The History of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department
By R. B. Leith and Ed Saniewski
The story of a strong successful volunteer organization can usually be traced to a group of enthusiastic and dedicated men. Men who have at heart a deep cause, and who strive to build around them the means to fulfill an ambition. The history of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department follows this pattern. The cause was fire protection direly needed. The means, although dear in terms of self-sacrifice and energy, was to develop into one of the foremost volunteer fire fighting forces in this area of New Jersey.
Denville in the 1920’s was a village undergoing rapid change. Like many small communities of the era it was experiencing its share of growing pains. With a population of a little more than 1200 in 1920 the town was without such vital services as water, gas, or a fire department. In 1922 Denville had three Committeemen serving the municipal government as well as two constables for law enforcement. But there were neither firemen nor any type of fire fighting equipment available. Neighboring communities were obliged to respond to Denville’s needs in the area of fire protection. The Mt. Tabor Fire Department aided Denville residents on several occasions, as did Rockaway Township. In the spring and fall during the period from 1922 to 1926 the Rockaway Fire Department reported giving fire protection to the Hub of Morris County on numerous occasions, at times to the tune of four fire calls a week.
There was much talk about organizing a fire protection unit for Denville, but nothing actually resulted from the rhetoric until 1926. During the latter part of 1925 and early 1926 the members of the Denville Athletic Club headed by Robert G. Ellsworth, discussed the idea of a fire department for Denville. This group is responsible for instigating the first real agitation for a fire fighting force. From among the fifty or so members of the Athletic Club came the nucleus of another future organization. They would form the first constituency in Denville favorable to the progress of Denville’s self-reliance for fire protection.
At a meeting of the Athletic Club on June 6, 1926 at the home of Robert Ellsworth discussion was again brought up on the idea for a fire department. This time firm action was taken which resulted in the formation of a committee instructed to investigate the general problems of organizing a fire department. Serving on the first committee were; Benjamin Kinsey, formerly a Captain on the Hoboken Fire Department, William E. Keeffe Sr. Horace Cook Sr., Robert G. Ellsworth and Robert Ewald. The first four of the committee were later to become Chiefs. These men were to investigate the terms under which a fire department could be formed, look into and research the type of fire fighting apparatus most suitable for use in Denville, and, most importantly, the costs involved in the undertaking.
The first regular meeting of the Denville Fire Department was held on the above date at the old school house with 22 members present. The following officers were nominated by John Worzel and seconded by John Allen and elected,
Chief Benjamin Kinsey carried
1st. Asst. chief Horace Cook Sr. carried
2nd. Asst. Chief Wm. F. Keeffe Sr. carried
Capt. Peter L. Peer carried
Lieut. S. R. Van Orden Jr. carried
It must be noted at the start of this history that there were elements among the town’s citizenry opposed to the improvement of establishing a fire department. The men of the Denville Athletic Club underwent some trying times. There was great sacrifice involved in their project. Much energy and endurance would be needed for the undertaking. Most important of all, lest it be forgotten, this was a volunteer organization from its genesis.
The first official meeting of the Department took place on July 20, 1926 in Denville’s old school building on Main Street. Prior to this first session the committee of Kinsey, Keeffe, Cook, Ellsworth and Ewald had had some difficulty with Town officials and others who looked unfavorably to the establishment of a fire department. The Township Committee had five members in 1926; Calvin L. Lawrence, A. Seldon Walker, J.Y. MacLaud, Joseph P. Hughes and Theodore L. Bierck. Committeeman Bierck was the only strong support the Department had on the governing body. When Chief Kinsey and other officers of the Department appeared before the Township Committee for recognition for the organization the body responded with less than luke warm enthusiasm. The Township Committee would grant recognition but could appropriate no funds nor could they promise funds or even the cost of running expenses for at least a year. When passage of the ordinance establishing official status of the Department was considered by the governing body, it was approved with reluctance. So it is obvious that the Department was on its own to survive or perish as an organization. As it turned out the Department took their case to the people and won the first of impending battles.
It is significant to indicate the vigor and efficiency with which the men of the Department began and carried on their business. Therefore, the minutes of the first meeting are duplicated below to refresh the memory of the occasion and express the seriousness of the Charter members of the Denville Fire Department: Denville N.J. July 20, 1926
On motion of Robert Ellsworth seconded by Wm. Shoppmann it was voted to purchase 8000 forms to be used to show amount pledged by subscribers to the Fire Dept. carried.
Motion made by John Allen seconded by Hugh Sweeney that the Chief appoint a canvassing committee. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ellsworth and seconded by Robert Ronan that the Board of Engineers be instructed to purchase an American La France pumping engine. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ellsworth seconded by Robert Ronan that Fred Jagger be made Secretary of the Dept. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ellsworth seconded by John Allen that Secretary write the Board of Education requesting the use of the lower floor of the old school house as a place in which to keep the fire apparatus and equipment. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ellsworth seconded by John Worrel that the Sec. also act as treasurer of the Dept. Carried.
