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Montclair Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association

History

      The Montclair Fire Department has a history as old as the Township itself.  Many of  the men that contributed to Montclairs development  in the 1800’s were on the Fire Department roster as well..  

          The majority of the information here has come from the Montclair Public Library’s local history section.  The brief timeline below was compiled with help from  the numerous books about early Montclair, some of the older  Fire Department company journals, and the micro-films of the Montclair Times.  It covers the departments initial organization through 1912.  The next significant change occurred July 1, 1914, when a fully career department was established.

          Please check back occasionally, as we hope to expand what’s here...

Picture gallery

Nov.28, 1882  - The Montclair Hook and Ladder 1 organized after a string of costly fires.


April 1883  - The First truck was purchased with

subscriptions made by residents and stored at a Lackawanna engine house for a year. It remained in service until 1892. The Relief Association was organized on September 17.

1884 –Township committee allocates 500 dollars for a truck house at the corner of what is now Bloomfield Ave. and Valley Rd.  Also in 1884, the Truck Co. detailed some of its members to staff a Babcock Chemical Engine.  (A steamer was impractical as there were no hydrants in town.)  The committee also ordered a bell tower built behind the truck house at a cost of 300 dollars.


March 2, 1885  - The Montclair Fire Department recognized by the Township Committee as a voluntary group.  Rules and regulations adopted.


1885 – Montclair Hose Company organized.  Officers elected and cart house built adjacent to renovated Truck Co. 1 quarters.


1886 – Bell tower burns to the ground after water supply referendum defeated in election… New tower built one story higher.  Around this time, other residents wished to form their own fire companies but were rejected by the town committee because of the lack of a water supply.


February 1887 – After much debate, the Montclair Water Company organized to supply the township with water.  This paved the way for the expansion of the Fire Department.  Water was turned on some time in 1888.


March 24, 1887 – Excelsior Hose Company No.2 organized.  The Township Committee allocated 300 dollars for a cart house at the corner of Orange Rd. and Cedar Ave.


August 9, 1887 – Washington Hose Company No. 3 organized and was stationed on Bloomfield Ave. at Grove St.


February 7, 1888 – Cliffside Hose Company No.4 formed.  The apparatus was housed at an old shed purchased from the railroad.  It sat just about on the tracks on Bellevue Ave.  In the photograph below you can see the grade crossing gate and the warning bell to the left.  One of the early members of the company was Irving Cairns whose firefighting equipment firm supplied nearly the entire United States with his gear, especially helmets.  MFD still uses his helmets today.


These companies were incorporated into the Montclair Fire Department shortly after they organized.  Each firehouse operated independently under the rules and regulations set forth by the Town Committee with recommendations from an appointed Fire Committee.  The Town supplied the department with equipment and houses to keep it, and the “Laddies”, as they were known, ran their own organizations.  Truck Co. No.1 with their Chemical Detail, and Hose Co. No.’s 1, 2, 3, and 4 each elected their own officers yearly.  They all had their own gatherings, including meetings on the fourth Monday of every month, dinners, and “smokers”.  The members were required to be present at every alarm.  Missing one without an acceptable excuse would lead to expulsion from the group.  The department gathered as a whole for inspections and parades.  Firemen took great pride in assuring that their equipment and uniforms were in tip-top shape on parade day.  Within a few years, the town would see unprecedented growth and the department would have to grow with it.


1892 – The Town Committee purchased a hose cart and horse from the Newark Fire Department for Excelsior Hose Co. No.2.  Hose No.2 thus became the first in town to own a horse.  Until that time, the apparatus was hand- drawn.  The other companies in town received horses for their rigs shortly after this point.  The department was volunteer at this time, but drivers were paid per call because of the skill required to steer the horse teams.


1894 – Revised rules for the Firemen published.  One rule prohibited intentional collisions of apparatus while racing to a fire.  Another rule required drivers to keep off of the sidewalks while responding, unless the roads were muddy.  Competition to arrive first on scene fueled rivalries between companies.  Also in 1894, Excelsior Hose Co. No. 2 became the first in town to have a man on duty for 24 hours.


May 21, 1900 – The Montclair Fire Department had humble beginnings.  Newly formed companies   were given modest accommodations at best, and the town recognized the need for modern, well apportioned, equipment and station houses.  The buildings the department had occupied were little more than garages.

The Town Committee appropriated 50,000 dollars for the construction of four new firehouses.  The firehouses were a Committee priority as other town improvements were put on hold until the new firehouses were built.

Land was obtained for all of the firehouses except for Truck 1 and Hose 1.  The town could not decide where to build headquarters because the corner of Bloomfield Ave. and Valley Rd. was one of few town owned parcels that would be suitable for a town hall.


April 8,1901 – Excelsior Hose Co. No.2 goes to bid.  T.Cecil Hughes was the Architect.  Their new firehouse was built on the corner of Harrison Ave and Cedar Ave. where it has remained since.  Montclair Fire’s Engine 3 is stationed there today.   The building remains much the way it did 100 years ago.  The bids were as awarded as follows.

Carl Muller, mason……………….$2,475

Isaac A. Dodd, carpenter work…… 1,850

Carl Fentzlaff, plumbing…………..    740

Wallace W. Weeks, painting………    300

Joseph W. Glaister, electrical work.     108

Standard Paving Co………………..     180

                                                         ______

                                                Total-$5,630

The old firehouse at the corner of Orange Rd. and Cedar Ave. was promptly sold for fifty dollars. It remained in private hands briefly until a fire destroyed the building on July 4,1902.

