A History of Relief Hose Company No. 2 (Last updated 10/25/2019)

 

(Note:  This history is a work in progress.  Additional material is added from time to time as 173 years of records are reviewed.)

 

The fire service in Raritan had its origins in the late 1840s when this "boom town's" only fire protection was the bucket brigade.  It was only after a major fire loss that the citizens of the town realized that they were at risk and that a better means of protection for their property was required.

 

One night during the summer of 1847, a fire was discovered on the northwest corner of Somerset and Wall Streets, in the center of town. The alarm was sounded, and the bucket brigade promptly went to work, laboring all night to douse the flames.  But the inferno was a formidable enemy, and by daylight, it was evident that it had consumed two houses and a store. The townsfolk who looked over the steaming rubble decided that it was time for a change, and a town meeting was promptly called.

An example of an early 19th-century gooseneck hand pumper

 

The citizens planned a three-step approach to ensuring their fire safety. First, they approved funds to purchase a "gooseneck" pumper which had been in service in Jersey City and was considered to be a fine machine.  Second, they devised a ready water supply which consisted of four wells located in various areas of town. One was under Wall Street, opposite the old Public School. Another was under Somerset Street at its intersection with Thompson Street, and a third was under Somerset Street at its intersection with Wall Street.  Third, they organized a fire company which they named "Lafayette No. 1". Their intention was to keep interested and enthusiastic alive by making the fire company a center of social activities such as dances, picnics, and parties.

 

The Reverend John Davis, who had been active in the fire service in Paterson, New Jersey, was elected the first Foreman.  The Company grew in membership and was lively and energetic. At the time, it was the only regularly organized fire department in Somerset County.  Shopkeepers and residents alike finally felt secure. (Although records do not exist to confirm, it is believed that the Company obtained a "hose jumper" of 1847 vintage.  This two-wheeled, hand-drawn hose cart continues in the possession of Relief Hose Company No. 2.)

1847 Hose Jumper

 

The first firehouse of Lafayette No. 1 was a small barn located on the east side of Wall Street, a few doors south of Somerset Street, on the site of the former Methodist Church (later the site of Orlando’s Restaurant).  When the Company outgrew its headquarters, it moved up the street to a building near the Public School (the current location of the Borough municipal building). (This building that served as the firehouse was later moved to Second Avenue and renovated into a dwelling.)

The second firehouse, located next to the public school (the current site of Borough Hall).

After a number of years of service, Lafayette No. 1 fell into a state of decay and lost its original vigor and effectiveness.  The old citizens who made up its membership had grown to enjoy the prestige which came with the title of "fireman", but they lost sight of their responsibilities.  They seldom met or practiced anymore, and the gooseneck fire engine was in a state of disrepair. It received so little attention that, at one fire, the engine was completely out of service.

 

Fortunately, a few young men decided that this situation could not continue since it threatened the lives and property of the people of Raritan.  So, they called a town meeting to discuss the matter. At the appointed time they were present to begin the meeting, but the old members had not arrived.  It seems that it was their custom to be late.  

 

In the absence of the old members, the young men gained entrance to the engine house, locked the doors, and conducted the meeting. The business was transacted with a rush, and the meeting was over when the old members finally arrived.  To their surprise and dismay, they discovered that the young men had disbanded Lafayette No. 1, organized Washington No. 1, elected a new foreman and officers, and passed resolutions asking for the support of the citizens. The old members of the disbanded Company were furious, claiming that the meeting had been illegal and that Lafayette No. 1 was still the fire department.  However, after a few days of the conflict, the young men were left in quiet possession of their new organization and Lafayette No. 1 faded into history.

 

The membership of Washington No. 1 grew quickly. They met regularly, drilled frequently, and kept their engine in good repair. The citizens of the town were very pleased with their performance. This group of "fire laddies", as they were called, was a patriotic one, as is evident by the name they chose.

 

It is believed that around 1862, the gooseneck pumper was retired and placed in storage in the Kenyon & Son Foundry building, located on Mill Street (now Orlando Drive) at the foot of Loomis Street. A state-of-the-art hand pumper was purchased from the City of Newark and put into service.

