NEWARK FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY........1797-2014
It will be remembered that a terrible fire in London occurred in 1666 with a property loss of over 13,000 buildings, including 89 churches. This was the year that Robert Treat and his Puritan settlers founded Newark. Perhaps the news of the London conflagration impelled the early townsmen to give heed to the dangers of fire. For it was in the year 1668 that notice was published that “every man provide himself with a good ladder within two months pay a fine of 5 shillings and maintain the same penalty of one shilling a month.
Further preventative measures against fire were adopted in 1678 as evidenced by the minutes of the town meeting held on March tenth of that year, which state, “it is agreed that no person whatsoever shall at anytime set or make fire in the woods or meadows on the penalty of paying all damaged they do by the fire so set”, “and to give notice by the beat of the drum, at which time every planter is to make their appearance at the commonplace of meeting, upon the penalty of 2s-6d – and then and there agree in the manner how to proceed for the best security of ye town”. So it was that the first procedures were adopted for answering alarms for fires within the City of Newark.
Several fires of note occurred in the latter half of the 18th Century. In the Year 1768, on May 23rd, a fire erupted at the town hall. The townspeople raced to its defense and only the roof was consumed. Several months later, on January 28th, 1769, a fire ripped through the home of Moses Ogden, an eminent townsmen. Ogden’s home was reduced to ashes and sadly a young boy perished in the blaze despite heroic efforts to save him.
Situated on Park Place, on the site of the old Public Service Headquarters Building, stood the house of Elisha Boudinot, his home being the finest in Newark. At 7 o’clock in the evening an alarm for fire was sounded. Flames were discovered pushing through the roof of an adjoining extension of the Boudinot House. Soon the entire population was at the scene and witnessed the total destruction of the mansion. As reported at the time, “The cry was echoed by the frightened inhabitants who haven’t been accustomed to scenes so awful, through the town in a few minutes and not less than five hundred of them were at the scene within thirty to forty minutes from its discovery. The want of proper fire implements such as engines, ladders, hooks, buckets and reservoirs for water were all discovered when it was too late”.
A fire brigade of 120 members was formed at once and each member was required to have a leather bucket which was to be kept at home that it might be available for immediate use.
This is the nucleus out of which the Newark Fire Department was developed. In February 1797, a fire association was organized at a mass meeting held in the Court House. The members were called “associates”. Thus the first fire company was formed in this manner. The sum of one hundred dollars was subscribed and various fire implements, principally hooks, ladders and leather buckets, were bought and two fire engines were ordered from Philadelphia. Over a year had elapsed before the Fire Association was informed that it might have one of the engines ordered “upon discharge of the remaining sums”. The engine was described as a “clumsy little tank on wheels, with long wooden bars fastened to an iron pumping gear”. Men lined up at the bars on each side of the engine while others filled the tank with water from buckets and the water was then thrown upon the fire through an iron pipe. It has also been said that, “such was the beginnings of the right arm of Newark’s municipal economy, safety and security”.
In April 1798, a fire occurred at what now is Gouverneur Street and Mount Pleasant Avenue, on what was then the Governeur Estate. The engine was brought forth, the brigade formed a line from the Passaic River to their engine but there was not enough water to fill the tanks and the barn was destroyed. However, the dwellings on the estate were saved.
In grateful appreciation for his gift of equipment, John A. Buckley, was chosen as the first Chief Engineer of the Newark Fire Department.
In early 1800 a company was chartered to supply Newark with water. Prior to that time, water was obtained from springs and wells. The water was collected and stored in a small reservoir located about one hundred fifty feet south of the present line of Seventh Avenue. But the use of buckets for carrying water at fires still prevailed.
It was the turn of the 19th Century that Newark began to take on the characteristic look which has remained its’ identity ever since, wood frame construction. So much frame construction rendered Newark a veritable “tinderbox” and fire has been an ever-present scourge throughout its’ history.
British sympathizers set many fires during the War of 1812 and at the close of the war the famous “Relief Company 2” was organized.
In 1819, Stephen Dodd and Caleb S. Ward built a fire engine, the first to be manufactured here. A third fire company was promptly established and almost immediately a dispute arose among the three companies about the right to the aforementioned engine. The toss of a penny finally put the dilemma to rest, “Company 1” got the engine, “Company 2” was given Company One’s engine and “Company 3” go the hose. Not much different than today’s method of distributing equipment. *other than now where the engine and hose company together*.
By 1835 and its’ time of incorporation, 1836, Newark had five fire companies.
A great fire occurred on October 27, 1836. A two story frame boarding house on the South side of Market Street, a few doors East of Broad Street was discovered ablaze. The fire spread while frantic calls for help went out to companies from New York, Rahway, Elizabethtown (present day Elizabeth) and Belleville. Eventually the entire area bordered by Market Street, Mulberry Street, Mechanic and Broad Streets was reduced to charred ruins and glowing embers. However, the First Presbyterian Church and the neighboring National State Bank were saved. History records note that a loss of $125,000.00 was realized that day. ----currency in todays money
Possibly in response to the “Great Fire” in 1836 there was a marked increase in the number of fire companies in 1837. They were located as follows: Engine Company #1 was located at the First Presbyterian Church, Engine Company #2 near the Trinity Church on Broad Street, Engine #3 on Hill Street, Engine #4 on Lombardy Street, Engine #5 at 106 Market Street along with Hose Company #1, Engine #6 at the Railroad Depot on Market Street and Engine Company #7 at the Hedenburg Factory on Plane Street. Hook and Ladder Company #1 was at 108 Market Street. As you can see the location of these companies is not much different from their future locations.
In 1845, the Mayor and Common Council entered into a contract with the Aqueduct Water Company for a supply of water to extinguish fires. The water was to be taken from the Passaic River above Belleville and conveyed throughout the city within iron pipes in various diameters ranging from four to twenty four inches.
On the heels of that first water contract the Mayor and Common Council, noticing that an undesirable element had begun to occupy the fire houses. They locked up the buildings and disbanded the companies. They then proceeded with a reorganization retaining eleven units on a part-time basis.
