Edward J. Cotter


Edward J. Cotter Jr. (1920-2012) seemed to be just about every where something important was happening in Derby and throughout the Valley throughout his life. In a departure from other biographies of our Hall of Famers, we submit the biography submitted by just one of his nominators - his grandson David Lenart:

In 1939, a young sports reporter for the Evening Sentinel was asked by his father to join The Storm Engine Company firehouse in Derby.  Because the Sentinel office was located next-door to the firehouse, and the Storm’s needed drivers to get the apparatus out on calls during the day, it seemed like the smart thing to do. Little did anyone realize that the story of one of the greatest heroes to ever live in the Valley was about to begin; an adventure that would last over 65 years. Edward J Cotter Jr., a long time legend in firefighting and emergency medical services, is retiring at the end of this year. I think it is only fair to Ed to take a moment and look back over his career.

Ed joined the Storm’s in 1939 at the request of his father, a past Captain of the company. Ed served as a fireman and driver until 1941 when, like most members of the “Greatest Generation”, he entered the service to defend his country. Ed joined the Navy and served as a firefighter for part of the war at the U.S. Naval Station in Newport, R.I. There he would be exposed to new state-of-the-art firefighting equipment and techniques. Ed’s leadership and take-charge abilities were soon recognized and he was ultimately tapped to run the day-to day operations of the fire squad and was in charge of training new firefighters. He was then sent out to sea in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. New Hanover. During this time he was awarded a good conduct medal and participated in the Battle of Okinawa. Ed’s naval service ended with the war and he went back home to his loving wife Eleanor to start a family, he even got his old job back at the Sentinel.

In 1946 Ed was asked by the town fathers of Derby to serve as Asst. Fire Chief. He took the job and changed the face of emergency services in the Valley forever. Armed with his training and knowledge from the Navy, he started modernizing the fire department with new firefighting techniques and equipment, some of which are still used today.

In 1948 after years of taking pictures of people dying in the streets from lack of medical care, Ed, along with Fire Chief Richard Kiley and some valley businessmen, formed the Storm Engine Company Ambulance Corps.  The new corps provided Derby, and the Lower Naugatuck Valley, with its first ambulance service. Finishing his term as Fire Chief in 1954, Ed continued as president of the Ambulance Corps until 1985. Ed always kept the Ambulance Corps at the cutting edge of technology. In 1952, because of the great increase in traffic and motor vehicle accidents in Derby, and the large industrial base of factories, he determined that there was a need for another vehicle to carry necessary rescue equipment to motor vehicle and industrial accidents. A jeep was purchased and it became the predecessor of today’s large rescue vehicles. In 1955 a rescue boat was added to the fleet of vehicles and soon after it was the only one of its kind in service. During the 1955 floods, Ed used the boat to rescue numerous residents of Derby and Ansonia. After the flood he was named the fire coordinator for Derby, with the responsibility of securing federal funds for firefighter training. Over the years the Ed has been a pioneer in delivering emergency medical care and rescue services to the valley. The volunteers of the corps were the first to have two way radio contact with the Griffin Hospital and the first in the valley to have certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

There have been many other memorable firsts for the ambulance corps, with Ed at the helm. They were the first to use HARE traction splints for fractured legs, the first to use defibrillators, the first to use Military Anti Shock Trousers and were the first to utilize air bags for lifting heavy objects trapping persons. They were the first advanced life support technicians in the valley. Ed was also a leader in shaping the EMS system in the region by being on the ad-hock committee that formed the South Central Emergency Medical Services Council. The corps also joined the C-MED radio system, the day it went into operation, making possible, for the first time, direct communications between the doctors at the hospital and the EMT’s in the field delivering advanced care. In addition to emergency medical care he also has been a leader in rescue technology. Ed purchased the first Hurst “Jaws of Life” tool in New England and the third in the nation. Twenty minutes after being placed in service the tool was used in Ansonia to remove a trapped driver.

Ed also spent a large part of his life training firefighters. He served as an instructor for the New Haven Fire School from 1947 until 1978 and, in 1966, he was an organizer of the Valley Fire Chief’s Training School in Derby. Ed trained firefighters from all over the Valley for the next 20 years.

Ed has worn many other “hats” during his career.  In Derby he served as Civil Defense Director from 1956 to 1960, he helped organize the Valley Civil Defense Council and was the New Haven County representative on the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Firefighting in the 1950’s. He was the Fire Commissioner in the City Derby from 1970 to 1978. He also represented the city on the Valley Health Department and was chairman of the Board of Directors of the Veterans Memorial Center. For years he volunteered as photographer and special police officer for the Derby Police Department. He also volunteered at a little league umpire and has organized numerous blood drives for the Valley Fireman’s Blood Bank and the American Red Cross.