 

On September 7, 1870, the fire department was reorganized and re-named "Relief Hose Company". (The announcement was printed in the Somerset Unionist newspaper on September 15, 1870.)  The officers were recorded as follows:

 

Foreman.........Job C.                             Kenyon Secretary... Winifred Freck

1st Asst. Fmn...John E.                          Leight Treasurer....John S. Haynes

2nd Asst. Fmn...John Kerwin

 

Job C. Kenyon was elected the first Foreman of the Company and served in that position until 1888. In 1888 he was elected the first Fire Chief, a position that he held until 1891.

Job C. Kenyon (1888 portrait)

 
 

The charter members (according to the rolls of 1882) were:

 

Job C. Kenyon               Eugene Dilts

James Grogan               Michael Corcoran

Daniel Smith                  Henry Becker

William H. Cawley         John McWilliams

Henry C. Adair              Thomas Enright

Edward Dahoney           John Purcell

John T. Conklin              James C. Wyckoff

Richard Hickey              Charles Mehlenbeck

John Burns                      Holcomb Dilts

 

Although records no longer exist to provide details, it appears that a hose wagon of 1874 vintage was purchased. The wagon was built by the Leverich Fire Apparatus Works, 119 & 121 Walker Street, New York, New York. This apparatus was in service for many years and was even returned to service during World War II to protect homes in the "Bound Brook Heights" area of Bridgewater Township. The wagon continues in the possession of the Company, awaiting restoration.

1874 Leverich Hose Wagon

The excitement of a new apparatus that year must have been overshadowed by the only line of duty death in the Raritan Fire Department's history.   On July 21, 1874, the Department was summoned to an alarm of fire at the Ruckle & Tunison building in Somerville. In the rush of responding, Fireman Stephen C. Conklin fell to the ground and was run over and crushed by the wheels of the apparatus.  He later died of his injuries in the line of duty. It was a sad day for the fire boys of Raritan.

Stephen C. Conklin

In 1883, the "waterworks" was completed.  Water mains were laid, and a pump house put into service to supply water through the town.  With the advent of fire hydrants, the hand pumper was retired and a new apparatus, suitable for use with hydrants, was obtained.  The model and type of apparatus are not known.

 

It is believed that, upon the retirement of the hand pumper in 1883, Relief Hose Company was reorganized and renamed Relief Hose Company No.  2. The foreman, Job. C. Kenyon was elected the first Fire Chief.

 

On August 2, 1891, the foreman appointed the first Fire Patrol. This group of firemen was given the task of acting as fire police at all fires.

 

United States Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen was a member of the Company from 1883 to 1893.

 
 

In 1883, the "waterworks" was completed.  Water mains were laid, and a pump house put into service to supply water through the town.  With the advent of fire hydrants, the hand pumper was retired and a new apparatus, suitable for use with hydrants, was obtained.  The model and type of apparatus are not known.

 

It is believed that, upon the retirement of the hand pumper in 1883, Relief Hose Company was reorganized and renamed Relief Hose Company No.  2. The foreman, Job. C. Kenyon was elected the first Fire Chief.

 

On August 2, 1891, the foreman appointed the first Fire Patrol. This group of firemen was given the task of acting as fire police at all fires.

 

United States Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen was a member of the Company from 1883 to 1893.

U.S. Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen

The fire department had long needed a permanent headquarters. And as the nineteenth century was drawing to a close, the citizens felt a need for a town hall. The two needs were joined and, during 1892, Raritan purchased a lot on Anderson Street from Mrs. A.H. Brokaw for $475.00.  Mr. J. VanDerbeck, an architect, was promptly hired to design the proposed engine house, which was also to accommodate the municipal government. On October 4, 1893, the Raritan Board of Commissioners passed a bond ordinance for $4,000.00 and construction was begun at once by the contractor, A.R. Dilts, Hickey, & Brady.

 

On January 31, 1893, it was reported that First Assistant Foreman James Gallagher had died.  The Company presented his trumpet to the family. 

 

On February 2, 1893, it was proposed to hold a ball on or about Easter Monday.

 

On June 1, 1893, it was decided to make all Exempt members honorary members of the Company.

 

On February 1, 1894, the Company asked the Board of Commissioners to purchase rubber gloves for the men who “hold the pipe” (nozzle).

