November 1999 - Standing next to Engine 9 are Lt. Jack Mordecai, Ff. Ray Ramelli and Ff. John Bellmore. Bob Mordecai's photo documented Ray's last day on the job.
Hamden Firefighters and their Numbered Badges
No. 1 Was the Top Guy
Fire department badges everywhere sport certain insignia which designate the rank or position of the bearer. In all departments, including Hamden's, lieutenants have one bugle (horn), captains have two, and chief officers have three, four or five (depending). The insignia on a firefighter's badge is usually the traditional "scramble" or "cluster," consisting of a helmet, pike pole, axe, bugle, and ladder.
Hamden's fire officer badges have always had their bugles. However, for nearly a half century the badges of Hamden's firefighters were numbered. When numbered badges were introduced in the early 1940s, the numbers only went as high as No. 20. By the early 1980s, they went as high as No. 115.
You could usually tell how long a guy had been with the department by looking at his badge number - the lower the number, the greater the seniority. Every year or so as veteran firefighters retired, the Chief collected all the badges and then reissued them, with almost everyone receiving a lower badge number. If no one ahead of you retired, you kept your present number. New hires would eventually be assigned the higher badge numbers that were collected from the previous group of rookies.
The most junior member of the department had the highest badge number which, by January 1981, was No. 115. The most senior firefighter of the department always wore the coveted badge No. 1.
Firefighter Joseph ("Joe Marks") Marchitto was Hamden's first firefighter to wear badge No. 1. After Marchitto, the distinction of wearing badge No. 1 passed to Firefighters Frank Nolan, Clem Kammerer, Walt Thomas, Mario "Bucky" Serafino, Wilbur Baker, Art Smith, Fred Fletcher, Dave Howe, and Hugh McLean.
After Ff. McLean retired in 1987, Hamden Fire Department badge No. 1 was assigned for the last time, to Firefighter John O'Hare. The badge was presented to O'Hare following his retirement on October 31, 1991.
Hamden's numbered badges disappeared shortly thereafter, when the department ordered new non-numbered generic shields that looked more like a cop's badge. Fortunately, HFD's badges were redesigned in recent years and now more closely resemble the original badges. But, alas, there are still no numbers.
John O'Hare was the last holder of Badge No. 1
The only badge ever to be retired was No. 14. The last man to wear it was Firefighter Alfred Ramelli, who passed away January 1, 1972 after having been stricken on duty on Christmas Eve 1971.
In addition to according well-deserved recognition to veteran firefighters, badge numbering had a practical advantage. There was never a problem with lost badges. Whatever your badge number, you had to produce it when the Chief came to collect it for the next reissuing.
Those traditionalists among us fondly remember the days when a senior firefighter could take some tacit pride in his low badge number. After all, not everyone longed to have bugles on his badge - right?
Rich Maybury Still Looking for Badge No. 101!
Rich was the first Hamden firefighter to get that badge. Hamden firefighters were assigned numbered badges from the 1940s until about 20 years ago when, for some reason, new non-numbered badges were distributed. The lower your number, the higher your seniority.
If you have badge No. 101, Rich has No. 92 to trade.
c. 1960 - Hamden firefighters taking the lieutenant's exam in the cafeteria at either the Michael J. Whelan or Sleeping Giant Jr. High School. (I.A. Sneiderman Photo)
In the 1890s, the New Lebanon Mission building at 375 Morse Street was the home of the Highwood Volunteer Fire Association, Hamden's first fire company, before it moved to the corner of Dixwell Avenue and Morse Street in 1909. The building was razed in 1975 to make way for a modern building for High Precision, Inc., which occupied the building at the time this photo was taken in the late 1950s. (Photo from the John Della Vecchia photo collection, courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)