The One-Man Fire Department of Chaffinch Island: Francis E. Ingals
In the annals of firefighting history, there are countless tales of bravery, camaraderie, and heroism. Yet, one story from the early decades of the 20th century stands out as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a single man and his unwavering commitment to the safety of his community. This is the story of Francis E. Ingals, the one-man fire department of Chaffinch Island in Guilford, Connecticut.
A Man with a Passion for Firefighting
Francis Ingals was not your typical firefighter. Born with an innate fascination for all things mechanical and electrical, he embarked on a journey that would ultimately lead him to become an unsung hero in the fire service. His early education as a mechanical and electrical engineer at the University of Wisconsin laid the foundation for his future endeavors.
Ingals found himself working at an electric automobile plant in Chicago, which might have been the trajectory for the rest of his life had it not been for a fateful night. While on a serene lake in Wisconsin, a close friend's hotel suddenly became engulfed in flames. The call for help ignited a spark within Ingals, and he rushed to assist in saving the imperiled building. From that moment, he knew his calling lay in fighting fires.
Chaffinch Island: The Birthplace of a Hero
In the 1920s, Ingals moved to the picturesque town of Guilford, where he purchased a home on the serene 8-acre Chaffinch Island. As he settled into his new abode, it became apparent to him that living in such an isolated location left his home vulnerable to the ravages of fire. In response, he took it upon himself to acquire firefighting equipment.
Ingals' first foray into fire service was a Ford Roadster, which he ingeniously modified to accommodate firefighting gear. The trunk of his car housed a reel of rubber hose and apparatus for pumping water and fire-suppressing chemicals. Soon, his neighbors learned about his firefighting contraption, and they approached him, requesting assistance in case of fire emergencies. Thus began the journey of the Chaffinch Island Fire Department, a one-man operation that would serve not only the island but also the entire town of Guilford and its neighboring areas.
Home Sweet Fire Station
Ingals' home became more than just a place to live; it was now a fire station. Alarms were received through calls from local telephone operators, and Ingals would spring into action, racing to the scene of a blaze with remarkable agility. As the years passed and his reputation grew, Ingals expanded his garage space to accommodate larger and more capable fire trucks. In 1931, he acquired a Maxim pumper truck and even fashioned a special front seat to allow his loyal dog, Duke, to ride along on calls—a heartwarming symbol of his dedication.
A Heros Dual Life
When not battling flames, Francis Ingals led a dual life. He was not only a firefighter but also a boat operator for Chaffinch Island and a skilled handyman. He repaired motors and boats for his neighbors, using the earnings to offset the personal expenses incurred due to his firefighting hobby. This dedication to the well-
being of his community extended beyond the fire lines and into the everyday lives of those he served.
The End of an Era
In 1941, a moment of controversy marked the end of Francis Ingals' remarkable journey as a one-man fire department. He allegedly submitted a bill for $200 to the Guilford Board of
Selectmen for equipment repairs. The town's decision to vote down his request for reimbursement signaled the end of an era. In an unexpected turn of events, Ingals sold his beloved fire truck and firefighting equipment to the town of Meriden, effectively retiring from his role as the guardian of Guilford's safety.
Francis E. Ingals may have been a solitary firefighter, but his legacy continues to burn brightly. His selflessness, dedication, and unwavering commitment to his community stand as a shining example of what a single individual can achieve in the face of adversity. His memory lives on as a testament to the power of one person's determination to make the world a safer place, one fire at a time.
Picture provided by Amanda Joy of Guilford Good Vide Tribe