 

On April 8, 1894, a committee was appointed "to make all necessary arrangements in regard to making the new hall ready for the Firemen to occupy”. The last meeting was held in the old firehouse on May 3, 1894.   The men of Relief Hose Company No. 2 assembled at the old firehouse near the Public School for the last time at 6 PM on May 10, 1894. Dressed in fatigue uniforms and accompanied by the Crescent Cornet Band, they departed from their old quarters and marched ceremoniously through the streets of Raritan to the new firehouse on Anderson Street.  It is recorded that the Company's equipment at that time consisted of "a hose carriage, jumper, and 2,000 feet of hose in good condition". The firemen also carried with them their banner, purchased in 1890, on which was displayed the Company's motto: "Where duty calls, there you will find us". The banner hung in the new engine house for many, many years, and served as an inspiration to generations of members.

Engine House at 16 Anderson Street.

The new quarters of Relief Hose Company No. 2 were something of which the firemen were proud.  The first floor consisted of a carriage house with a wood floor, and an adjoining public meeting room complete with a fireplace.   A tower for drying hose was adjacent to the apparatus floor. Full 50-foot lengths of hose could be hung to dry by use of a rope and pulley.  The second floor contained the Company's meeting room and a reading room, the latter of which was decorated by the parade and competition trophies as well as cherished gifts from other fire companies.  Friendships with other departments were of great value to the firemen in those days.

 

The first meeting in the new Engine House on June 7, 1894, was an eventful one.  The Company paid $400 for the furnishings for the rooms, were told by their foreman not to permit non-members to use the rooms as a lounging place, decided to give keys to the exempt members, and accepted the resignation of their chief. 

 

On July 6, 1894, the Company decided to drop from the rolls all members in arrears on their dues who did not pay up after being notified.

 

On June 6, 1895, it was decided that any member who failed to attend at least fifty percent of the meetings in any year or who were in arrears three months or more would be dropped from the roll.

 

On January 2, 1896, the Secretary was ordered to "notify all members who reside outside the corporation to tender their resignations as active members". This came immediately after the adoption of a revised set of by-laws and the rejection of seven consecutive applicants for membership.  A motion to suspend the by-laws was lost, just two votes shy of a majority. It appears that the Company was split. At the following meeting, a motion to suspend the by-laws in regard to the election of members was not entertained by the Fore¬man. On appeal, the chair was sustained 13 to 4.  "As there was some talk that a conspiracy existed to blackball members", a committee to investigate was appointed. At the March meeting, the committee reported that it could find no proof that a conspiracy existed. Also, some correspondence is referenced between the Board of Commissioners and the Company.  It was decided to see a lawyer regarding what powers the Board of Commissioners had over the Fire Department.  

 

On March 5, 1896, Ex-Chief Job C. Kenyon presented a portrait of Harry Howard, a deceased volunteer fire chief of New York City.

 

On July 2, 1896, after the annual election of officers was completed, one of the members complained that all of the offices were filled and there was no chance for him. The Company decided to create the office of Company Steward and Thomas Enright was elected to serve.

 

February 3, 1898, at 9:45 P.M. Fire at the residence on Duke Farm.  James B. Duke later sent a check for $50 with thanks for promptly answering the alarm and extinguishing the fire.

 

May 20, 1898 Fire in the evening, an outbuilding on the Duke Farm was burned to the ground before the Company arrived.

 

June 7, 1898, James Grogan's house was set afire by railroad cars.   No alarm was given, but several members were there and saved the building.   On the way to this fire, Second Assistant Foreman John F. Brady fell and was badly injured.  It appears that he never fully recovered, and he resigned from the Company in November 1899.

 

Records indicate that Relief Hose Company No. 2 was very active in parades, competitions, and other social events held by nearby fire departments around the turn of the century.  (Ever concerned about making a good appearance, the Company purchased dove colored uniforms on March 6, 1899. The bottoms of the specially tailored coats were even 18 inches above the ground.)  These were usually fun occasions that brought the firemen together with their colleagues and fostered a sense of belonging. Friendly contests helped to keep teamwork skills sharp. But on October 10, 1899, a happy event turned tragic.  On that date, the Company participated in a parade in the City of Plainfield. An accident during the return trip cost waterboy James Conboy, the son of a fireman, the loss of an arm.

