Hoage, Larry

Narrator: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview:  Scoville Memorial Library
Date:  June 25, 2024
File:  #430

Summary of talk: Jr. Fire Fighting Program.

Interview Audio


Interview Transcript

Larry Hoage Interview:
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Larry Hoage about the Junior Fire-fighting Program he started at the Lakeville Hose Company back in the 1970s. Today’s date is June 25, 2024. This is file #430.
JMcM: What is your full name?
LH: Lawrence Taylor Hoage
JMcM: What is your birthdate?
LH: 1/10/1949
JMcM: Where were you born?
LH: Sharon Hospital in Connecticut
JMcM: What were your parents’ names?
LH: Norman & Edith Hoage
JMcM: Do you have siblings?
LH: One, Janet Lynn
JMcM: How did you get involved with the Lakeville Fire Department?
LH: I knew a lot of members. A lot of them were friends of my father. They kind of encouraged me to get involved with it. I had to wait a little while until they opened up the town a little wider because they were out of the district for a few years until they changed it.
JMcM: Did fire- fighting interest you as a young boy?
LH: Yes.
JMcM: When did you actually join?
LH: June of 1970
JMcM: How old were you?
LH: I was 21.
JMcM: I ask you why you joined. You said that you liked people, you liked action, and you liked learning.
LH: Yep
JMcM: Is that still true today?
LH: Yep
JMcM: What kind of training did you have at the time?
LH: When I started, I had none but the garden hose.
JMcM: How did you get training?
LH: Well, we did some in-house training. Then I did training at Burrville in Torrington, Ct. Poughkeepsie, NY and Millerton, NY. Every time they had an instructor come out, they would invite us. 90% of my training was in New York State.
JMcM: How did you get the idea of starting the Junior Fire-fighting Program?
LH: Well, there were always kids at the fire house, parents and so forth. They would bring their friends along. Of course kids love a fire truck so I said geez it might be a good idea to get these kids down here to learn how to do things. It was a great success.
JMcM: It is still going, isn’t it?
LH: Yep
JMcM: Do you know what date when your program started? I know you said 1970s but…
LH: I am not sure of the exact year.
JMcM: But late 1970s would do it?
LH: I would say so yes. It is a long time to think back.
JMcM: What was the purpose of the program?
LH: Well, the purpose was to train these people since they were interested in getting into the fire service. As they got older, hopefully they would join the fire company. Several of them stayed on in the fire department when they had finished with the junior program.
JMcM: Didn’t you tell me that there a couple who became paid firefighters?
LH: Two went on to be paid firemen. They are still in a paid fire company.
JMcM: What was the age of the kids you were training?
LH: I believe it was 12 to 16.
JMcM: And all boys at the time.
LH: At that time yes.
JMcM: How many in a group?
LH: Well we had, I would say 6.
JMcM: That is a good number.
LH: That way they get personal attention.
JMcM: Do you have any idea when the girls joined in?
LH: Probably with Kirstyn. I think she was in the first group. If you can remember when you did your interview with her…
JMcM: Oh I can November 20, 2018.
LH: I believe she was one of the first girls that got into the program.
JMcM: Probably and she was gung-ho, really gung-ho. When your program started, did other local fire departments join in or did you do it solo?
LH: We did it solo. It was quite a while before other companies saw it as a good opportunity: then they started adding it to their curriculum.
JMcM: You have a son Russell whom I know quite well. (See his interview Nov.22. 2014)
LH: Yep
JMcM: Was he in the Jr. Fire-Fighting Program?
LH: I don’t think he was ever in the juniors. I think when he was old enough, he just joined our company.
JMcM: When he was 21 or is it now 18?
LH: 18 now.
JMcM: I know Kirstyn was in it. I did an interview on her about it so I can check the date. Who is running the Jr. Fire-Fighting Program now?
LH: Bob Flint
JMcM: Is Jen Farwell still doing it? (See her interview)
LH: She isn’t at present. Her job is taking up a lot of her time so she had to step back for a little bit. I am not sure who is helping Bob right now.
JMcM: Jen was doing it when I was working with Kirstyn. I get to the firehouse. Jen is there and she introduced me: “Oh yes this is my fourth grade school teacher.” If that isn’t a curse! What is Kirstyn doing now, is she in Hartford?
LH: No she is working for Steve Gomez with Invisible Fence. She has had different jobs here and there, but she is now back living in town with her boyfriend because they are very active in the service. They found living quarters here so it would be close.
JMcM: Is she still involved with fire -fighting?
LH: Oh yeah, she is down there all the time.
