Douglass Taft Davidoff is a Staples grad from a notable Westport family. His late father Jerry was, and his mother Denny still is, longtime civic volunteers, in areas ranging from education and politics to religion. Doug is now a Massachusetts-based writer, editor and marketer.
Several weeks ago, near Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, I noticed a sign for the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It pointed down a road leading to the back of the airfield.
I wondered if I would find anyone from Westport, so I followed the road. I did not know that I would find one of the most beloved figures from my childhood. In fact, I did not know if Westport had anyone remembered at this memorial. I had no idea whether Westport had lost any firefighters in the line of duty.
The road led to the Connecticut Fire Academy. The area is heavily wooded. Despite being next door to New England’s second-busiest jetport, it is serene and quiet.
The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located beside the Fire Academy, is a plinth with panels inscribed with the names of state firefighters lost in the line of duty. A polished marble slab carries the state seal, the memorial’s name, and a depiction of firefighters designed by a New Britain firefighter.
The names on the panels are randomized; they are not in alphabetical order, name of municipality or year of death. This forces visitors to appreciate many names of many fallen firefighters from many communities before coming upon the firefighter or community for which they are searching.
Five Westport firefighters from 2 deadly Westport fires are memorialized in this place.
Four of the 5 died together on May 2, 1946, when a truck exploded on the Post Road, near Sylvan Road: Frank L. Dennert, Francis P. Dunnigan, John H. Gallagher and Dominick Zeoli. You can read about the disaster here and here.
But I was stunned — and then I wept — when I discovered the name of a Westporter who meant a lot to me growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. I had no idea that George H. Cardozo had died of a heart attack during a Dec. 2, 2000, house fire on Marion Road. Nor did I know that he was honored on the state firefighters’ memorial.
George, a commercial photographer, photojournalist and volunteer firefighter, lived with his wife Marion and their 2 daughters on Meadowbrook Lane, off Long Lots Road. The Cardozos and my parents socialized often and sailed together. The Cardozo daughters were babysitters for my brother and me. George was also a cousin of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.
George was the photographer for the Westport Fire Department. Details of George’s death are here and here. The Westport Fire Department remembered its fallen members from the 1946 and 2000 fires on Memorial Day 2007.
I left a stone on top of the panel for George, and a stone on top of each panel bearing a name for Firefighters Dennert, Dunigan, Gallagher, and Zeoli.
And then I left a stone on the Fairfield County bench — right in front of the memorial — to remember everyone in the fire service, and all public services, who have given their careers and their lives to make Westport and its neighboring communities so special.