Jacob Allen, Foreman of Engine Company #4 is accorded the sad honor of being the first member of the Newark Fire Department to be killed in the performance of his duties. At a fire at the Newark India Rubber Company on May 28, 1857, Foreman Allen was crushed by a falling wall.
It was around the time of Foreman Allen’s loss that public clamor had arisen for a modernization of the city’s existing fire equipment and at that time that meant steam driven fire engines. The first steamer purchased, built by Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of Manchester, New Hampshire arrived in Newark in 1860. This steamer was assigned to Minnehaha Exempt Steam Fire Engine Company at 320 Broad Street. It could throw four streams of water with a total volume of 600 gallons.
Shortly thereafter, Washington Engine Company #3 obtained a steamer built by Silsby & Mynders of Seneca Falls, New York. However, this steamer was only capable of throwing two streams of water.
Two companies were added were added to the department in 1860. They were Good Will Engine Company #12 at Mill and Webster Streets and Vigilant Engine Company #13 near South Prospect Street. While one can only speculate from the record it is apparent that at this time the city had begun an expansion to the north, to the extent that additional fire protection was warranted.
It has been said that Newark was the first city in the country to use horses for fire department response and purposes. The first official mention of horses was made in 1862 when two horses were purchased for Minnehaha Engine Company #1, Passaic Stream Fire Engine Company #2 and Washington Engine Company #3. An additional horse was purchased for the hose wagon of Engine Company #1.
It was through these innovations, the purchase of steamers and horses as well as the institution of the part paid system, that by 1863 the department’s reorganization became apparent. Whereas the old volunteer system saw large groups of men assigned to the various companies as a group, the newly constituted units consisted of foreman, engineers, drivers, firemen and up to ten horsemen. Salaries were wide ranging in that Engineers received $900.00 per year, Drivers $780.00 and they were required to be available at all times and required to sleep in their stations. Firemen of steam engine companies were paid $75.00 per year, horsemen and privates, $30.00. The stewards and clerks of the hand companies received $70.00 and $40.00 per year respectively.
By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, department personnel numbered over 500. At least one third of that number enlisted for service in the Union Armies. Thus began the tradition that members of the Newark Fire Department be among the first to answer their country’s call, a tradition which continues to this day.
At the completion of reorganization in 1870, the Newark Fire Department consisted of seven steam engine companies, two hook and ladder companies and one hose company. Additionally, all engine companies were assigned a horse drawn hose cart and 1000 feet of hose.
1870 also saw the installation of the first permanent telegraph system. Installed by Gamewell and Company of New York, the system consisted of 40 miles of aerial wire, sixty street boxes, eleven large gongs, three small gongs as well as three church bells electrically connected to the system.
Few, if any, poles were used. Instead the wires were hung on the roofs of houses and other structures throughout the city. Fire boxes were locked and the keys left with a responsible citizen whose duty it was to transmit any alarm of visual or reported fire. This practice ceased by 1895 and the boxes were made permanently accessible to the general public resulting in another first, “false alarms”.
By an act of the state legislature in 1879, the Underwriters Protective Association was formed. It was under the auspices of this organization that the first salvage corps was organized. A splendid new apparatus was purchased, fully equipped with the latest salvage equipment and two horses, and housed at 28 Clinton Street.
It is worth noting that six years later in 1885 and also by act of State Legislature, fire and police departments were removed from political control. Oversight and administration became vested in independent boards of fire and police commissioners.
Engine Company 11 was formed in 1888 and placed in quarters at the corner of Central Avenue and South 9th Street, also Truck Company 4 was formed stationed at Lafayette and Congress Streets. As one can see the addition of companies throughout the latter half of the 19th Century signifies the expansion of the city beyond the central business district. The board of Fire Commissioners responded to the needs of this growing city and 1889 they appropriated the monies necessary to take the department into fully paid status.
The birth of the 20th Century also saw the birth of Engine Co’s 15, 16 & 17 in 1901.
One of the worst fires in the history of Newark occurred on April 23, 1904. Early the morning the alarm was sounded for a fire at the saddlery hardware factory of Werner & Co. on Mechanic Street. Soon the news carried that that a fallen wall had claimed its victims. William B. Crane, Engine Co. #3, Jacob Bleyhle and Leo Ross, both of Truck Company #3, were added to the list of immortals that fateful day as they sacrificed their in the line of duty. Many more were injured and some never returned to duty.
1906 saw the formation of Engine Co’s 19, 20, 21 as well as Truck Co. 7, 1908 Engine Co. 22 and in 1909 Truck Co. #8 went into service.
November 26, 1910 will always be remembered as a sad day in the annals of the Newark Fire Department. On High Street, just across from the quarters of Engine Company #4 stood an old factory building occupied by several tenants whose products were of a varied nature. The structure was four stories in height and the top floor was crowded with young women employed by a firm which manufactured undergarments. Side by side they sat on this fateful day busily performing their duties. A lower floor was used by another company which manufactured lamps. Carelessness in their use of gasoline caused a sudden fire. Upstairs the girls, happy in anticipation of the usual Sunday holiday, were startled to see a thin snake-like streak of flame dart through the floor and then an inferno. Material remnants, strewn on the floor in heaps, roared up in a fierce blaze. As fear gripped the hearts of every person in that room reason fled. The gaunt hand of death stretched forth and claimed its victims. Blindly, madly the girls fought for the windows and once there without hesitation they lept, one by one to the street below. Many were unable to reach the windows, so fast did the fire accomplish its work and perished miserably in the flames. For those who jumped it was a merciful quick end. Before the first engine and truck companies could even wheel into position the worst was over. Twenty six lives were lost in the catastrophe, the most awful Newark has ever experienced. When Chief Astley arrived he saw in front of the building a scene of indescribable gruesomeness. Dead bodies and broken life nets were scattered in the streets.
Coincidentally, Chief Astley arrived at this scene in the first automobile to be used in the department followed shortly in 1911 by the first motorized pumping apparatus.
1913 saw the formation of Engine Co’s #23, 24, 25 and Truck #9 each with motorized apparatus.
Three years later in 1916 the voters of the city gave their approval to a two platoon system which went into effect on April 16, 1918.
