The Company is rich in history. Many historically prominent residents have been members. The evolution of the fire department has mirrored that of the town and of the fire service. Here’s a look into the long and proud history of the Fire Company.
The beginnings of the Fire Company can be traced back to 1893 when Woodbridge Postmaster and harness shop owner John Thompson proposed a hook and ladder be purchased by the town committee. The idea was considered by the town, but not followed through.
October 28, 1897
Meeting to Form a Fire Company
At a meeting held October 28,1897, James Freeman was elected temporary chairman and he asked the men assembled to signal their intention to form a fire company by answering to a roll call. The following gentlemen answered in turn:
- James V. Freeman, David A. Brown, W.K. Whitaker, James M. McElroy, John H. Leisen, Winfield S. Anness, Charles R. Brown, Oscar Valentine, W.L. Harned, L.M. Campbell, Clarence F. Turner, Terence Flanagan, William Irving, Richard Sattler, Lawrence Moore and Thomas F. Dunnigan.
By request of the men at that meeting the following names were also added:
- E. J. Flanagan, E.W. Christy, J. Ross Valentine, J.E. Miller, C. Levi, Gustav Blum, John Weygands, William Gerity, J.V. Coffee, Frank R. Valentine, H.R. Valentine, George Brown, Thomas Christy, James F. Dunn, F. Bader, H.N. Philipp, J.J. Neary, Robert A. Hirner, and Ferdinand Kath.
The first slate of officers was then elected with James V. Freeman elected Chairman and David A. Brown elected Foreman, a position comparable to our present Chief. Thomas Dunnigan was elected Assistant Foreman and E. J. Flanagan elected Secretary. Winfield S. Anness was elected Financial Secretary and J. H. Leisen was elected Treasurer, although the first treasurer’s book shows that William Harned was actually the first member to do the job from 1897 to 1903 followed by Hampton Cutter.
The new Chairman, James V. Freeman, then appointed several three man committees to get the new organization started. Among them were committees to purchase hose, secure a carriage to carry the hose, draw up a set of By-Laws, find a site for a firehouse and “solicit subscriptions toward a fund for the assistance of the Company”.
Several three man committees were appointed to get the new organization started. Among them were committees to purchase hose, secure a carriage to carry the hose, draw up a set of By-Laws, find a site for a firehouse and “solicit subscriptions toward a fund for the assistance of the Company”. The next meeting was held on November 4, 1897 at which reports were read about hose purchases and the new By-Laws were approved with only one change. The name of the Company was changed from Woodbridge Hook and Ladder Co. # 1 to Woodbridge Fire Co. # 1.
Early meetings were held at “John Weygand Hall”, the location of which is unknown. The Fire Company started out with a hose cart equipped with a hose reel, 400 feet of hose and a dozen buckets. The first orders of hose from N.Y. Belting and Packing at a cost of $490 were paid by the Township, Winfield S. Anness, Treasurer. He also served as Financial Secretary of the Company and collected 25¢ per month dues from each member and fines of 25¢ for each meeting missed and each fire not attended. Order and decorum at meetings were assured by a fine of 10¢ for use of profane or indecent language.
Start of the Firehouse
Locating a site for the new firehouse was a matter of great importance. Donations for the purchase of a site totaled $380 and a lot on the corner of School Street and Brook Street was purchased from E. W. Valentine for $350 in November of 1899. It wasn’t until January of 1901 that plans and specifications were received from Gorham Boynton. For this service he was paid $72.50. In April of 1901 J. H. Coddington was contracted to build the new firehouse and on May 16, 1901 five $1,000 bonds were sold and a mortgage delivered to William Edgar, who was also a trustee of the Fire
Company. The original firehouse had a hose drying tower, necessary because the hose was made of tightly knit canvas that had to be hung to be thoroughly dry. The first alarm bell was a steel locomotive wheel tire.
On October 29, 1901 the first meeting was held in the new firehouse and the building was sold to the Board of Fire Commissioners for $1,950 subject to the $5,000 mortgage held by Mr. Edgar. On November 21, 1901, a committee was appointed to furnish the new building for $100.