Motion made by Wm F. Keeffe Sr. and seconded by Robert Ellsworth that the dues be $1.00 per year. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ellsworth and seconded by Robert Ewald that the Dept. Meet as a body at the new schoolhouse Monday eve. At the special meeting of the Board of Education and demand the use of the lower north side room of the old Schoolhouse for the use of the Fire Dept. Carried.
Motion made by Robert Ronan seconded by SR VanOrden Jr. that Henry Ewald Sr. be made Honorary Counsel for the Dept. Carried.
Motion made by John Worzel seconded by Hugh Sweeney that Horace Cook Sr. be made 1st driver of the apparatus. Motion made by Chief Kinsey seconded by Wm F. Keeffe Sr. that Robert Ewald be second driver. Motion made by Hugh Sweeney seconded by John Keever that Robert Van Orden be made 3rd driver. Carried.
Motion made by Chief Kinsey seconded by 2nd. Asst. Chief Keeffe that Hugh Sweeney be made 4th driver. Motion made by Robert Ellsworth seconded by Hugh Sweeney that Peter L. Peer be made 5th driver. Motion made by Robert Ellsworth seconded by John Worzel that Robert Ronan be made 6th driver. Carried.
No other business on hand the meeting was adjourned until next Tuesday evening July 27 at 8:00 0‘clock in the same place.
Respectfully submitted FM. Jagger Secy.”
Finances of the Department’s Start
At the second official meeting on July 27,1926 a finance committee was appointed by Chief Benjamin Kinsey. Robert G. Ellsworth was selected as chairman. Serving on Ellsworth’s committee were Robert Ewald and Peter L. Peer. The committee’s first task was to have pledge cards printed and distributed. Working hand in hand with the finance committee was a publicity committee made up of William Shoppmann, Chairman, and members Charles Jagger, Joseph Sontgerath, John Harry and John Keever. The finance committee was requested to handle all donations, coordinate house-to-house canvassing for funds, and make reports at each regular meeting. The publicity committee would wage a campaign aimed at convincing Denvilleites of the necessity of a fire protection organization, and the need for monies for the Department.
At another meeting on August 3rd, a discussion was held on the matter of arrangements for signing checks covering debts incurred by the Department. It was quite obvious that Ben Kinsey as the paternal official should be the individual responsible for drawing on the Department’s account for its obligations. But it was also clear that Kinsey should do this in a separate identity from that of Chief of the Department. Charles M. Jagger therefore made the motion and seconded by Frederick Lidle (an honorary member) that Chief Kinsey be made president of a newly established Fire Department Association. The motion also proposed that the 1st. Assistant Chief be made 1st. Vice-President, and that the 2nd. Assistant Chief be designated 2nd. Vice President. These two subordinate officers were Horace Cook Sr. and William E. Keeffe Sr. respectively.
Incorporation of the Department was delayed for a long period on the advice of Henry Ewald Sr. Honorary Counsel. Mr. Ewald stated that incorporation of the organization was made unnecessary by the broad gravity inherent in the Township’s ordinance governing the Fire Department (In order to give the Department official status the Township Committee had an ordinance drawn up and subsequently approved on August 4, 1926. The ordinance laid down the rules and regulations under which the Department would function). However, the members felt the formation of an association was necessary for their own protection. Therefore the Denville Fire Department Association was made official at a regular meeting of the Department in August 1926. The Association was set up to deal with the Department’s financial arrangements and social functions.
The finance committee reported steady fund raising progress at meetings in August, but it was clear that a massive fund drive was in the wanting. When the books were audited the record indicated the Department had incurred the following financial obligations; the American La France type 12 combination pumper, $13,350; 2500 feet of 4-ply engine hose manufactured by the Eureka Fire Engine Co., $3,057.50; the alarm system manufactured by the Sterling Alarm System Inc., $800; and other miscellaneous items such as boots, badges, shirts, etc., $900. The grand total of the Department’s debt came to just under $18,000.
The plight for monies began to pick up momentum in September. The Town’s citizens were apprised of the Department’s financial circumstances through increased door-to-door canvassing and publicity. The townspeople were also made aware of the need for fire protection during these house-to-house visits. Denville residents could not help observing that these men comprised a serious and sincere organization now certainly well prepared to serve fire protection needs. The citizens responded generously.
By September 14 the sum of $3,290.95 had to be raised. The agreement with American La France over the engine called for a cash payment of $3,000.00. This payment was made on September 14 (The Department minutes read: Motion made by Theo L. Bierck and seconded by Reginald Vanderhoof that a check of $3000.00 be drawn in favor of the American La France Co. Inc. as the first payment on the engine. Carried.). This was a proud moment for Chief Kinsey and the Department. The next big payment made went to the Eureka Fire Hose Manufacturing Company. This payment amounted to $1,118.18, made in November of that year. The Department had established itself very early as a good financial risk.