On December 16, 1918 the position of Lieutenant was abolished. Captains were classified as Class “A” or “B”, with class “A” being those Captains who held the rank prior to and at the time when the title and rank of Lieutenant was abolished. Class “B”, were Captains who advanced to the rank due to the abolition of the rank of Lieutenant.
The fire boat “Newarker” was purchased in 1921.
1923 saw the passing of the horse drawn fire apparatus with the department being fully motorized at the close of that year. The last company to be motorized was Engine Company #13. November 14, 1942, the fireboat “William J. Brennan” was purchased from the federal government and placed into service followed in 1946 by the purchase of the fireboat “Michael P. Duffy” from the United States Coast Guard.
A four alarm fire occurred on April 10, 1948 at the Reilly Tar and Rubber Company. Seventeen engines, four trucks and both fireboats were reported to have worked at this major fire while four firemen were reported injured. Tour 3 came into being on August 25, 1948 with the introduction of the 56 hour workweek.
On July 7, 1951, fire erupted at the Warren Maritime Petroleum Corporation located in Port Newark. This was the first five alarm fire in the history of NFD. The fire involved exploding LPG tanks which flew hundreds of feet in the air. While the record appears incomplete as far as injuries are concerned we do know that no lives were lost.
July 5, 1953 saw the fire at St. Bridget’s Church on Plane Street, now University Ave. went to four alarms, also known as a “four bagger” in fire department lingo. During that same year all fire department vehicles were equipped with two-way radios. Prior to the installation of radios, responding units were required to roll all the way into alarm locations and be ordered up by a Chief on scene directly. The Chief then transmitted his signal by way of the telegraph key located inside the individual alarm boxes.
On March 1, 1959 the 4th Tour was added to the work week, reducing weekly hours from 56 to 42. This necessitated a 25% increase in the size of the department. The year 1959 also saw the fireboat “Michael P. Duffy” taken out of service and replaced several years later in 1964 by the “John F. Kennedy” at a cost of $90,000.00.
The first “snorkel” or elevated platform was placed in service on June 11, 1965. This apparatus was purchased at a cost of $58,000.00 and was placed in service with Truck Company #1 at Mulberry and Lafayette Streets.
On July 28, 1966, Director John P.Caufield, who would become the longest serving director of the Newark Fire Department, placed an order for a Ward-LaFrance 1000 GPM, 6 cylinder diesel powered pumper, the first of its kind for Newark. Upon delivery in 1967, this apparatus was placed in service with Engine Company #6 at Springfield Ave. & Hunterdon Street. 1967 was also the year that the Newark Fire Museum, at the grounds of the museum and the new quarters of Engine 13 and Truck 6 at 714-718 Mt. Prospect Ave. were dedicated.
1967 proved to be the most trying and tragic time not only for the members of the Newark Fire Department but for the City of Newark itself. During the three day period starting at 6 P.M. on July 13th and ending at 6 P.M. on July 16th there were 227 fires. The “Newark Riots” as they have come to be known left 36 members of the department injured, and one, Captain Michael Moran of Engine Company #11 dead. Captain Moran was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he answered an alarm almost directly across the street from company quarters located at Central Avenue and South 9th Street. Ironically, Fire Director John P. Caufield was at the scene when Captain Moran was gunned down. Captain Moran left behind a wife and six children. The “Newark Riots” were a turning point in the history of Newark and its Firemen. The city would never be the same afterwards and the workload of the NFD would increase dramatically for many years to come.
April 20, 1968, fire breaks out in a row of six family, three story frame dwellings in the area of Bergen St. and Avon Avenue. The fire quickly spread to upwards of 36 of these types of structures which engulfed in flames. All the resources of the Newark Fire Department and several surrounding municipalities were brought to bear. When it was over, an area bounded by Avon Avenue, Chadwick Avenue, Bergen Street, Rose Street and Rose Terrace laid in ruins. While Newark had seen its share of multiple building fires, none were of this magnitude, which lead many of those who were there to refer to it as “The Big One”.
In April of 1969, the Professional Fire Officers Association was chartered as Local 1860 of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).
With the ever increasing workload came with increasing firefighter injuries. In 1970, 450 firefighters were injured in the line of duty. 1972 the busiest year experienced until that time saw 22,223 alarms answered, with 9,791 working fires and 5,684 false alarms. Salvage units were disbanded that year in order to make way for the new “Tac Squads “, crews of men which were used to supplement manpower at fire scenes.
May 7, 1972 was a rainy night when a fire broke out in an abandoned frame dwelling at Orchard and Pennington Streets. As smoke lay low in the street, first arriving companies were met with a heavy fire condition and a second alarm was transmitted. As second alarm units arrived and began to go to work the building suddenly collapsed. Captain Dominic La Torre of Engine 12, Captain Vic Lardiere of Truck 4 and F/F Russel Schoemer of Truck 5 were killed with many others injured including Schoemer’s brother Rich who was severely burned as he lay in the rubble. Many off duty members arrived at the scene to help dig out their brothers. Once again members of the Newark Fire Department paid for their devotion to duty with their lives.
On May 3, 1974 the Newark Fire Department Training Center opened on the shores of the Passaic River at Jersey Street. “Fireboat 1”, “The JFK”, and her crews were also quartered there.
The first “Telesquirt” was purchased in 1974 and placed in service at Engine 9. Also in 1974, the third deputy division was abolished. Engine Companies 2, 7 & 20 were closed with Engines 20 & 7 becoming Tacs 1 & 2 respectively. Two years later on January 1, 1976, “Tac-2” was eliminated and Engine 7 reopened.
A major fire destroyed the “Mac Gregor” building located at Broad and Lafayette Streets on January 22, 1976. The all night blaze was marked by bitter sub-freezing cold and wind whipped flames. The fire left the four story brick structure gutted and encased in a grotesque ice sculpture. Damage to equipment was estimated in excess of $100,000. Pumpers, aerial and ground ladders, as well as hose had to be literally chopped from the ice which had formed during extinguishing operations.
The city’s deteriorating financial condition manifested itself in 1976 with the layoff of some 66 Firefighters and the demotion of many Fire Officers. It took two years before this blot on the history of the NFD was corrected and the department was returned to full strength.