JMcM: Why do you think your program is so important?
LH: for the juniors? At that time we had 50 members. I had to wait to get in. It started to dwindle a little bit, and a little bit more. You have to keep getting young blood in. so that was one of the main purposes. They are really smart at that age. If you ask them to do something, 9 times out of 10 they are going to complete it.
JMcM: Oh sure because they want to. What specifically do they learn?
LH: Basically what I taught them was where all the equipment was in all the trucks because they are limited as to how much they can do according to the regulations. They can help on drills and so forth with guidance. They could not do it on their own, but they all knew where all the equipment was in all the trucks. If I asked them to go get something, they would get what you asked for.
JMcM: You had a good story that you told about a coupling.
LH: Yeah, I asked a fireman for a coupling and he brought back the wrong item, so I sent a junior and he brought back just what I asked for.
JMcM: That is important.
LH: Yes, I was very pleased.
JMcM: Yes, both of you were pleased. That is the proof of the pudding. It really is.
LH: Well you can all forget, you know.
JMcM: Now you have told me about the important fires that you remembered. I am going to ask you to tell me what you remember about the Interlaken fire that was in 1971?
LH: That was a very big fire. It started in the night. We called in I don’t know how many other fire departments but it was a major fire. It was hard to get to. There had been reconstruction in the building with the inside walls, so we were there all night and all the next day. It was very tiresome.
JMcM: If I remember correctly it did not burn to the ground.
LH: No
JMcM: The shell was there. (This was not the first fire at the Interlaken Inn. See Jack Roger’s Interview.)
LH: Yes
JMcM: The Belter fire that happened in May of 1985, was it just the barn or was it cattle?
LH: The whole main barn burned. This was the third attempt to set that barn on fire.
JMcM: Was it arson?
LH: Yes
LH: They lost all the cows. We tried to get them out: the ones that did get out had to be put down. So they were buried right on site. Peter Lorenzo found a good spot and took care of the proper burial of all the animals. There again we were there that night and all the next day. We had to go back a few time to wet down hot spots. It was a big barn and there was nothing left.
JMcM: It was their business and their livelihood. I was here then and I vaguely remember it, but there again it was tragic, absolutely tragic. Another example of arson was the Town Hall fire in August that same year. Tell me about that one.
LH: Well I was out back on a hose line for a while. There was a gentleman helping me that was part of the family who started the fire. I did not realize it until the next day or the day after. He himself didn’t do it, but he felt really bad so he stayed there to help. That was a devastating fire. There again it was all reconstruction inside. You couldn’t get to it. The chief got mad at me because I switched trucks with another driver. He gave me heck for that. We were lucky. The one truck that was out on Main Street in front of the Town Hall, they moved it just in time ‘cause all the pillars collapsed. It would have gone right on the fire truck. That was a very devastating fire.
JMcM: It was. I tried to get information from Laura Johnson and Pat Gomez who at that time were Town Clerk and Assistant Town Clerk. It was such a bad fire that they totally blanked. I did get an interview from Peter Oliver who was Building Inspector at the time. Then I did get an interview with Tommy Paine on the Town Hall fire.
JMcM: Now the Twin Lakes Beach Club fire: that one was August 29, 1990. How did that start?
LH: That was human error: the chef in the kitchen had a grease fire and the last thing you do is throw water on grease. He did that and it just engulfed the whole kitchen and it was all over.
JMcM: Were you there again all night and a day?
LH: No this was in the afternoon at the end of the work day at the Town Garage. We responded there very quickly. It was so engulfed when we got there. If you are ever at the fire house, you can see a picture of it. It was a total loss.
JMcM: I had seen that picture. How about the Post office out in Taconic? I am not sure when that happened. (Feb. 1, 1971) What do you remember about that one?
LH: That was the Post Office & general store at the time. I am not sure where the fire started because there was an apartment upstairs as well. That was also a, it had quite a start on us and it was quite a ways from the fire house. It was at night so it took us a while to get there. It was about 20 to 30 degrees below zero that night, windy which hampered our operation to get it under control. We finally got it under control and tried to save all the mail we could. Once we got it knocked down and under control, we were told we had to wait until the Postmaster General came to collect all the mail, whether it was burnt, soggy or whatever shape it was in. So we huddled in our paneled truck to try and keep warm.