The Department didn’t limit its avenue for raising funds to canvassing alone. It turned to other lucrative means as well. A raffle committee was formed in the middle of September and ordered to purchase fifty books of chances at 25 cents a chance. The raffle committee was responsible for increasing the Department’s holding by some $500.00. Many other sources of revenue were discovered. Items were raffled off at public meeting places. A centerpiece donated by a Mrs. Hugo Siebke was sold for $25.00 to a Brooklyn woman named Mrs. Charles Busching. Department members’ wives held cake sales. Mrs. Horace Cook and her daughters gained some notoriety for their baking. It wasn’t unusual for one of these cakes to bring $100.00 at a single sale. Mr. William S. Green was the individual who responded so generously when a cake sale was held. Mr. Green proved to be the Department’s benefactor at a later stage of the organization’s development (the story of William Green, the Departments only Life Member will be taken up in the following pages of this history).
The members of the Department themselves contributed a great deal to the finances. The payments made to American La France and the Eureka Fire Hose Company, plus other miscellaneous disbursements amounted to approximately $4500. The Department was left with a $13,000 balance on their financial obligations. Notes were issued to cover a period of five years (the period allowed by American La France for the payment of the contract for the fire engine). The guarantors of these notes were individual members of the finance committee as well as other members of the Department. The Denville Herald in a story on the beginning years of the Department. Published March 5.1931, said the following of the dedication apparent in these men: “They pledged their homes and personal possessions. Here was a spirit of civic pride that was to set a standard. Sacrifices for the community’s benefit by a few was the actuating motive.” In the next five years the Department’s obligations would be reduced to approximately $4,500, a far cry from the original figure set at $17,850 in August 1926.
The First Permanent Fire House
The Department’s first fire apparatus had several homes in the beginning. Peter Hartman’s motor garage on Main Street (now the Denville Garage) served as a temporary storing place. Later Robert Ewald volunteered his garage for the housing of the engine. Ewald also gave permission for the Department to construct a firehouse on the rear of his property. His offer included a loan for the cost of materials amounting to $350 Ewald, along with Robert Ellsworth, said the labor for the building would be volunteered. However, the first permanent firehouse was to be erected on the property of Assistant Chief Horace Cook. Robert Ellsworth, who was a local building contractor, was appointed chairman of the Department’s building committee. Serving on his committee were; Robert Ronan, Robert Ewald, Horace Cook and William Keeffe. Chief Kinsey later appointed Byram Moore Sr. to help out on the building committee.
At a meeting on November 9, 1926 Horace Cook gave permission for the firehouse to be built on his property north of his house. Robert Ellsworth donated most of the materials and labor that went into the garage. At the same meeting the Chief designated the following Saturday and Sunday, November 13 and 14, for the start of ground breaking. All members were requested to make themselves available for the building activities.
Good progress was reported on the garage at subsequent meetings. Finally, on New Year’s Day 1927 the last big push was made to complete the structure. Even non-members Lewis Peer and Albert Dickerson came down to help out. George Vogel who was contracted to do the cement works on the firehouse finished up with his work and the inside of the building was completed. All the new garage needed now were a few odds and ends.
With the major part of the building completed the men set out to furnish doors and other miscellaneous items. The Secretary was requested to get a price on the doors from the McCouley Company. The building committee ordered stock doors. At a regular meeting on January 25, 1927, “a general discussion was entered by all present as to the advisability of having a gong outside the fire house in connection with the phone (inside) . . . it was decided to have a gong.” Horace Cook was given permission to have a phone installed in his house with an extension in the firehouse. The Bell Telephone number was Rockaway 470. Charles Kelso, later made an honorary member, reported at that same meeting that the siren was ready for inspection and service. The siren, purchased from the Sterling Siren System Co., was installed and inspected by the membership. Brother Kelso billed the Department $125.55 for his services. The building was about ready for occupancy. Heating was needed however. Floyd Hiler came to the rescue with his gift of a heating system for the garage. Hiler later received the following note; March 1, 1927:
“The Denville Fire Department Association wishes to convey to you their sincere thanks and appreciation for your thoughtful donation of the heater which has been received and installed in their fire house. Thanking you again we remain
Very Truly Yours,
The Denville Fire Department
James Gallagher, Secretary
The first meeting was held at the new firehouse on March 22, 1927.
The American La France pumper was no longer an orphan.
The American La France Pumper
The Department’s organizing committee, headed by Benjamin Kinsey, researched the fire protection problems of Denville and set out to interview representatives of firms manufacturing many types of fire fighting apparatuses. The final decision was made on an American La France pumper. It was a type 12 combination pumper-chemical engine and hose motorcar selling for $13,350.00 ‘Old Betsy”, as the engine was affectionately termed in later years, was delivered to Denville on August 11, 1926. The delivering engineer was H. Lieht. Mr. Lieht was given a $20 gold piece and a box of choice cigars, a gift from the firemen showing their appreciation for the rig’s safe delivery. The first drivers for the apparatus were: Horace Cook, first driver; Robert Ewald, second driver; Robert VanOrden was chosen third driver; Hugh Sweeney was selected fourth driver; Peter L. Peer was the fifth driver; and the sixth driver was Robert Ronan.