Two additional “Telesquirts” were purchased in 1977 and placed at Engine Co’s. 14 & 18, bringing the total number of these type of apparatus to three throughout the city.
On December 30, 1977, during the early evening hours, an alarm was transmitted for the Hotel Lucerne at Broad & South Streets. A two alarm assignment was used to battle the blaze. In the end the four story brick structure was completely destroyed and eight civilians had lost their lives. Fire fighting forces were stretched thin that night as a simultaneous two alarm fire ravaged a row of three story frame dwellings at 12th Avenue and Camden Street.
Newark’s bravest were put to the test on May 26, 1978, when three major fires, including two four alarm blazes threatened the city. The first leveled 16 wood frame tenements at Avon Avenue and Ridgewood, a scant six hours later, fire destroyed nine buildings at Mt. Prospect and 6th Avenue. As the fire on Mt. Prospect Avenue was being fought a two alarm blaze broke out in three buildings at High and Crane Sts. Mutual aid units from surrounding towns were called in to battle the second blaze as wind blown embers flew throughout the neighborhoods of the North Ward.
In the summer of 1978, after several years of layoffs, demotions and other budgetary shortfalls, the department proceeded with a major hiring of firefighters. Throughout the months of June, July and August upwards of seventy firefighters were added to the rolls of the department. After an 8 day “crash course” at the training center the young recruits were sent out into the field to supplement roll calls during this high vacation period. Later, in the fall of 1978, all these men were returned to the training center for six weeks of additional training. 1978 also saw the introduction of large diameter hose, specifically 4-inch. This hose would change the way that fire departments nationwide would operate as now they could literally bring the hydrant to the front of the fire building.
Tragedy struck in the early morning hours of December 7, 1978 when a fire was reported at 569 South 12th Street, a three story frame. Arriving units found a condition of almost total involvement. Before the fire was subdued the building was completely destroyed and 12 people had lost their lives.
January 5, 1979 saw fire strike the Arlington Warehouse Company at 50 Paris Street. The structure occupied almost an entire block. The spectacular four alarm fire consumed hundreds of different chemicals. Explosions filled the night sky with flaming fireballs. Nearly the entire fire department fought this dangerous fire which exposed all of the members working there to a myriad of toxic substances. The Fire Dept. response to the health issues this exposure had caused was weak at best. Exposure to chemicals and the dangers it poses to firefighters would not become a “hot button” issue in the fire service until almost a year later when a fire at the Chemical Control Company in neighboring Elizabeth sickened scores of firefighters.
On December 28, 1979, Stanley J. Kossup was promoted to the rank of Fire Chief. He assumed command of the fire department as the city’s 29th Fire Chief.
During the Year of 1980 the department began a transition from the cumbersome “MSA” & “Scott” SCBA to a new lighter “Survivair” model.
On April 21, 1980, a “Signal 11” fire heavenly damaged the quarters of Engine Company #6 located at Springfield Avenue & Hunterdon Street. A three alarm fire on Jacob St. at the time had drawn the company of men away and cooking materials left on the stove ignited the blaze. Members operating on Jacob Street could see smoke in the area of Engine 6 but never imagined that the fire was in their firehouse. Companies responding on later alarms to the Jacob St. fire spotted the blaze as they traveled up Springfield Avenue.
In May of that year one of the busiest days if not the busiest in the history of the department took place. It was May 27th & 28th, fifteen major fires were fought throughout the city. Many of the fires, four going to multiple alarms, occurred simultaneously which necessitated several calls for mutual aid.
On June 1, 1980, Engine Company #1, Truck 3 and the last remaining TAC Squad were shuddered. The line division or “telegraph” would move into Prince Street Firehouse formerly housing Engine 20 and TAC. In addition to the company closings, two Deputy Chiefs, seven Battalion Chiefs and 24 Captains were demoted. A sad day indeed.
On November 18, 1980 all fire department offices were relocated from City Hall to the former Training Academy sight at 1010 18th Avenue. However the Communications Division remained on the 4th floor of City Hall.
Firefighter Harry Halpin reported for duty on August 16, 1980 at 1800 Hrs. Within ten minutes of the duty shift a box was transmitted for Station 3222, a vacant building located at 237-9 Broadway. This would be Firefighter Halpins’ last alarm. A fire escape on the building had been vandalized by the removal of the attaching bolts. When F/F Halpin stepped onto the fire escape to pull some hot spots, the fire escape came crashing down. Firefighter Halpin struck the pavement head first and died four days later at College Hospital without ever regaining consciousness. It was Halpins’ death and the ensuing funeral that was the impetus for the formation of the “Essex County Police & Fire Emerald Society Pipe & Drums”.
July 21, 1981 marked the end of an era within the great Newark Fire Department. A three alarm fire at the “Hotel Benzell” at Broad & Division Streets would be the last fire fought at that sight. The building was undergoing demolition at the time. Over the years seven multiple alarm fires had been fought in this one building with the loss of only three lives. This incredibly low death toll is a testament to the valor of the men serving within the NFD. During its long existence countless numbers of occupants were rescued from the flames at the “Benzell”. On July 21, 1981, no one was sorry to see it go.
During 1981 the department placed five “Continental” 1250 GPM pumpers into service. Engine Co’s 6, 7, 10, 11 & 17 received the new apparatus while Trucks’ 1, 10 & 12 received “Seagrave” 100 Foot rear mounted aerials.
On the evening of August 2, 1981, Firefighter Robert Mullen was struck by a freight train while operating at a brush fire in “The Oak Island” railroad yard. Firefighter Mullens’ arm was severed and if not for the quick action of department members at the scene he would have surely died. Firefighter Mullen would never return to duty.
1981 ended as the busiest year in NFD history. Engine 6 topped 5,000 alarms answered with units like Engines 11 & 7 well over 4,000. Ironically all this occurred as the city continued to down size the department.