Before the first firehouse was built, the Fire Company rented a garage to house equipment on Green Street near the railroad line. Two teams of horses to pull this first piece of apparatus were supplied by Carpenter’s Livery Stable located on the northwest corner of Pearl and James Streets. The first team of horses, “Tom” and “Harry” were said to paw wildly in their stalls when the alarm sounded, until released from the stable. They would race up School St to the firehouse and back up to the fire wagon ready to be harnessed and go. “Buddie and “Buster” followed, working until 1922 when in an ironic twist of fate they were killed in a fire that destroyed the stable. After the horses died, the
fire wagon was pulled by hand or teams of horses were commandeered as needed. A year later, funds were raised for a hook and ladder that could be drawn by horsepower or manpower. This remained in service until 1924 and was the pride of the community.
Paid Department Begins
The first motorized apparatus was purchased for $2,750 in 1915, a 750 gallon-per- minute American LaFrance pumper that had an inline six cylinder gasoline engine with 2 spark plugs per cylinder for reliability and solid rubber tires. It was considered state of the art. In 1925 a second pumper joined the fleet, and in 1941 another pumper was added. In 1943 the department purchased its first aerial truck, an American LaFrance,
with a 75 foot mid-ship mounted ladder. This was only the third aerial truck in Middlesex County after the cities of New Brunswick and Perth Amboy. Several people called it a waste of money and some called it a “painters wagon” but at one of the country’s worst rail disasters in history, the train wreck on Fulton Street in 1951, it proved invaluable to rescuers and the criticism was never again heard. Since that time, the departments engines have been replaced several times as needed, always with the most modern equipment available. The 1943 ladder was replaced in 1971 with a 100’ rear mount American La France which remained in service until 1994. The current ladder is slated to be replaced next year by a state of the art tower ladder to meet the growing needs of the town.
50th Anniverary Celebration
In 1947 a large celebration was held in the township sponsored by the Fire Company to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Edward Sattler was general chairman, Mayor Greiner reception committee head, James Catano refreshment chair, Elmer Vecsey chair of publicity, Fred Zehrer chair of prizes and awards, John Prekop chair of entertainment.
A parade was held that took two hours and 10 minutes to pass the reviewing stand, consisting of 3,600 marchers from 45 fire companies, 10 ladies auxiliaries, 4 bands and 11 drum corps. About 30,000 people witnessed the parade.
After the parade, the marchers were served refreshments in Woodbridge Park and the Legion room at the municipal building.
A block dance on School St. in front of the firehouse concluded the festivities at night.
In 1952 the department recognized the need for improved communications between the apparatus and headquarters and a Motorola radio system was installed along with five alarm units placed in the homes of various volunteers.
Eventually each firefighter was equipped with a home alarm receiver. These units gradually gave way to pagers that provide voice alerts that give the location of alarms.
Now a combination of pagers and cell phone apps are used for alerting. Up until the late 1980’s a horn located on the roof of the firehouse that could be heard across town would sound a code giving the location of alarms.
The first self contained breathing apparatus was purchased in 1965. At the time there were only 3, with no spare cylinders, today all firefighters have one available to use under hazardous conditions.
1960 to Present
New Firehouse, Administrative and Fire Prevention Offices
In the late 1960’s the old firehouse was showing signs of age and was no longer large
enough to serve the needs of the department. It was agreed that the site on School Street
was the best location so the original building was demolished and the new firehouse built on the same site.
From October of 1967 until December 21, 1969 the department operated out of the Township Garage on upper Main Street that was located across from the Main
St. entrance to Route 9 South at the present site of Crosspointe Shopping center.
The new firehouse cost $386,263. The dedication was held on May 18, 1969.
In 2019, after renting space, the department purchased 109 Green St to house its administrative and fire prevention offices and free space at headquarters. Future plans include construction of a garage on the property to house spare apparatus and equipment and modern classroom training facilities. The Company celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1972, its 100th in 1997 with a parade and picnic in Warren Park and 125th in 2022 with a banquet on Oct 28th and
a picnic in Alvin Williams Park in the spring of 2023.
Over the years the Fire Company has responded to some memorable incidents, 1935 the explosion of a Shell Oil truck at the Green St crossing when it was struck by a Pennsylvania Railroad train, the Methodist Church fire in 1954 (the original stained glass windows from 1870 were saved and remain today), the Valentine Brick Factory fire of 1956, the D’Agostino Industrial Park fire in 1984, the A&P/Woolworth’s fire of 1993 and perhaps the most memorable, the Shell tank fire of 1996. Since 1897 we’ve been assisting the public, whenever the need arises.
Together with our career brothers and sisters, we continue to serve as part of the Woodbridge Fire Department, always here when needed.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, learn about our different opportunities in our join section.