 

January 3, 1900, at 8:50 PM Fire at the Raritan Woolen Mills.

 

May 15, 1900, Augustus J. Chamberlain and Albert H. Coyne were severely burned by oil while fighting a fire at 8:00 P.M. at the James C. Wyckoff Oil House on Thompson Street.

Augustus J. Chamberlain

During September 1904, the Company took delivery of a Holloway Combination Chemical Engine and Hose Wagon. The engine, which cost $1,790.00, was equipped with a 30-gallon chemical tank and 200 feet of booster hose. The hose bed had a capacity of 800 feet of 2-1/2-inch hose.

1904 Holloway Combination Chemical Engine & Hose Wagon

 

On October 20, 1904, the Company held its very first Firemen's Parade.  The cost of the parade was raised through a fair which continued all week long. Interest and participation by the citizens of Raritan were very high.  Banners and flags were on display all over town, and an elaborate arch was constructed over Somerset Street near Doughty Street. The many participating units passing under the arch were viewed by crowds of onlookers, and many firemen agreed that it was one of the best parades they had ever attended. They were unanimous in their praise of Raritan's hospitality.

Arch over Somerset Street at Doughty Street.

Photos dated October 20, 1904, indicate that a Juvenile Hook & Ladder Company was in existence at the time. The members are pictured in uniform along with their apparatus.  No other records exist to provide further details.

 

It appears that the first Assistant Chief was elected in 1905 (Augustus J. Chamberlain served as Assistant Chief under Chief John Slattery).  Prior to 1905, records show that the officers were Chief, Foreman, and First and Second Assistant Foreman.

 

March 23, 1911, Upright piano #66508 purchased from Hardman, Peck & Co., New York, NY, through William Oberbrunner Co., Somerville, NJ.

 

Nov.  28, 1918, patriotic celebration and parade in honor of Christopher Columbus to start at St. Rocco Society Hall on Anderson Street at 1:30 PM; RFD invited.

The Engine House decorated for the Columbus celebration in 1918.

Nov. 28, 1918 Death of member Peter Leibig in military service reported to the Co. at a special meeting in "the rooms" above the "engine house" (Thanksgiving Day).

 

April 3, 1919, Mrs. Job C. Kenyon donated a portrait of her husband to the Co.  March 4, 1920 executors of Kenyon's will donate several articles in his possession at the time of death.

 

July 10, 1919, Peter Leibig's cap and belt placed in a display case in memoriam.

 

Mr. Robert Kitchen, an employee of the Kenyon & Son Foundry, was cleaning up some debris in the loft of the Foundry during the summer of 1920. In the process, he discovered some wooden parts which were the remains of Raritan's first fire apparatus, the original gooseneck pumper which was in service from 1847 through 1862. He salvaged the walnut front panel and presented it to the members of Relief Hose Company No. 2.  In addition, from another piece of the remains, he fashioned a walnut gavel which he presented. Notes of the Company meeting held on September 2, 1920, record the event as follows: "A gavel was presented to the Company, made from the old hand engine used by the Relief Hose Company. A motion was offered that the gavel be accepted, and a card of thanks be sent to Mr. Robert Kitchen. Carried. An amendment was made appointing to Edward L. Purcell, a committee of one to get the history of the gavel and placed on the minutes and County newspaper.  Carried”. The gavel continues to be used by the President at all meetings of the Company. The front panel, which was refinished and lettered by Fireman Michael Enright, hangs above the fireplace in the firehouse on Anderson Street. Upon receiving these valued memorabilia, Fireman Edward L. Purcell drafted a brief history of the items, which continues to hang on the firehouse wall.

 

On December 19, 1920, the Company prepared for the arrival of Peter Leibig's body. A resolution was drafted asking that all schools, public buildings, and businesses fly their flags at half-mast for the day of the funeral. A letter dated January 4, 1921, from Mrs. Mary Leibig, thanks to the Company for the tribute it paid to the deceased member.