A horrible accident occurred at Sussex Avenue and First Street on March 7, 1982. It was Easter Sunday when a car loaded with eight women on their way to early morning church services were struck by an oil tanker at this intersection. The tanker overturned spilling its contents into the vehicle. An overhead power line loosened by the collision then set the oil ablaze. Thick black smoke obscured the severity of the scene. One young girl was able to escape while the other seven women were burned alive. Veteran firefighters who were at the scene say it was one of the most horrific sights they has ever seen and one they would never forget.
On November 30, 1982, Truck Company 2 and Engine 32 were disbanded.
An explosion occurred at the “Texaco” bulk storage facility on Doremus Avenue on January 7, 1983. The blast was felt for miles around. It even knocked a parked locomotive off the tracks. Three storage tanks were leveled and the fire, fueled by several thousand gallons of gasoline, burned for many days. The closing of Engine 32 two months prior was indeed fortuitous in that their quarters were located directly across the street from the incident. Anyone in that building may have been killed or at least seriously injured.
While the Texaco Fire was burning on Doremus Avenue, a four alarm fire destroyed the plant of the “Synflax Corporation” on Avenue P. Explosions and fireballs lit the night sky as drums laden with toners and inks readily exploded.
During 1983, three Ford/American La France 1,000 GPM pumpers were placed into service with Engines 6, 12 & 15. A white “Road-X-Predator” tractor was purchased to replace the bullet nosed “Seagrave” tractor on the 1969 tillered aerial which had started out at Truck 12. The refurbished truck went to Truck Company 5.
On February 1, 1983 the Second Battalion District in Downtown Newark was disbanded and the battalion districts citywide redrawn to distribute the workload and absorb the companies.
On Saint Valentine’s Day in 1983, Engine 32 was placed back in service at their original location at Port Street and Doremus Ave. However, their reinstatement was short lived as they were once again and permanently disbanded on July 1st of that same year.
In response to another budgetary crisis, on November 18, 1983, Engines 13, 14, 16 and 21, as well as Truck 9 and Rescue 1 were placed out of service. Battalion 3 relocated to the quarters of Rescue 1 on Mt. Prospect Avenue and Battalion 5 relocated to the quarters of Engine 14. Bureau of Combustible and Arson Squad personnel were reassigned to ride what was left of within the in service companies.
Fire struck a seven story warehouse on the Passaic River on November 24, 1983. The spectacular blaze burned for hours while a third alarm assignment along with the fireboat fought to bring it under control. Later that same night, all of the units taken out of service were brought back. However, these units were again taken out on December 23 with the layoff of 78 Firefighters and the elimination of Chief’s Aides who were redeployed to in service companies. It was a sad commentary on the attitude of the city father’s toward the brave and dedicated men of the Newark Fire Department.
Noting the potentially disastrous consequences of their actions, and bowing to increasing political pressure, the city government found the funds necessary to reopen all the previously closed companies and reinstate the laid off men on January 5, 1984.
An early morning fire on February 26, 1984 destroyed four buildings on Fourth Street near Sixth Ave. Sub-freezing temperatures hampered firefighting efforts as the fire grew in intensity. At one point it jumped back several backyards and heavily damaged three more buildings on Third St. Additional special calls resulted in a 4th alarm assignment operating at the fire which tragically took the lives of four young children left unattended at home.
Firefighter James Murray from Truck Co. 10 was working a mutual swap on August 12, 1984 in order that a friend could be home with his family for a special occasion. At 0211 hours in the night, Station 2115 was transmitted for a fire at the Gibraltar Building at 48 Academy Street near Halsey. The fire eventually went to three alarms. At about 0320 hours a frantic call went out on the air for a downed firefighter on the 7th floor. Members of Rescue 1 who had set up a first aid station on the 6th floor immediately responded to the call and started CPR on F/F Murray. He was removed via ambulance to College Hospital. Firefighter James Murray was pronounced dead at 0420 hours.
The night of July 12, 1985 saw the destruction of a Newark landmark when Thomm’s Restaurant at Park & Mt.Prospect Avenue burned. So great was the heat and humidity that evening that several firefighters were overcome with heat exhaustion, another fell victim to a heart attack and nearly expired while battling this blaze. The prompt action of firefighters on the scene and the superior treatment by the College Hospital Emergency Room staff combined to save his life. However, he was never able to return to full duty.
1985 was the year of the “Telesquirt” in Newark. Engine 7 became the fourth company so equipped while Engines 9 & 18 had theirs replaced. Truck Co. #1 received a 110 foot rear mounted aerial quint, the first of its’ kind in Newark.
1985 ended tragically. On December 31 of that year Firefighter Marcus Reddick was killed in the line of duty. At 2125 hours, Engine 5 answered Station 5119 for a fire at 50 Madison St. Upon arrival they found a fire on the first floor of a three story frame. Sitting on a third floor window ledge was a non-English speaking woman. Because she appeared panicky and about to jump, as well as owing to the smoke which poured from the window a ladder was raised to her. F/F Reddick immediately started up the ladder intent on making the rescue. As Reddick approached the woman she suddenly came off the ledge wrapping her arms around his head. The force of her crashing into him broke Reddick’s grip on the ladder and sent them both plummeting to the ground below. There is no doubt the woman’s fall was broken by Reddick. F/F Reddick was not so fortunate. He suffered a severe skull fracture in the fall as well as numerous internal injuries and was rushed to University Hospital where he eventually was placed on life support. Further tests on January 2, 1986 revealed no brain activity. It was at this point that his family decided to remove him from life support and to donate his vital organs for use in transplants. The very next day Marcus Reddick’s heart was beating in the chest of another man and his eyes were helping another to see. In death as in life, F/F Marcus Reddick continued to help others.
In February 1986, the fire alarm office was equipped with a new computerized fire alarm system replacing the old “Gamewell” system which was in use since 1907.
John P. Caufield ended his long tenure as Fire Director in July of 1986. Director Caufield had served in that capacity since 1962. He was by far the longest serving Fire Director and his length of service will most likely never be repeated. Claude Coleman of the Police Department was named to replace him.
