which is shared mutually with Yantic Fire Company. Another portion of I-395 between exits 18 and 22 is shared mutually with the Town of Lisbon. Occum Fire Department responds to calls for not only fires and EMS, but also mutual aid and service calls to the surrounding companies as well as Baltic and Lisbon when requested. Occum Fire Department is equipped with Engine 41, Engine Tanker 42, Squad 4, and Marine 4.
No matter the call, the Occum Fire Department is ready to respond and will work with getting the incident mitigated through the proper channels, no matter the weather.
Membership and Training
Our membership is currently at 35 members with our by-laws supporting up to 55 members. Drill nights are on Tuesday nights from 1830 until finished and also on Wednesday morning from 1000 until finished for any member that cannot attend Tuesday night drills. Special drills may also be held on the weekends for any events that cannot be conducted during the week or to allow for drills in cooperation with neighboring agencies. The third Tuesday of the month is set aside for EMS training with our sole Emergency Medical Services Instructor to allow for CME’s to maintain National Registry through the State of Connecticut. All other drills are conducted and aligned with CONN-OSHA standards for minimum training requirements.
The department pays for all training that is required to perform job functions around the firehouse. This training includes, but is not limited to, Firefighter I, Firefighter II, Fire Service Instructor I, Emergency Medical Responder, Emergency Medical Technician, Emergency Medical Services Instructor, etc. Members are not required to pay the department back and also get one retake after the initial failure of final certification. Even though we are an all-volunteer force, we are professionally trained.
Community Service & Outreach
The Occum Fire Department plays a critical role in the community outside of emergency responses. Every year, the department hosts a Santa Run for the children of the community. One of our members play the role of Santa and Mrs. Clause and ride around in the apparatus handing out candy canes and interacting with the community. We also make every attempt to host an open house where the community can come into the fire house and see all of our equipment and where their tax dollars are going.
One of the major pride factors of our department is our Chicken BBQ. We host this every other month starting in February of every year (except August). This is yet another opportunity to interact with the community and show them the strong department that is ready to respond to any incident.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the department joined other departments in birthday parades to show that we were still there for them in tough times. Even with masks on, we were able to be there for our community when they needed us the most. Even outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department participates in parades throughout Norwich and neighboring towns.
Emergency Alert Services
Our alarm services consist of two main sirens that are located on the firehouse and also one that is on Canterbury Turnpike by the I-395 overpass, which is currently awaiting repair. Our members no longer need to live within the sound of the siren, so they now carry a pager that receives radio messages from dispatch and other radios through the area on 33.66. These pagers are issued by the department upon initial entry.
Along with the pagers we utilize a dispatch app through our cell phones called eDispatches. This allows the ability to receive the call when we are out of radio signal on the pager and members can respond on the app whether they are responding or not, as well as to where they are responding. Our apparatus is also equipped with iPads that have this same software and our station has a status monitor to display this information as well. This improved technology allows our members to respond quickly to the station, and our apparatus can respond faster knowing what members we will have on scene vice waiting to see if they are coming.
All of our members are a part of this department because they have a will to help others, not because they have to. We have members all the way from the age of 16, which are cadets, to over the age of 70. Our members are dedicated to the job and enjoy what they do. Volunteering comes from the heart and requires time outside of normal jobs and family. Some of our members proudly serve our country in the armed forces. Other members are retired but still have the passion to help others and respond when the call goes out.
Benefits of Being a Member
There are several benefits other than just being a member and serving the community with pride. Members receive a tax abatement towards personal property that is currently at $1,000 per year but increasing to $2,000 by July 2021. The requirement to receive the tax abatement is to attend 20% of calls and drills. Members are also encouraged to buy into the city pension fund.
Our department may be small compared to the other volunteer departments, but our area of responsibility consists of 1/5th of the square mileage of the City of Norwich. Mostly residential in nature, there is one portion of the Occum District that remains uncertain for future plans. The old Tarryk farm area is a 400 acre plot of land that remains undeveloped and has been eyed for several different projects. The most recent project that is in the process right now is the development of a second business park.
As Occum grows and renews relationships with surrounding departments, the need to replace apparatus will become more important so that we have the most up-to-date equipment to support the emerging needs of the community. Our membership will need to continue focusing on recruiting so that we can have personnel to respond to emergencies when they happen.
Our current firehouse fulfills the needs of our current time. We continue to work with Senator Cathy Osten to receive grants to update the firehouse so that we can utilize the city budget for routine spending. Projects that are needed in the future include updating the kitchen, upgrading our sign out front to a digital sign, adding in keyless entry to the doors so members can gain access faster as well as to allow a more secure facility.
Since 1943 the Occum Fire Department has filled a vital role in the City of Norwich and will continue to fill that vital role for many years to come. While the call volume may be small compared to other departments, there is a lot to consider due to the area covered. Our members come professionally trained and ready to respond when the time comes.