 

During the regular Company meeting on March 3, 1921, a decision was made to "have a ball on Easter Monday night".  The purpose of the dance was to raise funds for the purchase of a "Victrola". The cost of the record player was not to exceed $200. The Easter Monday Night Dance became an annual fundraiser and was held continuously from 1921 through 1956.  (In 1957, the Company decided to suspend this activity because construction of its new firehouse was occupying a lot of their time, and the dance also would have conflicted with the building fund drive. The Easter Monday Night Dance has not been held since.) 

 

On June 2, 1921, the Company voted to have markers made and placed on the graves of all firemen. A committee was appointed to see Mr. Kenyon about having them made.

 

On June 25, 1921, a pedestal and tablet were unveiled and dedicated at the New Jersey Firemen's Home in Boonton, to perpetuate the names of firemen who had lost their lives in the service of their country during World War I. The officers of Relief Hose Company No. 2 escorted the mother of Peter Leibig to the Home and represented t​​​

In October 1922, the Company purchased a "radiophone" and had it installed in the firehouse.

 

The minutes indicate that "the old apparatus" was stored in Hickey's barn in September 1923.

 

On November 5, 1923, there was a fire in the cellar of the engine house.

 

On January 3, 1924, a resolution creating the additional offices of President and Vice President was unanimously approved as an amendment to the By-Laws.  (Formerly, the officers were Chief, Assistant Chief, Foreman, First Assistant Foreman, Second Assistant Foreman, Secretary, Treasurer, and Steward.) The Foreman presided and "occupied the chair" at all Company meetings.  During the same meeting, P. Finley Wyckoff was elected the first president and Lawrence Hickey the first vice president.

 

On November 17, 1924, an oil stove exploded in the old River View Hotel.

On April 2, 1925, Joseph Kovalick's barn was destroyed by fire on the corner of Codington and LaGrange Streets.

 

On January 5, 1928, Foreman Cyrenus Slack appointed a committee "to look after the cane formerly belonging to Job C. Kenyon". On May 3, 1928, it was reported that "Mr. Elisi has the cane". On July 5, 1928, it was reported that "Mr. Amerman has the cane". On October 4, 1928, the cane was "turned over to the Company". On the same date, Foreman Slack appointed Chief Young "to take charge of the cane received from the late Mr. J.C. Kenyon”. On June 1, 1933, a committee of the officers was appointed "to look up the cane which is the property of the fire company."  At a special meeting on June 15, 1933, the committee reported that the cane had been turned over to the secretary after the last regular meeting. At the July 6, 1933 meeting, it was "moved and carried that the cane be put in the cabinet in the front room and a lock put on the same. Minutes of the August 3, 1933 meeting indicate that it was done.

 

On July 30, 1930, the Board of Commissioners asked to borrow $800 from the Company at 5% interest to pay off the new fire truck.

 

The 1904 Holloway Chemical Engine and Hose Wagon had been in use for over 25 years when, in 1931, the Company decided that it was time to modernize. The wagon was mounted on a GMC truck and became a motorized apparatus which continued in service until 1965.  At the time of its retirement, the Holloway had given 61 years of fire protection to Raritan.

 
 
 

The Holloway Engine on a GMC chassis.

A resolution adopted by the Raritan Board of Commissioners on June 5, 1933, instructed Relief Hose Company No. 2 to provide fire protection to the Township of Bridgewater, within 1,000 feet of the corporate limits of the Town of Raritan.  In exchange, the Township of Bridgewater installed and maintained fire hydrants on West End Avenue and on Old York Road.

 

On April 10, 1934, the Raritan First Aid Squad was organized under Relief Hose Company No. 2.  The charter members were:

 

Ralph S. Young                Edward Petras

James J. Kelly                   Alfred Petras

Francis Burns                   Arthur Amey

James J. Scully                 William Haley

Guido Mezzanotte          Michael Galaida

Joseph J. Liptak               Daniel F. Haley

Martin Kelly, Jr.

 

In its early days the Squad used the converted hose bed for emergencies. In 1936, because the Squad had difficulty in keeping a sufficient roster of members from within the Fire Department, there was an attempt to recruit members from outside the Department. The Squad was then reorganized as a separate entity which soon acquired its first ambulance. This organization continued to serve the Borough of Raritan independently for many years.

 

A resolution was adopted in February 1937, which changed the provision of the by-law that the term of the Fire Chief was three years. Effective July 1, 1937, the resolution provided that the term of Fire Chief would be two years. 

