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.
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.
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