The Hartford Circus Fire and Aetna Ambulance: Volume 1

Hartford Circus Fire - Aetna Ambulance Serviceby Sam Porcello

For the past three years, I have participated in National History Day, a nationwide historical research competition for middle and high school students.  The theme for 2013 is “Turning Points in History: People, Places and Ideas.”   I chose the Hartford Circus Fire as my topic because I have always been intrigued how every July 6th, amid the cheerful Fourth of July stories, my local news always includes a report about the 1944 fire.  I wanted to find out why a 10 minute event continues to be discussed 68 years later, and what changes it brought about.

The tragic fire occurred on July 6, 1944 on Barbour Street in Hartford during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers circus.  It was one month after D-Day. Connecticut, a major defense manufacturer with its Pratt aircraft, Colt firearms and Waterbury brass foundries, had a thorough emergency plan in place in case of enemy attack.  This plan included using delivery vans from local businesses such as Aetna Florist, Colt, and Brown Thompson as ambulances to transport the injured…check back for future volumes.