by Sam Porcello

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Aetna Ambulance employee and Hartford Circus Fire survivor Robert John Titus wrote to me that:

“My most poignant memory was that there was no fire engine responder on standby.  My second most poignant memory was that some people used jack knifes to make their own exits…I remember sitting and looking at the tent starting to burn and then coming down…people panicking, running and screaming, stepping over people to get out using the exits of which there were  only 3.  I remember Emmett Kelly the clown along with the Flying Wallendas helping people to get out.”

I started my research by attending a July 6, 2012 service at Hartford’s Circus Fire Memorial honoring the 68th anniversary of the fire.  There, I learned about the fire from memorial plaques and interviewed a survivor.  As I dug into newspaper articles, microfiche, secondary books, ordinances and the Circus Fire archive at the Connecticut State Library, I found many changes in local, state and National laws that were created as a result of the fire.  Something else also caught my eye – I noticed a single article from the Hartford Courant written about 20 years ago that discussed Aetna Ambulance’s history.

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