NORWICH — “My grandfather thought he was coming home for dinner.”
That’s what Army Colonel Sean Counihan, of Woodbridge, Virginia, and formally of Norwich, said of his grandfather Leonard Counihan, a Norwich firefighter.
Counihan was one of four Norwich firefighters killed 60 years ago in the fiery explosion at the Van Tassel Warehouse in Norwich. Counihan and his wife, Tecia, came from Virginia to honor his grandfather, Captain William Sheridan, and firefighters Edward Romano and Carl Burke who died April 3, 1962.
“I want to take a moment to thank the firemen for what they do every day and their selfless service,” he said. “These guys, every day, they don’t know if they are coming home.”
Counihan said family members told him that his grandfather, who he never met, was “larger than life, just a funny guy, worked hard and was full of mischief and having fun. I’m honored to be part of his legacy.”
Tom LaFreniere, 93, of Norwich, former Norwich Fire Department lieutenant, was at that deadly fire.
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“It’s so vivid to me,” he said. “I prayed to God, and He saved me. I touched three of the men who were burning and I was burning too. I’ll never forget it and I say a prayer every night to the four guys who died.”
Norwich Fire Chief Tracy Montoya remembered that fateful day.
“The original call came in at 1:22 p.m. to dispatch from a box alarm they used to have on the streets. The explosion probably happened between two to four minutes after arriving at the scene and stretching the hose and positioning themselves behind a stone wall and spraying water.”
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He added DOT warning signs of what chemicals are in trucks and in other containers is a positive result that came out of the tragedy making it safer for firefighters to battle fires now.
After the speaking program ended the attendees exited the station to watch the unveiling of a new sign under the nearby Forest Street sign that read “Van Tassel Mem. Dr. 4 Lost April 3, 1962.” New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums members played “Amazing Grace” to the silent crowd during the unveiling.
More than 100 people, including active and former Norwich Fire Department and Norwich volunteer department firefighters, area politicians, Norwich police and friends and other family members attended the memorial at the West Main Street fire department.