During his tenure with the Newark Fire Department, Director Caufield was elected to the New Jersey State Senate. As Senator, Mr. Caufield championed for extensive fire safety legislation. To this day, multiple family dwellings are required to have hard wired smoke detectors as a result of Senator Caufield’s efforts. Since its’ adoption this legislation has saved hundreds of lives. Director Caufield passed away on August 24, 1986.
On August 3, 1987, Engine Company #8 was removed from service. However, under intense community pressure it was reopened on November 23.
In an effort to consolidate the newly established Haz-Mat units, Rescue 1 was relocated to the quarters of Truck 1, at Mulberry & Lafayette on September 20, 1987.
February 27, 1988, an explosion and fire at the American Adhesives Company lit the night sky over the “Ironbound” section of the city. The fire, at 411 Wilson Avenue, was especially hard to fight as all personnel were required to wear SCBA at all times while operating at the scene.
The long awaited Haz-Mat Unit was placed in service on March 21, 1988. Numerous phones and radios had to be installed delaying its placement in service. The “Spartan/Steeldrualics” unit was assigned to Rescue 1 / Truck 1 at the Mulberry Street firehouse.
In May of 1988, Director Claude Coleman left the fire department to become Police Director. Mayor James appointed the Fire Chief Kossup as Director and then Captain Lowell Jones as interim Fire Chief, the first African-American to attain that post.
December 10, 1988 saw an incident which appears to be unique in the annals of the Newark Fire Department. That night a four alarm fire destroyed five tenements on South 11th St. near Springfield Avenue. At the height of the fire two of the buildings collapsed and it was thought that firefighters may be trapped. It was at this critical point that Deputy Chief Edward Chrystal called for “all available” apparatus remaining in the city to respond to the scene. This “General Alarm” was a call that had never been transmitted before. All hands were quickly accounted for and the work of extinguishing the blaze continued. However, one civilian was killed during the course of the operation.
Revisions were made to the chain of command on May 11, 1989. At that time it was decided to have all staff division heads report to the Fire Director. All field division chiefs would continue to report to the Fire Chief.
In order to assist within the enforcement of the uniform fire code, the Division of Fire Prevention & Life Safety was reorganized on May 15, 1989. Civilian provisional appointments were made to the titles of Fire Protection and Prevention Specialists and also a supervisory rank was added.
August of 1989 saw the Newark Fire Department thrust into the national spotlight when a fire at the “Hub Recycling Company” destroyed several sections of Interstate 78 near Newark Airport. Traffic had to be redirected around the damaged area as several lanes were closed for months until repairs could be completed.
In the early morning hours of November 21, 1989, a wind driven 4-alarm inferno consumed 16 buildings over a two block area bounded by Irvine Turner Blvd., W. Alpine Street, Johnson Avenue & W. Bigelow Street. Initial firefighting efforts were hampered by several dead hydrants and extremely low water pressure in the vicinity. In addition, sub-freezing temperatures and 70 mile p/hour winds carried large fiery brands and embers several blocks ahead of the fire which started on Irvine Turner Blvd. Extensive use of mutual aid companies was made to cover the city for most of the day.
A second four alarm fire occurred later that same day in a five story brick apartment house at West Kinney and Washington Streets. Once again numerous rescues were made by Newark’s Bravest operating in high wind conditions and sub-freezing temperatures.
It took only two days of the new decade on January 2, 1990 before 12 Newark Firefighters would fall victim to fire. The noontime three alarm fire caught all twelve in a flashover. The fire was located in a five story brick apartment building at Elizabeth Ave. & W. Alpine Street. All the men escaped safely with several suffering severe burns. They were lucky to be alive.
On January 20, 1990, a spectacular early evening four alarm fire destroyed a block long factory at Frelinghuysen and Evergreen. The blaze, which killed a night watchman, took over four hours to vring under control.
On January 22, 1990, a Fire Prevention & Citizen’s Assistance Patrol Program was instituted throughout the city. The program placed every fire unit in the city out on daily patrol in their inspection district during the hours of 3:30-5:30 & 6:15-8:00 PM. This was done in an effort to bring firefighters into the view of the public, help the general public where needed and for early fire detection. The program was discontinued in June after five months of implementation.
All members of the department began receiving individual facepieces on March 7, 1990. This was done as part of the changeover to the new “Scott 4.5” SCBA.
Sunday morning November 24, 1991 saw the fire department celebrate the “Annual Memorial Mass” at St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral on Washington Street. Just after lunch, the brothers of the Vailsburg firehouse received a call to Station 1644 for a fire at 21 Spencer St. For Captain Joe McCarthy it would be his final alarm. After a splendid attack on the fire, Captain Mccarthy was working with his men when he received an electrical shock which led to a massive heart attack. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Captain McCarthy was a devoted fireman, husband and father. That evening a pall of sadness enveloped the entire Newark Fire Department.
On July 23, 1992, a two alarm fire destroyed the South Park Presbyterian Church located on Broad St. & Lincoln Park. At the time, Newark City Historian Charles Cummings noted that this was one of the great landmarks of the city and was on the National Register of Historic Buildings. History notes that the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, once spoke on the steps of the church. For a time the fire threatened to spread to newly renovated apartments on the south side of the scene, but a quick deployment of portable monitors halted the fire spread.
Just two weeks later a fire of suspicious origin destroyed the last two dwellings on Peshine Avenue. This area of the 4th Battalion had long been a hot bed of activity for the department. Unfortunately the final fire took the life of a life long city resident.
Chief’s aides were taken away in 1992 and returned to field units. In 1993 six new “GMC Suburban SUV’s” were placed in service for use as field chief “gigs”.
On June 21, 1993 a four alarm fire destroyed the “Clark Thread Mill Company” at 54 Clark Street on the corner of Passaic Street. First due Battalion Chief Tom Saccone found the rambling block long, four story structure fully involved in fire upon his arrival on the scene. The incident quickly escalated to four alarms as mutual aid units manned the city’s firehouses. Acting Deputy Chief Harry Carter will long be remembered for his “abandon ship” order which cleared Clark Street just before the south wall of the building fell onto the spot recently occupied by Engine 9 & Engine 15.
