The World was at war in January 1944 when the Ensign-Bickford Company notified the Town of Simsbury that they would no longer be able to provide fire protection services to the Town because of the demands placed upon them due to the War effort. In April of that same year, seventeen draft-exempt men stepped forward to form what would become the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company. Frank Bradley was one of the original seventeen men who stepped forward. He was also one of the twelve from the group who was selected to attended training in “Firefighting Techniques”.
Things began to evolve quickly. To finance the new Company, the Simsbury Fire District was created on June 5th, and the Company incorporated on June 29th having grown to twenty-six members. On July 2nd, the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company took possession of Ensign-Bickford’s 1935 American LaFrance pumper. The Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company was now responsible for providing fire protection to the Town of Simsbury.
The arrival of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was surely a welcomed and anticipated event when it rolled into Hartford that Summer. Approximately 8,000 people migrated into Hartford’s North End on the afternoon of July 6th to take in the matinee performance. Frank Bradley, his wife and two young daughters were in the audience that day.
Shortly into the show, a small fire was spotted burning high on the sidewall of the tent. Initially the audience remained calm as they expected it to be extinguished quickly. Several employees rushed to douse the flames but were driven back as the fire erupted across the big top which was waterproofed with a mixture of gasoline and paraffin wax. In a matter of seconds, a joyful tranquility erupted into mass panic as the spectators stormed towards the exits in all directions.
In the ensuing panic, Frank Bradley and his wife became separated from their two daughters as the fire moved rapidly across the tent consuming it. Frank Bradley and his wife entered the inferno to search for their missing daughters. Both of their daughters would escape the flames that day but tragically, neither of their parents would re-emerge from the big top.
The ironies of the tragedy speak for them self. Fire Company physician Dr. Owen Murphy took-in Frank Bradley’s daughters and raised them in their parent’s absence. Frank Bradley tragically became the first member of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company to leave us behind.
FRANK BRADLEY MEMORIAL AND WALK WAY
The memorial that sits in front of the Main Fire Station is named in honor of Simsbury’s first firefighter to die while a member of the fire company since its founding. Ironically Frank Bradley was only a member for 7 days from the first formal day of existence for the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company which occurred on June 29, 1944. On July 6th Frank took his family to Hartford to watch the Circus and perished along with his wife in the infamous Hartford Circus Fire.
When the New Main Station was being designed the building committee and the Fire Company worked together to create this memorial that honors those who have served this community as Volunteer Firefighters or members of the Auxiliary, became honorary life members and have passed on or died while an active member of the Fire Company. Adjacent to the rear of the Monument are bricks that honor each of those members.
The memorial also honors the only Firefighter from Simsbury to die in the line of duty, Lieutenant Richard Kelleher died while fighting a fire at the Knights of Columbus hall which was adjacent to the north side of Saint Mary’s Church on November 6, 1981. A granite stone as been placed in his honor in front of the memorial.
While the memorial is located at the Main Station, the remembrance is for the entire fire company from each of the 6 fire stations in town. Each of the six panels at the top of the memorial contains the name of each Fire Station. In fact if you are standing at the memorial each station name faces the direction of where the station is located in town.
Attached to the base is a brass plaque that explains the origin of the memorial and a chrome bell is mounted in the center which is tolled during the Fire Company’s annual memorial service when the name of each passed member is read.
(Inscription on the memorial)
Frank R. Bradley Memorial
In April of 1944, seventeen men stepped forward to form what would original seventeen.
In June of that year the Simsbury Fire District was created, followed closely by the creation of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company with the joint responsibility to provide fire protection for the residents of Simsbury.
On July 6th, 1944, Frank Bradley, his wife Helen, and their two young daughters were attending the matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Hartford, CT. Shortly after the show started, fire erupted across the big top. In a matter of seconds, mass panic erupted as the spectators stormed towards the exits in all directions.
Tragically, Frank and Helen Bradley became from their two daughters. Neither of the parents would emerge from the big top alive. Frank Bradley, that day, became the first deceased member of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company.
It is in his name that the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company honors all of our deceased members who have served the community with dedication and pride.