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Book shows Springfield's firefighting history

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

For author Bert Johanson, his new book on Springfield firefighting "Images of America: Springfield Firefighting" was due to a happy accident.

Johanson is active in the Connecticut Fire Museum, which is housed at the same location as the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor, Conn. He and his wife Nancy had finished a book on Hartford Conn. firefighters for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series when he met William Pooler, whose family has had a long history of being firefighters in Springfield.

Pooler's grandfather was Noah Pooler, a city firefighter from 1907 to 1942. The elder Pooler has assembled a collection of photos of his colleagues, the station houses and scenes of actual fires.

Johanson told Reminder Publications once he saw that collection he knew he had "the nucleus for a new book."

But the Johansons needed some additional help that came from Fred Rodriguez, a 29-year veteran of the Springfield Fire Department. Rodriguez was able to help the Johansons identify many of the people shown in the photos.

Additional photos came from Geoffrey Neilson of Wethersfield, Conn., Raymond Pond of Agawam and the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

The book has a history of the Springfield fire fighting effort dating back to 1792 when the community purchased its first hand-pump engine, "The Lion." The photos take readers through the history of the department from its volunteer days to when horses drew steamed-power pumpers to when the city became one of the first all motorized departments in the nation.

Johanson believes Springfield might have been the first motorized large city, although he said that Oklahoma City, OK. claims to have been the first.

The bulk of the book's photos depict the department in the later days of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Johanson said that being a firefighter was considered a great job in those years due to the steady income it afforded, even though prior to World War One, firefighters in the city only had one day off a month.

Johanson, a retired transportation manager for a Hartford, Conn. business, said he was impressed that so many of Springfield's original fire stations are still standing with several still in operation. He said that most of Hartford's old stations have been demolished.

This is Johanson's seventh book for Arcadia Publishing, and he said he would love to compile a book on Springfield's trolleys. He is very involved with the Connecticut Trolley Museum as well and has written several books on various trolley systems.

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