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Sandy Hook Firefighters Win State Convention Title



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For the first time in its 85-year history, Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue (SHVFR) captured the Connecticut Parade Marshals Association (CPMA) State Championship.

Firefighters from across the state including Sandy Hook volunteers converged on Thomaston last weekend for the 140th Connecticut State Firefighters Association Annual Convention. The finale of each year’s annual convention is the grand parade in the host town or city. This year’s parade took place Sunday, September 17 and was followed by the news that Sandy Hook VFR had earned the title.

Members of the company picked up a massive Best Overall Fire Unit trophy, a grandfather clock, and a plaque listing previous state winners to which their name will soon be added.

With insets on that trophy dating back to 2006, Middlebury is listed seven times. Thomaston appears three times on the plaque. Morris won in 2008, Torrington in 2009, and parades were not conducted in 2016, 2020, or 2021.

This represents a significant honor for Sandy Hook, which also picked up the plaque for Most Firefighters in Line, and the company’s Ladies Auxiliary returned home with the Best Appearing Ladies Auxiliary-Runner Up trophy from the parade hosts.

Following a triumphant return back to Newtown, SHVFR Chief Anthony Capozziello said he and his company members were “still in shock, but in a good way.” Sandy Hook was one of approximately 50 companies from across the state participating in Sunday’s parade according to CPMA President Lew Clark, who spoke to The Newtown Bee this week.

“Sandy Hook worked hard for this,” he said. “They’ve been practicing, and getting everything ready. They really put the effort forth.”

The “everything” Clark was referring to includes the appearance of formal firefighter uniforms, from hats, jackets and pants, to shoes, gloves, and anything being carried by those who are marching; the presentation of a color guard including its flags and any banners; and apparatus — from bumper to bumper and everything in between.

A very specific point system is used for scoring, and parades can be won or lost by the smallest margin. Companies have won parade titles by as little as 1/100th of a point, according to Lewis. They have also lost titles by the same margin.

“That’s how precise they get,” he said.

“When you’re judging a marching unit, or color guard, you’re looking for uniforms to match, no wrinkles, cleanliness, the hats are on properly — square, not topped — threads, dust, lint, all that type of stuff,” Lewis explained. “And then when you go to the firemen behind the guard, you’re also looking for all that stuff, as well as what we call the M&M: the marching and maneuvering. They’re in step, standing straight and proud, the line is a straight line.

“If they’re carrying a bugle, like Sandy Hook did, they need to be in the same position,” he added.

With apparatus, judges look for cleanliness, any scratches, even whether windows are clean.

Sandy Hook did not return home from the convention with any recognition for its apparatus, but that didn’t surprise Lewis.

“Sandy Hook had their trucks, and they were beautiful, but they didn’t go there to win truck trophies,” he said. “They went there to win the whole thing.”

A Strong Season

To qualify for the state convention, Sandy Hook VFR competed in three previous 2023 CPMA-sanctioned events: the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department Parade (Friday, June 2); the Thomaston Fire Department Parade (Saturday, August 5); and the Bridgewater Country Fair Fireman’s Parade (Friday, August 18).

The company returned with honors from each of those three competitions: Best Overall, Most Marchers in Line, and Best Ladies Auxiliary from Bethany; Best Overall from Thomaston; and Best Overall from Bridgewater.

Sandy Hook also participated in its hometown parade, the Newtown Labor Day Parade, on September 4. While that parade does not fall under the CPMA umbrella, the company nevertheless picked up the title of Best Fire Company from the local judges that day.

Meanwhile, members did extra practice sessions at their main station — marching, standing in line, and maneuvering. Life Member Richard Conrod spent countless hours organizing uniforms and accoutrements. Others spent extra hours sprucing up the trucks that appeared in the various parades.

Capozziello said the extra practice was supplemented by important talks.

“We asked a lot of questions and talked about what we were doing right, and where our mistakes were,” he said.

50 Years Of Work

The win last weekend was something the company has been working toward for nearly half a century, according to Capozziello. A 31-year member, Capozziello recalled this week that “people before me were always trying to win this, for years.”

One of those people was the late Chief of SHVFR Bill Halstead, who died in July 2022. The Sandy Hook native and longtime chief was not only his firehouse leader, but also a very close friend to Capozziello and many other in the company he led.

“I was honored to be able to bring home this win,” Capozziello said Wednesday. “A lot of this work was done in his memory.”