Denville’s first apparatus had been a demonstration model sent out to the American La France show room on Long Island. The company was willing to sell the pumper at a reasonably reduced rate since it had seen some service. Denville learned of this advantage on the price through a firm representative. As it turned out the machine was probably one of the best fire fighting apparatuses money could buy. The Rockaway Record carried a feature article on the Department September 10,1926 with the following description of the engine:
“The village of Denville, with its rapidly increasing population, has one of the best equipped fire apparatus in this part of the state of New Jersey. It is an American La France type JZ triple combination pump, chemical and hose motor car, pumping 1000 gallons a minute; six cylinders; 51/2-inch hose, six inch stroke; front tires 38x 7, rear 40x8. This remarkable production of the American La France is being used in many of our large cities, and has been found reliable for everyday performance, year after year. It has been classed among the world’s superiority of standard fire apparatus.”
Naturally the men of the Department found the new rig a remarkable piece of equipment. Everyone seemed satisfied with the features and performance of the pumper. However, Chief Kinsey found a single gadget missing from the apparatus, one that he felt was essential. After seeing the engine in the storeroom out on Long Island, Kinsey told American La France he would not accept the machine without a fire bell. Ben Kinsey had a reputation for being determined to get something when he wanted it, especially something he considered important. The fire bell’s inclusion on the engine happened to be important to the Chief and American La France submitted and had a bell on the apparatus upon delivery.
The type 12-combination pumper was selected by the Department for a variety of reasons, beside the fact of the reduction. The machine would have to serve multiple purposes in Denville. Due to the Department’s financial status this would be the only fire engine for some time (the Department didn’t add to its equipment for another ten years except for small miscellaneous items). The most important factor in the choice of this engine was its tremendous versatility.
This apparatus was able to pump water from streams, lakes, cisterns (i.e., a tank, often underground, for storing rainwater) and wells. The type 12 combination could pump water from any place where suitable water existed. It was the envy of the fire fighting outfits throughout the county. This was because of its multiple uses. It could carry 1500 feet of standard hose, thirty feet of 5 inch suction hose, a sixty gallon chemical tank, two 2½ gallon hand extinguishers, together with nozzles, extra chemical supply, and accessories such as ladders, pipes, axes and lights. It was, to be precise, the complete fire fighting apparatus. It stands to reason that the men of the Department were quite proud of their equipment.
The drivers and fire fighters of the Department were broken in on the use of the engine during training sessions held under the direction of Chief Kinsey. The men went out on a Saturday, Sunday or week night and drilled for hours on the performance of “Old Betsy”. The public probably got a view of these sessions quite often but if they hadn’t they were invited to see the men in action in the first demonstration. A display of the apparatus was held in September and the citizens got a first hand view of their fire department and its equipment.
The First House Alarm Answered
The fire engine was delivered August 11, 1926. The men immediately commenced with training sessions with the Chief’s guidance. But neither the pumper nor the men had proven themselves at a real emergency. Then one summer day soon after the occasion came for the Denville Fire Department to makes its first house call with “Old Betsy.”
It was a roof fire at the home of Judge Joseph Coult off Pocono Road. The maid had been burning some rubbish in one of the fireplaces and a spark flew up the chimney and ignited the roof. The pumper was being stored at Robert Ewald’s garage, and when the alarm sounded 2nd. Driver Ewald got behind the wheel cranked up the old engine and raced to the scene.
On his way to Pocono Road, Ewald passed by Hartman’s garage (now the Denville Garage and attracted the attention of Bill Jagger and Homer Peer. The two teen-aged boys were tinkering with a motor, but they quickly dropped what they were doing and raced after “Old Betsy”. Jagger and Peer weren’t quite of age for membership in the Department but this didn’t keep them from being on hand for a house alarm. The two would become official members in 1932.
Robert Ellsworth and his building crew were working out in the area of Pocono Road that day and responded to the signals of the fire alarm. Ellsworth was known for his generosity; for not only had he donated materials and labor to the Department, but also he readily permitted his men to answer a fire alarm without docking them for time missed. The day of the Coult fire was no different. It was later wondered how so many men could have gotten to the fire at Coult’s place. The question was answered in the fact that luckily for the Coult family Ellsworth and his crew were members of the Denville Fire Department.
There was a great deal of excitement at this first fire. The roof fire wasn’t that serious. In fact the men had it under control soon after they arrived. But something else happened to make it a memorable event, especially for Robert VanOrden, brother of Lieutenant Sam R. VanOrden. Bob VanOrden had hussled up to the peak of the roof with an extinguisher in hand. Heading up the ladder and crawling across the roof had seemed easy in all the excitement of the fire, but when it came time to come back down the task wasn’t quite the same. In fact VanOrden couldn’t make it at all. It took quite a bit of effort on the part of his peers to get Bob down from that roof, but he was finally back on the ground again without injury. At the end of the afternoon more than Judge Coult and family were glad to have the Denville Fire Department on hand. Judge Joseph Coult showed his appreciation to the Department that year in the form of a $100 check with a promise to contribute the same the following year.
The 1930’s and on....