April 8,1901 – Washington Hose Company Number 3 goes to bid.  Henry L. Yost was the architect.  The firehouse was built on the south side of Bloomfield Ave., just East of Elm St.  Today the building remains today and is occupied by Crawford Crews.   The winning bids were as follows.

William Doyle, mason……………$1,998

Henry Bettinson, carpenter work….1,525

John H. Taylor, plumbing……………893

Joseph W. Glaister, electrical………....96.60

Wallace W. Weeks, painting………...225

Frank F. Smith, metal cornice work…107.75

                                                            ______

                                                Total-$4,445.35

The old firehouse was sold immediately after construction completed.  The  new building was enlarged slightly in 1904 due to lack of space.  The size issue led to it’s closure in 1918 when the motorization of the department left it obsolete next to the larger Walnut St. station.


April 22, 1901 – Cliffside Hose Company Number 3 goes to bid.  Effingham R. North was the architect.  It was built at 588 Valley Rd. to protect the North end of town.  The firehouse is still in use today as MFD’s Station 2.  It houses Engine 2 and Truck 2.  Aside from some additions, and modifications to accommodate a larger ladder truck, it remains as it did on July 4, 1902 when it opened.  Bids were as follows.

Henry Bettinson, carpenter work…$3,320

Theodore Sigler, mason…………….8.874

B. Garrabrant, plumbing……………..930

                                                         _____

                                              Total-$8,124

The old firehouse was supposed to be sold for 100 dollars to the Montclair Club and moved.  Whether it was, or not, is unknown.

Just a note about E.R. North… Mr. North was a prominent architect.  He developed the Erwin Park section of Montclair as well as several residences.  His design style is evident in the building with the double-hipped roofs and the use of a cupola.


1902 – At this time, the fire department saw it’s first full time members.  The men were paid because of their ability to handle a team of horses.    Jethro Gibbs and James Banker both claimed to be the first paid Montclair fireman.  Both would serve the residents of Montclair for many years, and Gibbs would eventually become Chief.  The first paid Chief was Fred Williams, whose salary in 1902 was 350 dollars a year.


1903 – With the other firehouses now occupied, no solution had been reached concerning a new Fire Headquarters.  A building had been designed, but a decision as to where to put it was another story.  The Town Committee had bonded 50,000 dollars to build the four firehouses and possibly a town hall with any leftover money.  Cost over-runs on the other three houses had left the town with not nearly enough money for headquarters, let alone a town hall.  The Town Committee was reluctant to build headquarters on the property it had occupied, because that was prime real estate for a grand town hall.  Another piece of property was purchased for Fire Department use, but the building design did not fit on it…  After quite a bit of bickering among town officials, it was decided that fire headquarters would remain at the corner of Bloomfield Ave. and Valley Rd.  Another 7,500 dollars was bonded and work would begin in the spring of 1904.


1904 – The cornerstone for Fire Headquarters was laid on Wednesday July 15, 1903, and was completed in 1904.  The architect was Jesse H. Lockwood.  Hose 1 and Truck 1 were stationed here until Hose 1 was moved to the Walnut St. station in 1962.  The Station was eventually closed in 2003 after 99 years of service.  Truck 1 and the Battalion Chief were moved to the new Fire Headquarters on Pine Street along with the offices of the Chief, Deputy Chiefs, Fire Prevention, and Training.


June 1, 1904 – Members of Cliffside Hose Company Number 4 express their concerns to the Town Committee about the need for additional fire protection up town.  It was decided that a new truck and chemical engine be ordered for headquarters, and the old units be moved up town and designated Truck 2.  The chemical engine would be staffed with its members as a detail.


June 1905 – For some time, residents surrounding the Erie railroad station on Walnut St. requested the formation of a new Fire Company to protect the area.  When a sufficient number of men showed interest in volunteering, the Town Committee formed one.  Hose Company Number 5 was organized August 10,1905.  Its quarters were to be temporarily located in J.H. Connor’s brick stable on Greenwood Ave.  The Town paid him 20 dollars a month until they could build the company permanent quarters and renovated the building into a firehouse.


July 14, 1905 – Property was found for Hose Company 5 at 95 Walnut St.  The contract to build it was awarded to John B. Kent at a cost of 14,432 dollars.  The firehouse was used as MFD’s Station 1.  Engine 1 was housed there until 2003 when the Company was moved to the new Fire Headquarters on Pine Street.


1912 – The Department obtained its first motorized equipment.  A Locomobile and a chemical truck were purchased for use at headquarters. Eventually, all horse drawn equipment would be replaced with Hose Co. 5 being the last.


1912 – 1913 – Montclair had grown to such an extent that it needed a town hall immediately.  Renting office space had become impractical, and the town desperately needed a home of it’s own.  The corner of Bloomfield Ave. and Valley Rd. was again in the spotlight for the building site.  It seems that the town had bigger and better ideas for the building, but they eventually went away in favor of the corner the Police and Fire Departments occupied.  It was then decided that a new building would be erected connecting the two.  The architect was Otto F. Semsch and the general contractor E.M. Waldron had the building completed in 1913.  The Fire Department “side” of the building was remodeled completely during construction and it remained in service there until 2003 when a new Fire Headquarters was constructed on Pine Street.