1996 Honoree


This firefighter’s career began more than 26 years ago with a kitchen fire in a neighbor’s house. Though he was not then a fireman, when the fire truck arrived Fred Gottschall grabbed a hose and helped battle the blaze alongside members of the Harwinton Volunteer Fire Department.

This month, Gottschall retired as chief of the department he joined in 1971. He plans on remaining with the fire department as a member.

Gottschall, 58, became the 21st recipient of the Poole award. “It’s to honor people who do volunteer work in the town, for people who serve the town, just for the sake of serving the town,” said Bo Duyser, chairman of the award committee.

By all accounts Gottschall fits that description. Ray Gangloff, Gottschall’s neighbor and fellow firefighter, remembers trying to persuade Gottschall to join the department.

“He said “I don’t want to get involved until I can give 100%,” Gangloff recalled.

Not long after his neighbors kitchen fire Gottschall joined the department. The following year, he and Gangloff were recognized by the state for reviving a 2 year old boy who had nearly drowned in his grandparents pool.

Gottschall was named chief of the Harwinton Fire Department in 1981, becoming only the second chief in its history. Now he says that the time is right to turn the leadership over to someone else.

“I thought 15 was a good round number,” he said. “It’s good for a department to have officers change. There are a lot of good young people who would like to move up in the ranks.’

During his tenure, Gottschall is credited with raising more than $100,000 for the purchase of firefighting equipment.

“Fred was very instrumental in the building of the new firehouse, he saw it built and helped organize the building of it,’ said Fire Lt. Bill Doyle.
The money Gottschall helped raise enabled the department to purchase a water tanker, a utility truck, and rescue tools.

Several firefighters noted that Gottschall’s ability to get along with people not only helped with fund raising, but made him a good manager of the department, which numbers about 40 volunteers.

“He knows just how to handle people.” Doyle said. “He has a way of getting things done without hurting people’s feelings.”

And though his retirement was just a few weeks away, Gottschall was found on the front lines of a recent house fire on Hill Road.

“Fred took command of the whole operation,” Doyle said. “He was out front in the smoke, in the wind and sometimes in the fire.”

Afterward, Doyle said, the mood at the firehouse was somber, in part because Gottschall had inhaled too much smoke and wasn’t feeling well.
“But that’s the type of chief he was,” Doyle said. “He stays right with his men. If they’re in trouble, he’s in trouble.

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