The hard times that kept the nation in a strangle hold in the 1930’s didn’t bypass the Denville Fire Department. But by this time the Department had come through a five-year school of hard knocks, it had learned to stay out of the red ink. With members like Robert Ronan, Chief in 1936, the Department was able to obtain the necessities for operation. Ronan was appointed General Foreman of the Morristown Armory Demolition and Rebuilding Project, connected with Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. With Ronan’s help men and supplies for a new firehouse were made available. The Denville Board of Education gave the Department the Old School House on Main Street for demolition. The remains of this structure supplied additional material for the Department’s new home. The firehouse was completed and officially opened in July 1935. The total cost of the building came to approximately $10,000.
The following year the Department faced the necessity of expansion with the purchase of an American La France 500 gallon per minute centrifugal pumper. This La France model mounted on a Dodge truck chassis proved itself a timely and valuable investment as the Department looked to its needs for fire fighting in the 1940’s.
William S. Green was a native and long time resident of Denville having been born in the house his father built early in the nineteenth century. His house stood on the land where today the A&P shopping plaza exists.
Green kept a close eye on the affairs of the town in the early days of the Department and he became very impressed with the need for a strong and efficient fire fighting force. Through his friendship with Robert Ronan and the efforts of Sam Van Orden, Mr. Green became the most enthusiastic and generous supporter of the Department. Before his death in 1945, Mr. Green made donations annually at Department raffles and cake sales. He made the Department the beneficiary of some large stock investments. He also deeded the firemen’s organization several pieces of land in Denville. The largest piece of property Mr. Green left to the Department is located where the present Main Street firehouse stands. This largest piece of real estate was given to the Department in 1934. This property was a small farm owned by William Green.
For his unrelenting kindness and generosity toward the Denville Fire Department William S. Green was made the first and only Life Member in 1936. He was honored with the presentation of a Gold Badge during ceremonies held at the new firehouse on Main Street. Though he died in 1945, Mr. Green’s generous spirit lives on. The Department remains today the beneficiary of investments and holdings Mr. Green be quested before his death.
The Department officially formed a First Aid Squad in 1940 to serve the needs of a rapidly growing Denville. In 1942 a Cadillac ambulance fully equipped for emergency calls was added to the Department. The new rescue vehicle was paid for through the generosity of individual and organization contributions. The First Aid Squad was placed on 24.hours-a-day call. The ambulance along with all other vehicles and equipment was turned over to the Town free of all financial indebtedness. This measure was taken for insurance reasons.
In 1953 the Department added Number 4 to its force. This investment of a 750 gallon per minute combination pumper-hose cart with booster system proved an invaluable action that very year. In the fall of 1953 the famous Wayside Inn burned in flames that caught the attention of the entire state. The Wayside Inn had met with its final destruction after a one hundred and eighty year existence. The new American La France Invader came in handy that autumn day. There were no injuries in the lengthy battle of flames and smoke, but the flames took their toll, causing owner Fred Henn to close the Inn for good. A bank now stands on the corner of East Main Street and Bloomfield Aye, where the pre-Revolutionary War Wayside Inn was located.
In April of 1956, with the purchase of a new engine, this one a 750 gpm volume pumper with high pressure, came talk of the need for another firehouse apart from Main Street. Union Hill had been made separate district with its own fighting unit. There were approximately thirty men in Union Hill Unit #2, with sixty remaining in Unit #1 at Main Street. It was deemed that Unit #2 needed a centrally located fire station to coordinate their operations and store vehicles and equipment. Construction began on a small garage in Union Hill in 1957. By February of that year the garage was well on the way to completion. A fire whistle was installed and equipment stored at the structure in February 1957. The Union Hill Unit was given responsibilities for calls in its district as well as house fires in the central district or Main Street. Three thousand dollars was appropriated in 1963 to give the Union Hill firehouse a face lifting. In addition to the garage space for the equipment, a meeting room and lavatories were constructed at the premises on Franklin Road. On November 30, 1963 an open house was held to display the new facilities at the Union Hill station. In January of 1965 an unfortunate freak electrical fire destroyed the Union Hill structure and $60,000 had to be appropriated for the construction of another fire station. Also damaged in the fire was Engine #6, a 1960, 750 gallon per minute combination pumper valued at $18,000. The engine was sold in an auction in 1965. The department quickly went to work replacing everything that was lost. They purchased a 1936 pumper from the Rainbow Lakes fire company for $850, the Morristown Ambulance Squad lent Union Hill an ambulance until a new rig was delivered, and the township council drafted an emergency ordinance for $93,200 to rebuild and stock the station.
In 1963 the Denville Board of Education donated a piece of land to the Department for construction of an additional firehouse. The property at Diamond Spring and River Roads would become the location for the Valley View Firehouse; groundwork on the structure began on May 8th 1963 following an appropriation of $7,000. Harry Salle, who was in charge of the Union Hill firehouse project, took charge of construction activities at the Valley View site. The finishing touches were made in January and February of 1964. The Department’s Engine #5 was stored at the Valley View headquarters. A wet-down was held at the Company #3 firehouse on February 15, 1964. The first Captain of the Valley View Unit was R. Bitondo.
