Tag Archives: Francis Dunnigan

Friday Flashback #348

One of our town’s worst tragedies happened 77 years ago this month.

As Woody Klein noted in his book on the history of Westport, on May 2, 1946 a tire on a truck filled with vulcanizing cement blew on Post Road West, near Sylvan Road.

It swerved into a tree, and immediately exploded. A huge fire quickly erupted.

First on the scene was ambulance driver Arthur Audley, and his daughter Edna. They helped the trucker and others.

But the driver died the next morning at the hospital. Also killed were Fire Chief Frank Dennert, former fire chief Francis Dunnigan,  and firefighters John H. Gallagher. Dominick Zeoli died later.

Eight others were injured.

A plaque honoring the firefighters, 50 years after the tragedy.

Westporters responded quickly — including more than 2 dozen blood donors, who headed to Norwalk Hospital.

The Westporter-Herald printed an extra edition the next morning (so readers did not have to wait for the afternoon paper), and solicited contributions to the Firemen’s Fund. A benefit baseball game raised more money.

Four firefighters people seriously injured in the explosion — Zeoli, George and Jimmy Powers, and 13-year-old John Saviano — were still in the hospital on June 23 when they received a surprise visit (and autographed baseballs) from Babe Ruth. He was a frequent golfer at Birchwood Country Club, and Saviano was often his caddy.

Babe Ruth autographs a baseball for George “Nookie” Powers. His soon-to-be wife Virginia “Jinx” Closson looks on.

That moment was overshadowed by the tragedy, of course. The fire was seared into the memories of all who were in Westport that May day.

The 4 firefighters’ names are part of the state’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Windsor Locks.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

And more than a decade after that accident — when the Post Road was the main route for trucks traveling to and from New York — the Connecticut Turnpike opened.

The danger moved from local roads, to an interstate highway.

(Friday Flashback is a weekly feature on “06880.” Please click here to support your hyper-local blog. Thank you!)

Friday Flashback #22

In the early 1950s, Peter Barlow took this photo:


Here’s the back story. The car-carrying  truck was parked outside the Westnor Diner one evening. The Westnor was on the corner of Post Road West and Sylvan Road North — where J. Pocker and Belmondo are now. The diner’s name comes from its Westport location, near Norwalk — get it?

In those days — before I-95 — all trucks traveled on the Post Road. It was a mess. As much as we loathe the highway, it’s taken tons of traffic off our streets.

Peter — who took this photo with an amateur camera (using a flashbulb) — figures that with all the snow on the truck, the driver was inside “having a leisurely meal.”

This is a serene scene. But directly across the street, a few years earlier — on May 2, 1946 — a truck blew a tire, smashing into a drum filled with vulcanizing cement.

The resulting explosion set off a spectacular blaze. Fire chief Frank Dennert, former fire chief Francis Dunnigan, and 2 other firefighters were killed. Eight people were injured. It was one of the worst disasters in Westport history.