JMcM: I think all the others were in spring, summer or fall, so this was a winter fire.
LH: That was a winter fire.
JMcM: Are those the worst?
LH: Yes, especially if you are on an incline, you have the ice to deal with. You can’t walk anywhere.
JMcM: You were out in the middle of nowhere, with that one particularly.
LH: Yes, we do carry sand and salt on our trucks so we do a walking path, but it is still very difficult.
JMcM: It would be particularly at night and wind it would be really hard.
LH: We had another one at Joe Lahr’s up in Taconic. That actually was Weatogue Road. That was another cold day, but that was the first thing in the morning. We got there quick. I drove one of the fire trucks. We got it under control. We were just getting to leave and I was the last truck out. I stopped. “We’ve got a hot spot.” I was lucky enough to get water, just before the truck froze up, it was that cold. So we doused it really well. I said, “I’ve got to get this truck back in the warmth.”
JMcM: Are you still in the fire department?
LH: 54 years
JMcM: What are some of the changes over those 54 years?
LH: Well one thing we don’t have is major fires that we had back in the 1970’s and up. That has kind of calmed down because of codes and regulations. The main thing now is chasing alarm systems for various reasons, 90% are false alarms. Now we are getting… people are getting apps on their cell phones for an automatic crash notice. Usually if they drop their cell phone, the ambulance and the fire company gets turned out for an accident. So you go find their phone for them and then you go home.
JMcM: That must be so frustrating.
LH: It is and it discouraged the guys from responding. With the price of vehicles and the price of gasoline today, the guys are not just going to keep running around for no reason.
JMcM: Of course not.
LH: And you can’t blame them.
JMcM: Now I think you said when you joined, you had to wait two weeks after you put in your application.
LH: There was a waiting list.
JMcM: Is there a waiting list now?
LH: Oh God no. No, we are about 15 people shy on a 50 man roster which we should have.
JMcM: Of the 35 that are on the roster, how many are actually active?
LH: 12
JMcM; the median age is what?
LH: 58
JMcM: It seems to be that way with almost all organizations.
LH: The younger ones don’t come often because they are working two jobs to be able to live around the area.
JMcM: Oh yes, and if they’ve got kids they have activities.
LH: If they’ve got kids, it is not as easy to get away today. The training takes up a lot of time.
JMcM: I was going to ask you the training does take up a lot of time.
LH: Fire fighter #1 is $250. Then you have to do fire fighter #2, a pump course, and hazardous materials.
JMcM: That hazardous material is a new one.
LH: Yeah
JMcM: Because I have done interviews with various fire fighters. Their training is different and it gets more and more so. Do you have to go away for your training or do you bring someone in?
LH: You have to go to Torrington to the fire school in Burrville. There are a few that we do at the station, but it is mostly at Burrville.
JMcM: Kirstyn went to Rocky Hill.
LH: That was a female fire fighter program. Shelley Carter put that on. She is still doing it. She is now a chief in a fire department somewhere. She has worked her way up to chief. She is also doing Kirstyn’s program. She’s got all the things needed for that program out of her pocket. She says, “My husband is always hollering at me.”
JMcM; Well it is something like a school teacher.
LH: Yes, the same thing
JMcM: You want to do a program and there is no money in the budget, so you do it yourself. The kids enjoy it and the kids appreciate it. But it is what you do. If you are really dedicated as you are to what you are doing, you want to do a good job. If the powers that be aren’t going to help, you do it yourself.
LH: Yep
JMcM: That’s important. Is there anything else you wish to add before we close this interview?
LH: I think that covers most of it. I don’t know what the future is going to bring but we don’t have too many knocking on the door to get in. We get a couple of guys retiring each year. It is getting pretty tough.
JMcM: I am an optimist. It will keep going because the town really appreciates what you fire fighters do.
LH: All the surrounding towns are all in the same shape. 90% of us, if any serious call comes in, it’s mutual aid right away, so we have enough to cover the trucks and enough manpower to operate them when we get there.
JMcM: Thank you so much.