Tuesday, October 12, at 1315 hrs, Station 3212 was transmitted for a fire in the Emmanuel Church of Christ Disciples of Christ, across from the quarters of Engine 9. Once again mutual aid units manned Newark’s firehouses as the fire was being brought under control. It was through sheer tenacity that the fire was kept from spreading to the surrounding neighborhoods. The fire completely destroyed the church.
The evening of October 28, 1994 was just one more night in the firehouse, until tragedy struck. Shortly after midnight on October 29, units were dispatched to a reported fire at 62 Chester Avenue. Firefighter Michael Delane, after hearing reports of firefighters in distress on the roof of the building, dashed up Truck 7’s aerial ladder to help his brothers. As he was descending the aerial, assisting rookie F/F Juan Ramos with a saw, he contacted the primary power lines adjacent to his position. He was immediately electrocuted and died a short time later. His funeral was the largest in recent memory. Over 6,000 firefighters from across America and Canada attended the funeral at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. F/F Ramos of Truck 7 was severely burned in the incident but has since made a full recovery.
1995 was the year that new turnout gear and station wear was issued to the men. Prior to this members had to purchase this equipment for themselves.
October 4, 1995 was another historic day for the City of Newark. Pope John Paul II along with President Bill Clinton visited Newark for a prayer service and conference. It was during that visit that his holiness designated Sacred Heart a Cathedral-Basilica. The NFD was deeply involved in the planning for this momentous occasion. Members were stationed at the point of the Papal entrance on Ridge Street as well as the helicopter landing site within Branch-Brook Park. Battalion Chiefs Harry Carter and Jim Smith supervised operations.
A four alarm fire in March 1996 destroyed the landmark “Vesuvius” restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue. The fire came after a night which saw four other fires ravage the city.
Newark Airport experienced it’s first ever on sight crash on July 31, 1997. A “Fedex” air cargo jet had just touched down when it suddenly bounced out if control and flipped while it skidded toward the terminal areas. Fortunately it stopped short of the terminal. It burst into flames and members of both the NFD and Port Authority worked to extinguish the inferno. Surprisingly there were no fatalities as the crew was able via a cockpit window.
On April 13 a fire at 611 MLK Blvd. – a multi-story high rise was reported. Ironically all members had just wrapped up a high rise drill at the Prudential Building that very morning. Rare is the day when the lessons learned in a drill are put to use that soon.
June 8 saw a major fire at the wood chip facility on Avenue P. Fire units were hard pressed to approach the scene due to the throngs of people in the Ironbound Section of the city for the Annual Portuguese Festival. As if that wasn’t enough, water supply problems also hampered suppression efforts. However, the fire was eventually contained to its area of origin.
On December 3, 1997 the “Miracle on Pulaski Street” came to pass. At 2340 Hrs. telephone calls came into the alarm center reporting an explosion in the area of St. Casimir’s on Pulaski Street. Upon arrival, Battalion Chief Joe Ryan was met by what he described as a severe fire with flames blowing up out of the stairway leading to the basement. There was also a heavy smoke condition in the main body of the church. Engine 14 obtained a water supply and directed a 2 ½ “ hoseline into the basement stairway. Assisted by Engine 12 with a handline, the two companies fought their way into the church basement, leap-frogging past each other.
The tenacious work of these two companies, under the command of Captains Bill Boan & Robert Tittle, soon had the fire under control. Newark’s Bravest were victorious in their quest to save an historic church, a rare achievement indeed.
On January 2nd, 1998 - Engine Company # 8 was finally disbanded.
It was on December 23rd 1998 that the Newark Fire Department lost its long time Chaplain, the Rev. Msgr. Horton J. Raught. Msgr. Raught served as Chaplain from 1971 until his death in 1998. He was a Roman Catholic Priest for over 50 years, being ordained on June 3rd 1944. As honorary Deputy Chief, Monsignor never missed a multiple alarm fire regardless of the time of day or weather conditions. He was a fixture at every fire department event from the joyous to the tragic. He truly loved the fire service from his earliest days as a priest when he was assigned to a parish located next door to East Orange Fire Headquarters. His spiritual guidance and support were a mainstay of the Newark Fire Department for many years.
On May 22, 2001 and early afternoon fire broke out at 47 Baeumont Place in the city’s “Forest Hill” section. Firefighter Lawrence Webb of Engine 13 was one of the first on the scene and immediately began an aggressive attack of the fire building. F/F Webb and the members of his crew had reached the upper floors when conditions began to rapidly deteriorate forcing them back down. Upon their reassembly on a lower floor, the members of Engine 13 recognized that F/F Webb had not made it down with them.
The “Rapid Intervention Team” was summoned along with other companies at the scene, performed a search of the fire floor locating F/F Webb amongst some furniture around the floor. Firefighter Webb was in cardiac arrest, he was removed and measures were immediately taken to revive him. These efforts proved fruitless and F/F Webb was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. He was a mere 37 years old and the hero son of retired Captain Willie Webb.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 dawned a bright and beautiful late summer morning. The men of the Newark Fire Department were going about their morning routine when the news came that a plane had struck the “North Tower” of the “World Trade Center” located in Manhattan, New York City. From their rooftops and all across Newark, many people could see the tragedy unfolding in the thick black smoke that billowed out from the upper floors of that doomed tower. As firefighters from across the nation watched in disbelief and prayed for their brothers, who were in the midst of the fight of their lives, the unimaginable happened when a second plane was piloted directly into the “South Tower” setting it ablaze as well.
343 Firefighters lost their lives, along with other first responders, in the resulting collapse of those two towers on that solemn day. It was the darkest day in the annals of the American Fire Service by far. Several thousand civilians also lost their lives. However, some 25,000 people are a living legacy to the heroism of the FDNY as they were led to safety by those brave men, many of whom would eventually perish in the performance of their heroic work.
Many members of the Newark Fire Department responded to “Ground Zero” that tragic night and in the days that followed, digging through the massive pile of rubble in the vain hope that someone might still be alive. Many were forever changed by the experience.
The blow to the members of the FDNY and their families was devastating. The sheer number of funerals to attend was daunting. Millions of dollars were raised by the IAFF as well as scores of individuals and corporations for the relief of the survivors and family members who lost loved ones.