The Department became heir to $15,000 in 1948 from the Green estate. With these funds and through an agreement with the Township the purchase of another fire engine became possible. The Township and the Department shared equally the cost of a new American La France engine. The number 3 fire engine was received in 1949. In the following year the Department organized a Board of Fire Wardens, at this time the force was some sixty members strong.
In 1951 the Denville Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its Twenty-fifth Anniversary. Earl Davis, chief in 1959, was Chairman of the quarter-century anniversary parade. A twenty-five year history was compiled and written by Fred Jagger, George Scott, Carl Pascal and John Lyman. The week of July 9th through the 14th, 1951, was the anniversary celebration period, high-lighted with parading and other festivities.
It was mentioned previously that all Department equipment was turned over to the Town free and clear. Discussion of the possibility of departmental property being sold or given to the Town first started in the late fifties. A special meeting was held March 12, 1957 to discuss the possible sale of the Department’s building on Main Street. The resulting vote at that meeting favored further consideration of the sale and a professional opinion on the land value was sought. After an appraisal by an out-of-town official the price range for the building was set between $75,000 and $85,000.
A long period of debate and discussion followed this action taken in 1957. It wasn’t until 1962 that any official action was taken on the matter. On April 10,1962 a special meeting of the Department membership was held to again take up the subject of selling the property. As a result of this special session the following proposal was made and delivered to the Township of Denville:
“It is proposed to make a gift of the present buildings and land fronting on route #53, with a depth of 250 feet along Indian Road, to the Township of Denville for the purpose of housing Fire, Police and Municipal offices, subject to the following restrictions:
1. The Township shall furnish meeting room and kitchen facilities at least equal to the present existing facilities and office space of a minimum size of 250 square feet for the exclusive use of the Association at all times.
2. In the event that said premises are no longer used by the Township of Denville for any of the above purposes, said premises shall revert to the Denville Fire Department Association, Inc. at no cost for the same.
3. The Township shall carry liability fire insurance upon the premises and shall save harmless the Association from any claim for injury upon any portion of the premises.”
The foregoing proposal was adopted unanimously by the members in attendance at the April 10th 1962 special meeting.
On December 7, 1962 a deed for the property on Main Street and Indian Road was finalized and signed by Department Association officials. The property officially went into the hands of the Township at a meeting subsequent to December 7, 1962. At a meeting on January 1, 1963 the Denville Township Committee adopted a resolution accepting the Fire Department Association’s terms of their proposal made in the spring of 1962. The cost of the building to Denville was one dollar.
In April 1965 fire zones were set up in Denville. On the recommendation of the Department public use properties were designated. Fire zones were set up to give the Department easy access to certain buildings. These public use properties included: shopping centers, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and churches.
In the same year the Department added new equipment and facilities. An American La France Snorkel-Aerial Platform Fire Engine was purchased as well as a 1,000 gallon per minute pumper. In the fall of 1965 a fire equipment building was constructed at a cost of $28,000. The building is used to house the snorkel and other Department vehicles. The snorkel garage is also used to store miscellaneous equipment.
Not many are aware that the Department once had a female honorary member. She was Mrs. A.H. Dente. Mrs. Dente, along with her husband, had been very generous to the Department in its starting years. She was an honorary member in 1928.
However, there was another lady who gave much to the Department in its years of need. This was Mrs. Ethel Van Orden, wife of Samuel R. Van Orden, Jr. Mrs. Van Orden was a Fire Department dispatcher from 1933 to 1934 and from 1944 to 1959. As such she was dedicated to her role of providing 24-hour service to the citizens of Denville. It was her responsibility to answer emergency fire and rescue calls - usually originating at Police Headquarters. Mrs. Van Orden would set the fire alarm off and alert the proper Fire Department personnel. It was a rugged 24-hour a day job. For her unending dedication to the Department and residents of Denville, Mrs. Van Orden was presented with a plaque bearing the following inscription: “Presented to Ethel Van Orden-Fire Operator. The People of Denville gratefully acknowledge your untiring efforts, personal sacrifice and devotion to duty volunteered over fourteen years as a fire dispatcher.” Denville Mayor Gerald Wright presented the plaque to Mrs. Van Orden on October 17, 1959.
The Department went on a new system for fire calls in 1959. An alarm-siren system was used until 1961. In September 1961 the code transmission system was modified. This was done in conjunction with the implementation of the silent alarm network. The silent alarm network consists of tuned frequency radios in the homes of each fireman. The plectron radio, which is not actually silent to someone within its reach, was used by the Denville Fire Department before any other fire department in Morris County. It is the most effective method for its purpose; it brings the fire alarm directly into the house of a fire department member. The firemen first receive a signal and a police dispatcher advises on the exact location of the fire or emergency call. These directions permit the fireman to go directly to the scene of the emergency. The only men who must go to Department headquarters are those who must drive the necessary vehicles.
In 1967 another vehicle was added to the Department. This was a headroom rescuer ambulance built by Superior Coach Inc., mounted on a Pontiac Bonneville chassis. The 1967 ambulance cost approximately $12,000.