 

During the year ending June 30, 1937, Chief Michael Daniels died while in office.

 

On May 21, 1938, the Company participated in the 250th Anniversary Celebration of Somerset County, including a parade in Somerville and a town meeting in the Armory on Grove Street in Somerville. The Honorable Joseph S. Frelinghuysen of Far Hills marched with the Company.

 

Meeting notes from the Summer and Fall of 1938 indicate that the Company was investigating the purchase of an insurance policy, for the first time, to cover the members at fires and drills. 

 

On November 3, 1938, it was reported that the old fire whistle had been sold to the Calco Chemical Company for $50.

 

On February 23, 1939, at 2:00 AM, the Company responded to a major fire on the Forto pig farm on Old York Road.  The huge barn, in which pigs were slaughtered and hung for dressing, was afire. Considerable damage was reported, and the Company pumped water from the canal for four hours.

On March 6, 1941, the line officers decided that no new members would be accepted for a while since men who would be eligible for membership were also eligible for the draft. They reasoned that, if new members were drafted, they would be of no help to the Company.

Honor Roll of members who served in the military during World War II

During February 1942, the Raritan Fire Reserve was established. Its purpose was apparently to supplement the firefighting capability of the Rari¬tan Fire Department during World War II.  Notes dated June 25, 1942, indicate that the following were officers: Ercole Sena, Chief; Patrick Carlino, As-assistant Chief; Dominic Cirello, Captain; Joseph Krachun, Secretary and Treasurer.

 

A resolution was adopted by the Board of Commissioners of the Town of Raritan on March 16, 1942. The resolution provided for the loan of the Lever¬ich Hose Carriage to protect the Mountain View section of Bridgewater Township during the war.  At the request of Mr. James J. Cunningham, the carriage was loaned along with 2 brass nozzles, 1 shut-off nozzle, 400' of 2-1/2-inch hose, and 30' of rope. It is believed that Mr. Cunningham, who was then a resident of Bridgewater Township, is the same person who had previously been a member of Relief Hose Company No. 2.

 

The Raritan Board of Commissioners asked the Company on April 25, 1942, to "guard the fire trucks" during nighttime hours because of the war and the fear of sabotage. 

 

A formal recommendation was made by the Board of Engineers of the Town of Raritan, consisting of Fire Chief Arthur D. Amey and Assistant Fire Chief Joseph J. Liptak, on July 11, 1946.  The recommendation contained five points: 1) that the Company membership be brought up to quota, which was 50; 2) that the Secretary drop from the rolls all delinquent members; 3) that the custom of "five black balls" for electing members to be changed to majority rule; 4) that a copy of the Town Fire Ordinance be posted in the firehouse; 5) that past rejected applicants for membership be given a second chance under the new "majority rules" system.

 

On January 9, 1947, at 10:15 PM, a spectacular fire occurred at the Kroma Chemical Company, which occupied a building that had been part of the old Raritan Woolen Mill complex.  The building was located west of the current intersection of Orlando Drive and Busky Lane. The fire was visible for miles and was punctuated by drums of chemicals rocketing some 150 feet in the air.

 
 
 

1947 American LaFrance 750 gpm Pumper

On September 4, 1947, the Company agreed to sponsor a team in the Rari¬tan Bowling League.  The League's games were held in the bowling alleys in the basement of Saint Joseph's School.

 

The minutes of the November 6, 1947 meeting indicate some concern that the Board of Commissioners planned to use the Company meeting room for its public meetings.

 

The Ladies Auxiliary of Relief Hose Company No. 2 was organized on November 25, 1947.  On that night Chief Joseph Liptak welcomed the ladies, all wives of firemen, and offered the use of the firehouse meeting room for their use.  Later, on November 15, 1949, the Auxiliary was incorporated. The charter members of the organization were:

 

Arian Becker                        Catherine Diesbusky

Anna Krachun                      Rose Perantoni

Betty Bencer                       Eleanor Esposito

Angela LaMonica                Anna Ruzbarsky

Gertrude Burns                   Hazel Esposito

Stella Liptak                          Stella Ruzbarsky

Theresa Condo                    Angela Gara

Rose Mezzanotte                Katie Slack

Christine DeLorenzo          Mae L. Hughes

Cleo Miele

First Officers of the Ladies Auxiliary

Jan. 20, 1948 Fire at Somerville Plumbing Supply - mutual aid to Somerville.