Inspired by being at “Ground Zero” and “working at the pile” , Firefighter Frank Bellina, then coordinator of the Newark Fire Museum, began to search the internet for an old fire engine that could be used for fallen firefighters. He found one from a liquidation company in Kentucky. After hearing Firefighter Bellina’s plan, the liquidator offered to sell the “Mack” fire engine to the Historical Association for $11,000, far below market value. The 1958 “Mack-B” pumper is the identical model purchased by the Newark Fire Department for use throughout the city in the late 50’s & 60’s.
Since the purchase of “The Mack” as it has come to be known, it has been completely restored, with a lift built into the former hosebed for the lowering and raising of a casket. It is used in line of duty funerals as a Caisson Unit, as it was for several of the fallen firefighters of 9/11. It is also used to maintain a presence and to transport flowers at the funerals of active and retired members of the fire service. In June of 2005, it was named by then Governor Richard Codey as the “Official State Caisson Unit”. A bolt from the “World Trade Center” was installed on the rig in order to commemorate the sacrifice of the “343”.
Members working out of rank or “acting” as it was called was terminated as a practice on December 13, 2001. From that point on any Fire Officer vacancy had to be filled by a member of equal rank.
2002 saw the end of the department work schedule that had been in place since the 4th Tour was added in 1959. On May 28th of that year, after negotiations with the city, Fire Officers moved to twenty-four on, forty-eight off, twenty-four on, ninety-six off schedule. This schedule was implemented because at that time the firefighters had yet to negotiate a twenty-four hour on work schedule and it afforded the department some amount of managerial continuity. However, on January 31, 2003, firefighters were placed on a twenty-four hour work schedule with seventy-two hours off with both bargaining units being brought into alignment on January 1, 2006.
To no surprise, in response to the terror attacks of “9/11”, homeland security became a hot button issue with both federal and local governments. The need for specialized equipment and trained personnel became apparent. The Urban Area Security Initiative was formed to serve the cities of Newark and Jersey City as well as the surrounding counties.
To meet the challenges of the expanding role of homeland security, the department closed the Haz-Mat Office in 2006 and formed the “Special Operations Division”.
With the demolition of the Mulberry Street firehouse to may way for the “Prudential Center”, Rescue 1, Truck 1, or Ladder 1 as it is now called, the Training Division, the Fire Officer’s Union and the Special Operations (Special-Ops) Divisions were moved to their new location at the sight of the old “Borden’s Dairy” at 191 Orange Street. A training center was constructed at the sight by the members of “Special-Ops” and most of the related equipment was moved there. Today the Special Operations Division of the Newark Fire Department operates Rescue #2, a heavy rescue truck located on Clinton Ave. firehouse. Rescue 2 is primarily used as a collapse unit and for “Urban Search & Rescue” operations. Fireboat #1, “The Guardian” is docked at the city channel on Corbin Street. The “Foam Tender” which carries 4000 gallons of “Universal Gold” concentrated foam and is part of the regional foam cache, is ready to respond to any major incident. The Cascade Unit, is capable of filling air tanks at fire scenes and also serves as a primary rehab unit for the department. The Haz-Mat Division consists of Rescue 1, Ladder 11, the Decon/Spill Unit and Haz-Mat #2. Haz-Mat #2 is used for specialized haz-mat and confined space incidents in conjunction with Rescue #2.
“Reflecting the tradition, honor and pride of the over 200 year old Newark Fire Department, the Newark Firefighter’s Pipe Band was founded in December 2003”, as their website states. The band is unique in that it is a mix of ethnic groups. The only requirement for membership is that you are an active or retired Newark Firefighter. The band quickly established itself and today performs at many civic, charitable and social functions. However, perhaps the most important aspect of its mission is their participation in the funerals of our fallen and departed members. To quote Don Gilmartin, one of the bands founders, “we want to send our heroes off as they deserve to be sent off”.
The election of Corey Booker as Mayor of Newark in 2006 ushered in a new era for the Newark Fire Department. Former Chief and then Director Lowell Jones was replaced by David Giordano. Director David Giordano was formerly President of the Newark Firemen’s Union and his appointment spelled a new direction for the members of the NFD. A notable early change came as the department returned to using the color red on all new and reconditioned apparatus. While a small step, it was a welcome development to a profession so steeped in tradition. Almost immediately Director Giordano also discontinued the practice of rotationally closing of companies. Although Engines 17 & 21 as well as Ladder 9 were closed permanently, all remaining units were returned to a normal 4 tour operation. He also ordered that summer uniforms, golf style shirts and shorts, be instituted on May 15th 2007.
In July of 2006, Engine #6 along with Deputy 1 was moved back to their old quarters at Springfield Ave. and Hunterdon Street.
In May of 2007, Deputy Chief Michael J. Lalor was promoted to Fire Chief. Chief Lalor had been serving on an interim basis for a year until finally promoted using the Civil Service procedure.
In November 2008 a long standing tradition in the Newark Fire Department came to a close. The retirement of Battalion Chief James Titcomb marked the end of a family lineage stretching back over 100 years. Chief Titcomb’s father, grandfather & great-grandfather were all members of the Newark Fire Department. While many families have given two or three generations, the Titcomb family has given on of the most enduring legacies that has ever served our proud department.
The long history of the Newark Fire Department has been filled with pride, heroism and devotion to duty. These attributes have manifested themselves in many ways both on and off the fireground. This brief overview has barely scratched the surface of the contributions that various members and organizations have made to the betterment of not only the citizen’s of Newark but to society as a whole. Our unions have been at the forefront of Firefighter health and safety as well as gaining and preserving an enhanced standard of living for their members. Our fraternal organizations have made works of charity and benevolence one in the same with our profession.
However, the reputation we have built as a department has not come cheaply, as is the case with most things that are good. Many who have chosen this profession as their life’s work have stared down the face of death and been triumphant, many have not and their names are inscribed on these pages. Those who have made the supreme sacrifice are the true heroes. We are mindful of the words of Lincoln in his address at Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion, and that we are here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”. His words call us to persevere in the face of adversity and to continue to uphold the highest traditions that are The Newark Fire Department”