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A Tolland Firefighter Looks Back

Former Tolland firefighter Bruce Cropper reflects on his 44 years in the department.

Retired firefighter Bruce Cropper was glad to leave certain things behind after wrapping up his 44 years spent in the department, which Cropper said is the longest period of service in the town's history.

"I don't miss the calls at two in the morning," he joked, although he still hasn't broken the habit of listening to the scanner to see what's going on in town.

Cropper, who would sometimes leave his day job at Pratt & Whitney to drive an amublance to a resident in need, said he's satisfied with a job well done. But there are a few memories and cases that he said will always stick with him.

The first to come to mind for Cropper was the case of Tolland child Janice Pockett, who Cropper said went missing just yards away from his own home near Rhodes Road.

"We did what we were supposed to do, and that was it," Cropper said, recalling the huge search in 1973 for the 7-year-old girl. "We searched this area for a week solid. It was the largest search they had ever had in the state at that point."

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Cropper's wife, Pat, recalls that the little girl went for a walk with her mother, but ended up walking back alone to grab a butterfly she had found along the way and placed next to a rock. 

"She didn't come home," Pat said. "It scared the heck out of all of us." 

According to a CNN article on Pockett, it is believed she was abducted. No trace of her has been found. 

Cropper witnessed a number of other significant Tolland events, like the 1978 blizzard that shut down the state for a number of days, forcing the firefighters to help whomever they could on sometimes impassable roads.

"I was breaking trails through three-foot drifts," he recalled. The firefighters focused on checking on the elderly, driving nurses to the hospital and bringing food to residents in need.

When comparing those older storms to the efficiency of Tolland's new EOC model, which assisted so many residents during the recent storms, he can measure how far the first response system has come in the last forty years.

In fact, he ended up first joining as a volunteer in 1967 because firefighters couldn't locate his neighbor's house during a brush fire.

"They called for the fire department, and we kept hearing the sirens all around, but not on Sherry Circle," Pat recalled. The development was only a few years old in the mid-1960s, according to the Croppers.

"If the firefighters don't know where our street is, I'm going to join," Cropper said he declared after the experience.

So he started his busy career in Tolland, which also had him fighting the Leonard's Corner fire that destroyed the property's barn, as well as a massive turkey farm fire that killed a number of animals in the middle of a blizzard on Buff Cap Road.

Cropper witnessed the creation of the Tolland County Mutual Aid Fire Association, which officially began running a dispatch center out of the cell block in the 1970s. He was one of several part-time employees hired to man the radios, which had previously been attended to by the jail guards, he said.

He and fellow retired firefighter Richard Symonds also had large roles in the creation of the Tolland County Dive Team, which handles dive and rescue operations around the county.

During his 44 years, Cropper reached the rank of captain, served as Fire Department Safety Officer and was on the department's Board of Directors.

And while Cropper and his family certainly value his many accomplishments as a firefighter, he said they will always fondly remember the strong sense of community between the families of the department.

"Of the sacrifices you had to make, the rewards more than made up for it," Cropper said.

"We enjoyed a lot of the benefits from meeting all the families," Pat Cropper added. "When the children were growing up, there were firemen's parades; every Saturday night was a different town. There were family picnics and Christmas parties. It was very rewarding for us," she said. 

The feelings of appreciation clearly go both ways. The department recently recognized Bruce and Pat's service to Tolland with a retirement dinner. Check out the on Tolland Patch.

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