In 1970 the Department was up to one hundred member-plus strength. There were five fire engines in service at the three firehouses. The Main Street Fire Company #1 had sixty men and the following equipment; truck #223 a 1971 American La France 1,500 Gallon per minute pumper, truck #224 a 1954 La France 750 Gallon per minute pumper, truck #229 a 1965 American La France Snorkel (the first of its kind in the County), truck #230 a 1970 salvage and rescue van, and ambulance #227 a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville. The Union Hill Fire Company #2 had some twenty men operating engine #222 a 1966 1,000 Gallon per minute La France pumper and ambulance #228 a 1966 International. The Valley View Fire Company #3 had twenty-five men on its roster and engine #225 a 1956 750 Gallon per minute International John Beam pressure pumper with a 1963 utility truck #226.
The 1970 record for the Department indicated it answered over six hundred calls; 156 fire-calls and 507 ambulance-emergency calls. August 1970 the fire department received a mutual aid call from Hackettstown for the Snorkel. A fire that had started in the lumberyard had rapidly expanded to a coal yard and adjacent building threatening the entire town. The snorkel operated for eight hours literally saving an entire block of houses. The department hired a part time secretary, Barbara Beatty to help take care of the ever-escalating paper work the fire chiefs were faced with. Except for a short time in the mid- seventies, she has been with the department ever since.
1971 saw the purchase of another American La France pumper, this one was a red and white century pumper purchased and delivered just in time for the 45”’ Anniversary Parade. On August 21, Chief Jerry Lash proudly led the men down Main Street with fifty-one visiting companies from three counties marching behind.
One of the most unforgettable years for the Denville Fire Department was in 1973, under the leadership of Chief Tom Beatty. Construction began on the new Main Street Fire Station. A temporary station was set up in the abandoned building across Rt. 53, presently the home of the Senior Citizens building. The department chiefs gave up a yearly allowance in exchange for a new chief’s car. The township purchased a 1973 Ford station wagon. First Aid Captain Ray Weick placed a new Pontiac Bonneville/Superior ambulance in the Union Hill Station and retired the 1965 International truck.
In May of 1974, the departments training and skills were put to a test during a response to Rt. 80. A tractor-trailer, which was filled with nitrogen overturned and began leaking. All of this in the height of Memorial weekend traffic. The highway was closed for eight hours while Air Products, the owners of the tanker, brought in crews to inspect the vehicle and a crane was escorted by the State Police from Clifton to right the tractor-trailer. Also that year was a busy one for mutual aid to Dover. The Snorkel responded to north Sussex Street for a row of taxpayers, and a few months later just up the street for the A&P store, both were described by the newspapers as spectacular fires. In the fall of 1974, the members of the Main Street Company moved into their new station at 2 Indian Rd., their present location.
In 1975, the Fire Department answered over 700 calls, 211 were fire calls and 552 were ambulance responses. A total of 31,821 volunteer man-hours were expended that year on behalf of the citizens of the Township of Denville. In March of that year under the leadership of Robert Crothers, old number 4 was replaced, but this time the department turned from the traditional red color of firefighting equipment, and took delivery of a lime green and white American La France Century II custom pumper, which cost $50,782. In early July came the delivery of a 1975 Cadillac Superior ambulance at a cost of $22,000. This ambulance conformed to the new Federal standard colors of orange and white. The rig replaced the 1967 Pontiac that was totaled in an accident while responding to a call.
With 1976 came the celebration of 50 years of glory for the fire department combined with the country’s bicentennial. Chief Jack Thornly presided over the parade. Charles Ergenzinger and Samuel Van Orden, who combined had 91 years of dedicated experience in Denville, were honored as Grand Marshals during the August 14 parade. In the closing days of 1976, the Valley View Company under the leadership of Assistant Chief Dick Vehslage, accepted delivery a 1500 G.P.M. class A pumper that cost $66,609. Built by the Hahn Truck Company of Pennsylvania, it was painted lime green and later on earned the nickname “The Green Hulk”. The 1956 John Beam International pumper, which cost $16,000 new, was retired and sold off.
During January of 1978 the men of the department spent 2 days in the firehouse during a severe snowstorm. Later that year the department association purchased the townships first and only K9 dog “Apache” for the police department. Mutual aid assistance that year sent our units to Rockaway Boro for the Harris Lumber fire, and the Under Water Recovery unit responded to 4 drownings thru out Morris County. In December First Aid Captain Tony Novellino took possession of a new ambulance for the Union Hill company. It was the first type 1 modular ambulance # 231, a Chevy truck with a Superior box.
The 1974 Pontiac ambulance was once again on the move and this time it’s home was to be the Valley View Fire station. A third bay was then constructed to house the engine, squad, and brush truck. The department would close out the year with 247 fire calls and 763 squad calls.
Chief Russell Pillsbury was not in office 25 days during 1979, when a freak set of events in the weather would lead to a flood, the likes of which Denville had never seen. The entire center of town was under water and it took several days before things got back to normal. Assistance came from as far away as Chatham Boro to help pump the town out. The Association room at Main Street was turned into a disaster relief center to help some of the more then 100 families that were forced to leave their homes. The total damage from the storm was over 5 million dollars.