EMS Captain and fellow longtime member Karin Halstead agreed, saying her father loved the competition and the camaraderie of parades.

“My dad loved marching. He loved that we’d meet up together, and see other firefighters and companies from across the state. He just loved that,” she said Tuesday, her voice still hoarse from the weekend’s activities.

“It’s something we as a company have been striving hard to do for decades,” she added. “I wanted to do this for my dad too. He loved marching and I really wanted to do this for him.”

For many, she said, the attraction of parades is indeed the bonding that happens while working together as a unit.

“This is something we all come out to for fun,” she said. “We train and respond to calls, and come together in the time of someone’s need, but it’s also nice to relax and do something fun as a company.”

This summer, with the addition of new members, the company had members who have been marching for decades working alongside people who have been in the company for less than a year.

“It’s nice to see the new and young members have interest again,” she said.

Season Finale Parade

Halstead said she woke up last Sunday morning and felt very good ahead of the season finale and potential win.

“The whole day felt perfect,” she said. “I just had this sixth sense that we were going to win.”

She had a few good omens, “signs all along the way,” she admitted. Her father’s firefighter number was 401, and it was the 140th state convention. The grandfather clock the company won was built in 1974, “which is when I was born, and I felt like that was another sign,” she said.

And then there was the dream.

“I woke up Sunday morning from a dream that we’d just won,” she said, laughing.

During the parade itself, she felt calm.

“I felt like the members were in step, and just looked good from start to finish,” Halstead said.

Capozziello also had a good feeling heading toward Thomaston on Sunday.

“I felt good, but at the same time I was nervous,” he admitted. “It was a nervous feeling, but there were a lot of people on the sidelines cheering us on and we’d put in the work.”

As chief of the company, Capozziello is first in the line of marchers. Knowing that judges are watching his members “being in step, the maneuvers, our appearance — that’s my big challenge,” he said. “Everybody behind me has to follow what I do.”

And follow they did — right to the top of the awards roster later that afternoon.

The spirit of their late chief was with the company on Sunday. His fire helmet was on the dashboard of the company’s brand-new ladder truck, one of three pieces of apparatus included in the parade. There was also a can of Diet Pepsi — Chief Halstead’s signature soda — inside the truck that day.

“For this to happen under my watch, it’s a big deal,” Capozziello said. “I know how Chief Halstead would have felt if he’d won it while he was still here, and I’m honored we did this for him.”

A Special Stop

To cap Sunday’s win, those who marched in Thomaston made a special stop before returning to their main station that evening. With a police escort once they arrived in town, the group traveled to St Rose Cemetery, where they visited the grave of their late chief.

Karin Halstead said everyone on the bus returning to Newtown after the parade felt like it needed to be done.

“We all had the same feeling,” she said. “It was nothing planned, but when we won we all said, ‘We need to go to the cemetery.’”

There, they placed some of their parade hats, flowers and gloves, and even waved the state championship flag that had just been given to the company over Bill Halstead’s final place of rest.

Monday night, following a regularly scheduled company business meeting, members gathered for dinner. Regardless of the number of parades firefighters had been in this season, Capozziello wanted his members to know how much he appreciated the additional work of recent months.

“That was my way of showing thanks to everyone who came through all summer,” he said. “Everybody worked hard, getting everything ready, and it all came together.”


Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company and its Ladies Auxiliary celebrate on Sunday, September 17, after being named Best Overall Fire Unit during the 140th Connecticut State Firefighters Association Annual Convention. It was the first Connecticut Parade Marshals Association state title for the local fire company founded in 1938. —photo courtesy Karin Halstead
The Sandy Hook VFR Color Guard maneuvers around a corner during the state convention parade in Thomaston on September 17, while members of the company approach the turn. —Ed Harvey/Fire Service Photography photo
Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue and its Ladies Auxiliary assemble in front of two of their trucks ahead of their station championship appearance in the 140th Connecticut State Firefighters Association Convention Parade. —Mary Pendergast photo
Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Chief Anthony Capozziello and EMS Captain Karin Halstead proudly hold the State Champions flag presented to the fire company last Sunday afternoon. —photo courtesy Karin Halstead
Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Chief Anthony Capozziello raises the Best Overall Fire Unit trophy toward members on Sunday afternoon following the announcement that his fire company had earned the top award during the 140th Connecticut State Firefighters Association Annual Convention. —photo courtesy Anthony Capozziello
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