Ed has received, over the years, awards and commendations too numerous to count.  He is however, most proud of the fact that he is the only valley resident to have received all four major valley humanitarian awards:  three of which were: The Charles H. Flynn Memorial Award sponsored by the United Way,  The Gold Seal Award from the Valley Chamber of Commerce, The Law Day award from the Valley Bar Association.  In 2011 Ed was inducted to the State of Connecticut’s Firefighters Hall of Fame.

There aren’t many established families, living in the Valley, that haven’t been affected in a positive way by Ed’s efforts.  How many lives has he saved, how many people has he helped, how many ambulance calls has he been on?

He has graciously passed the torch of service down to his family. Ed's daughter Ellen, and four grandchildren volunteer with the Storm Ambulance Corp & The Storm Engine Company. His son-in-law, Thomas Lenart, now serves as the Storm Ambulance Corp’s Chief. His Grandson Tom Lenart Jr. is an assistant Fire Chief in the Derby Volunteer Fire Department and a Lieutenant in the Greenwich Fire Department, another Grandson David is a Career Firefighter in the City of Bridgeport and assistant Chief of the Storm Ambulance & Rescue Corps. Both are firefighter and EMS Instructors. When he was 84, he came across a car accident in Oxford and, with the help of a volunteer firefighter, pulled a victim in cardiac arrest from the car and administered CPR. The victim was revived and lived for two more weeks in the hospital.

Here is an early article about Ed Cotter written way back in 1974 when he was named as the winner of Valley United Way's prestigious Charles H. Flynn Humanitarian Award:

Edward J. Cotter Jr. long a leader in firefighting and ambulance work in me Valley will receive the United Fund's fourth annual Charles H Flynn Memorial Award for Humanitarian Service

The award will be presented Thursday at the annual United Fund meeting and awards dinner at Rapp's Paradise Inn. Ansonia. The public is invited A social hour at 7 p.m. will precede dinner at 7:30PM.

Cotter is chief photographer and Derby reporter for The Evening Sentinel, having served on the news staff since 1939.

The award is given for unselfish efforts in behalf of the people of the Valley - efforts that have made Ansonia, Derby, Shelton, Seymour and Oxford better places in which to live.

In a quarter-century, Cotter has never missed a night call of the Storm Engine Company Ambulance Corps in Derby The first such unit in the Valley. which he organized in 1948 and of which he is co-chairman. He has also answered hundreds of daytime calls. The corps recently presented him an engraved wrist watch for, his services.

Now fire commissioner in Derby. Cotter has been a volunteer fireman there since 1939 and served as chief from 1946 to 1954.

He-was-an organizer of the Valley Fire Chiefs' Training School on O'Sullivan's Island eight years ago and is still its coordinator, he also helped organize the Valley Fire Chiefs' Emergency plan and served as its president. For the past 27 years he has-been an instructor at the Connecticut Slate Fire College. During the Korean War, he represented New Haven County on the Governor's Advisory Committee on Firefighting, and he was a member of the committee that set up and secured funds for the New Haven County Fire Chiefs' Emergency Plan, which serves most of the Valley.

When floods swept the Valley in 1955, Cotter was named volunteer fire coordinator for Derby, with the responsibility of securing federal funds He has also been chairman of the Storms building committee.

The award to Cotter will be presented by Simeon lsaacson of Seymour, chairman of the United Fund's search committee. Other members of the committee are the Rev Lawrence A Larson of Ansonia, Miss Helena Cullen of Shelton, Mrs. Walter H Dahn of Oxford and H. Lindsley Reuwet of Derby.

Cotter's activities have by no means been confined to firefighting and ambulance work. For a dozen years he was a volunteer umpire in the Derby Little League. Before the organization of the Red Cross blood program in the Valley, he was chairman of the Valley Firemen s Blood Bank for five years. He also served as disaster chairman for the Valley Chapter, American Red Cross, for four years.

Cotter has long been interested in civil defense, serving as CD director for Derby from 1956 to 1960 and as CD fire coordinator in 1955 and 1956. He was the organizer and is former chairman of the Valley Civil Defense Council.

He is a member of the board of directors of the Valley Health Department, representing Derby, and has been chairman of the board of directors of the Veterans Memorial Center in Derby since it opened eight years ago.

For a quarter-century he served as unpaid photographer and special police officer for the Derby Police Department.

Cotter was born in Derby on Nov. 11, 1920, the son of a retired motor-vehicles inspector and the late Mrs. Edward J. Cotter. He served in the United Stales Navy for four years during World War II. With the exception of the war years, he has been a member of the news staff of The Evening Sentinel since l939.

He is married lo the former Eleanor Wilhelmy of Ansonia Mr. and Mrs. Cotter have two children, Ellen Jane and James Edward.

The award is dedicated to the memory of Charles H. Flynn Jr. for many years the editor of the Evening Sentinel


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