During the latter part of the 1970’s the department realized the potential dangers to the township from trucks and trains carrying explosive chemicals and hazardous materials with in its borders. A comprehensive plan written by Chief Pat Addison and the board of engineers to cope with emergencies of this nature and was developed and partially tested in a large drill in June of 1980. Denville was the first department in Morris County to devise and implement such a plan which involved coordination with state and local police, fire departments, hospitals, the phone company, and the power and gas companies. This preplan received great praise around the state for its forethought. Agencies, such as the National Burn Victim Foundation under President Harry Gaynor, shared the concept with other agencies across the nation. Also that month, the fire department assisted Rockaway Boro with the rescue of two men who were trapped under ground at McWilliams Forge. Several members of the Union Hill Company were cited for Meritorious Service awards for their actions that day, as well as Chief Karl Schoelch and Chief Pat Addison who, through a coordinated effort were able to identify the hazardous substance by using the newly implemented “Plan “.
In 1980 Chief Jack Marshall swore in the first female firefighter, Mary Meola.
Denville was continuing to advance in ways to make our department safer for the firefighters. We converted all of the old demand breathing tank systems over to positive pressure system in 1980. From that point on all new self contained breathing apparatus was positive pressure system.
In 1980 Chief Jack Marshall drafted a new ordinance for smoke detectors in the homes for Denville. It was one of the earliest smoke detector ordinances in the State which required new homes and re-sales to have working smoke detectors in the living areas. The work to have it passed was continued under Chief Ed Stinson and it was passed by the town council in the spring of 1981.
August 8, 1981 saw the Denville Fire Department’s 55th anniversary parade under the leadership of Chief Ed Stinson and Association President Al Swift. Past Chief Bill Young presided as Grand Marshall. The firemen where not the only ones celebrating an anniversary, forty-five years prior the Ladies Auxiliary was formed and over the years has been a valuable asset to the fire department and the community. In their early years, the auxiliary worked diligently to raise funds for the fledgling fire department. Care parties, raffles, and door-to-door canvassing among other things were undertaken by the women to help pay for equipment. Many times these women came out to the scene of a fire to bring needed refreshment to the fireman. The auxiliary over the years has proven to be an indispensable adjunct to the department.
In 1982, the Valley View Company finally retired the 1974 Pontiac ambulance and took delivery of a new type 2 Ford P&L custom ambulance. Designed by the members, this rig carried all the latest equipment and was delivered in lime green to match the colors of engine 225.
In June of 1983 the department was proud to establish the Junior Fire Auxiliary. Its charter members were John Egbert, Eric Stinson, and Richard Van Orden. 1983 also saw a spectacular five tractor-trailer accident take place on Rt. #80, killing one driver and burning several vehicles. The Mayor and Council recognized Chief Pat Addison and all the members of the department for their handling of this incident in a letter of commendation. A major snowstorm required the removal from Rt. 80, several dozen stranded motorists who were housed in the association room and fed by the ladies auxiliary over a two-day period.
1985 saw the replacement of ambulance 228 with a Ford Yankee Coach type II ambulance closely resembling the Valley View ambulance, except for the return to traditional colors of red and white.
Hank Hammond, the department chief on 1985, had the honors of accepting a new Ford rescue truck with a 16 ft. Ranger Rescue Body. This replaced the aging and sometimes adventurous to drive Chevy Step van bought in 1969 at a cost of $3600.00.
By 1986, the fire department was answering 219 fire calls and 758 ambulance calls. The man-hours were in excess of 22,351. The department Chief Eugene Egbert would lead the department on its 60th anniversary parade. Among those present were the New York City Fire Department Emerald Society Bagpipers.
1988 saw the Union Hill Company’s turn to replace the 1964 Ford fire engine with the town’s 2nd Hahn fire engine. This 1500 GPM pumper had a top mount pump, which allows the operator a 360-degree view of the fire scene. This was the company’s first pumper with jump seats and saw the end of member riding on the back step while responding to calls. Soon the rest of the department followed as federal safety standards first mandated harnesses for back step riders then outlawed the practice entirely.
The Association made arrangements to purchase the retired 1964 Ford pumper and donate it to the town of Donald’s, South Carolina Fire Department. Retired Chief Hobart Erickson Sr., being a member of that department was truly grateful for the gift, as were the citizens of that small community.
Chief Charlie Botti decided to replace some of the aging fire gear being used at the time, and went from Nomex material to PBI gear, which has a higher temperature rating. It was not four years latter when this gear would be put to the test. Members of the Denville Fire Department were training with companies of the Parsippany Fire Department when a flashover occurred. Firefighter Richard Van Orden became trapped momentarily inside the nearly 1200 degree room and received partial thickness burns to his body. Later investigation into the incident revealed that the PBI gear was a large contributor to the protection he had. Another firefighter also burned in the fire was wearing older style gear and was burned a lot more.
In 1989 there were seven motor vehicle fatalities in Denville. Five of the deaths occurred in the Union Hill section. A donation was made by the Denville Rotary Club to purchase a second set of Hurst rescue tools that are kept on the ambulance stationed at Union Hill.