A Brief History of the Fire Department
IN A NORTH JERSEY VILLAGE OF SOME SIX HUNDRED SOULS, THIRTY MEN held a meeting at the home of Ferdinand Conway. It was Wednesday, October 10, 1894. Their purpose was to form a firefighting corps for Wallington. Wallington itself was as yet only a name, a dell bordered on three sides by the winding Passaic, where the river does a three-sixty loop before coursing south to Newark Bay. The settlement was part of the Township of Bergen and consisted largely of orchards, a resort hotel, and a growing number of private homes. The first order of business at Conway's house was the election of officers. Then the group had to decide whether to organize as a hook-and-ladder or a hose company. HOSE CO 1 was approved. A final order of the day's business was a motion not to hold any meetings in saloons. The motion carried.
The following two months were momentous. First the company's vice president resigned, followed soon by the president. But the company preserved. On the last day of 1894 the members of Hose Co. 1 and other residents voted the Borough of Wallington into existence.
In 1896, on a $600 loan from member Julius Pohl, the first HOSE HOUSE was built. It was completed January 22, 1897, by member Adolph Franz, for carpenters' fees of $85, on land donated by the Passaic Park Company, who were in the process of developing the Wallington Avenue/ Main Avenue section of town. (The Hose House still stands at 90 Union Boulevard.) A sigh of relief was heard from founder Bernard Koster, whose home had been used for monthly meetings the past year and a half.
On March 3 the Hose Co. 1 charter was filed. The members celebrated by purchasing twelve cuspidors. The first alarm system was installed in front of the Hose House on June 6, 1898 -- a railroad tire and clapper. In 1900, the borough purchased two hose carts for $100 to take the place of an older, two-wheeled carriage. The following year a hose tower was added to the house for $94,· but the railroad-tire alarm was insufficient, and a belfry key was borrowed from the neighboring Presbyterian church "to ring their bell in case of necessity." A couple of months later a bell was purchased from Dundee Engine Co. 2 of Passaic at a cost of $lO, plus $.50 for carting, and installed in the hose tower. (Today the bell is in the Firemen Memorial Hall, on Union Boulevard.) By year's end, electric lights were installed in the Hose House.
Four notable events transpired in 1903: the purchase of a used horse drawn fire truck from the Columbia Fire Dept. of Richmond Hills, Queens, for $300; the first complaints of a dirty truck by the foreman, which led to the tradition of wash nights; the excellent service rendered by the men during the Great Flood of October 7; and the institution of "company entertainment for the men, consisting of moving pictures, illustrated songs, etc."
From its beginning, the Hose House was used by many groups -- for instance a savings-and-loan association, the Board of Education, a choral society -- and in February 1905 the borough asked permission to use the house as a meeting room and town jail. On April 10, 1913, a new town hall, including a firehouse, was dedicated on land by then owned by Hose Co. 1. This was at the corner of Maple Avenue and Union Boulevard, site of today's Municipal Building and Police Department. A year later the borough purchased its first motorized fire truck, a 1914 Republic. With the entry of the U.S. in the First World War, many active, former, and future members of the company went off to fight, and in 1918 returned home to a large parade, many turning in their military uniform for that of Hose Co. 1. The next year, the borough purchased land at the comer of Hayward Place and Union Boulevard from member John McMahon and built the current firehouse. The cost was $10,000.
On August 2, 1920, member Michael Gutches procured another bell - one that was more than fifty years old -- from the New York Belting and Packing Company (the old U.S. Rubber Co.) in Passaic; before that the bell had been used by the New York Steam Engine Company at the same site. Among the occasions the bell had commemorated was Armistice Day itself, November 11, 1918, when it rung continuously from the time of signing until late the following day. On October 5, 1942, the bell would be lent to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church,on Paterson Avenue for their steeple. The decade of the twenties ended with the purchase of a new 1928 American LaFrance Ladder & Hose truck, and additions were built onto the firehouse to house the new truck. During the 1930s, the company was a sponsor of the Wallington Fire Department Junior Band. Many band members were sons of firemen, and on coming of age many followed in their fathers' footsteps and joined the company. World War II came, and again many Wallington firefighters enlisted in the armed forces. In 1944, Hose Co. 1 celebrated their golden anniversary with a torchlight parade. About five hundred volunteer firemen and thirty fire trucks were in the line of March. The Firemen Memorial Monument was built by the members and on May 30, 1955 dedicated "To All Deceased Firemen.” It hadn't been easy. First, the company's bell, which was to be the centerpiece of the monument, was in the church's steeple. Second, how to get it down? It took a lot of sweat, but the men managed it, with the help of a few good Wallington friends -- namely, Hose Co. 2, which had been founded in 1913, and Hose Co. 3, founded 1923. Every year since the dedication, the Fire Department has paid tribute to its deceased members with a ceremony at this monument.
The postwar years saw a housing and population boom in Wallington, and the company started a grand project for the borough. Within a few months of receiving their 1956 75-foot Ward LaFrance Aerial & Pumper truck, the company began work on a new hall, adjacent to the firehouse. (The two-story woodframe building that stood behind the firehouse was to be used as the first Wallington Water Works.)
Groundbreaking took place in 1957, and the lion's share of construction work was done by the members themselves. Many of the firemen's friends in the building trades donated their time as well, and Wallington citizens helped out with donations to the building fund. The building was dedicated in the latter part of 1958 as Firemen Memorial Hall.
On September 20, 1969, the company celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary with a parade through the streets of town, topping it off with a picnic at County Park. Thousands took part in the celebration, including John Opthof, an active member of the company since 1913. (He retired in 1974 at 87 years of age, having served sixty-one years, forty-eight of them as company treasurer.) The members were also glad they finally had the chance to shave off their itchy beards, which they had grown as part of a contest for the occasion.
On April7, 1972, seventy-eight years nearly to the day of founding, the company decided it was time to change their name and re-chartered as TRUCK CO. 1. The latter part of the 1970s saw the remodeling of the hall and the lowering of the firehouse floor in 1979 to accommodate the height of the newly purchased, 75-foot American LaFrance Tele-Squrt. The next decade began with the remodeling of\ the hall's bar area and ended with the formation of the l00th Anniversary Committee. Most notable during this time was the Great 1985 Passaic Labor Day Fire, on Eighth Street, which Wallington firemen were very active in fighting. Wallington was the second of more than fifty towns to respond to the blaze, and many of the arriving towns' trucks had to stay in Wallington to fight fires started by embers flying across the river onto Wallington rooftops.
Currently there are thirty members of Truck Co. 1 -- direct descendants, in a way, of the thirty who met at Conway's house a hundred years before. The road to their success has been long, and fraugh with peril, but with perseverance the company has served Wallington through the twentieth century. Still new members will enter the twenty-first century with the same spirit of service that impelled the company's founding fathers.
Perhaps current and new members will celebrate the turn of this century by purchasing twelve cuspidors, and holding a meeting in a saloon.