 

An alarm of fire was sounded at 3:30 AM on January 30, 1948, for the popular Checker Diner & Tropical Hut Bar, located on the Bridgewater Township side of the Traffic Circle. Snow, ice, and a temperature of 4 degrees made firefighting extremely difficult. The business was destroyed. 

 

On March 4, 1948, the Board of Commissioners asked permission to use the Company meeting room for their public meetings.  The old Commissioners' meeting room on the first floor, to the rear of the truck bay, was being remodeled to enlarge the truck bay in order to accommodate the new engine which was soon to arrive.  The Company approved the request. At the same Company meeting, the Company voted to support the "Borough Bill" which would authorize the Town to become a Borough.

 

On June 6, 1948, the Company took part in the unveiling of the statue of Sergeant John Basilone.

 

At the Company meeting held on August 5, 1948, the song "Dear Old Pals" was adopted as the Company's song.

 

Mrs.  Ralph Young presented a nozzle to the Company in honor of her late husband on October 7, 1948.

 

The town of Raritan became the Borough of Raritan in 1948. The change in the local government was marked by growth and a renewed enthusiasm for progress following the conclusion of World War II.  As the services and offices of the Borough grew, so also did the space that it occupied in the combination engine house and municipal building. Over time, the Fire Department lost the freedom of use that it had enjoyed in its headquarters, and the Borough government found it necessary to grow in order to keep pace with the needs of the citizens.

 

The years following the conclusion of World War II were marked by in¬creased enthusiasm, a sense of the need to grow, rejuvenation, and a good measure of controversy.  Although at first uncooperative, in 1949 the Borough Council finally shared the cost of redecorating "the rooms” while the Company also modernized the kitchen. An ambitious calendar of events was unanimously approved:

 

Fundraising Activities:

Easter Monday Night Dance

St. Rocco Celebration concession

Turkey Raffle (with Auxiliary)

Carnival or Circus

Sell Firemen's Seals during Fire Prevention Week

Social Activities

Valentine Party (every other year vs. chief's dinner)

Chief's Dinner (every other year)

Refreshments after every fire drill

Annual Picnic

Halloween Social (every other year)

Christmas Party for Children (with Auxiliary)

 

A special bank account known as the building fund was established.  The first softball team was sponsored. An RCA television set was purchased, but not without disagreement over which set to buy.  There was a lot more discussion about the enforcement of by-laws, whereas before the war there was more enforcement. There was talk of fines and disciplinary measures to be taken against those who failed to show up at fires, perform their truck cleanup duties on the leadership committee, or participate in fundraisers and social activities.  And it appears that there was a good deal of friction between the old-timers and the rookies, as well as among the rookies themselves. Even the Auxiliary was included in controversies: a special meeting called for the purpose of passing a motion to give the Auxiliary "exclusive" use of the rooms on their meeting nights was defeated, despite lengthy discussion. And another bone of contention was the election of new members. "Again, a discussion arose as to just how candidates should be elected to the Company'' on July 7, 1949. There was no agreement in sight, so the officers were given the task of developing an answer. Later, members objected that the chairman always picked the same people to serve on committees.

 

During January 1950, the Company solicited other nearby fire companies to determine whether there was interest in starting a Firemen's Softball League. The idea took hold, and in May it was announced that there would be four teams in the league: Bound Brook (entering two teams), Manville and Raritan. The league was underway.  Raritan ended the season in a tie for third place, and a social for all of the teams were hosted by the Company. Later, in 1955, the league had greatly expanded, and the Raritan team won the championship for the first time.

 

By mid-1951, the Company had to check with the Borough Clerk before scheduling events in the rooms so as not to conflict with Borough government events.  They even asked the Mayor and Council if it was okay to display their trophies in their meeting room.

 

On August 6, 1953, the Company approved a recommendation from the line officers that 1) all new members serve a probationary term (1 year) and 2) the term of the Fire Chief be changed in the Borough Ordinance.  It had been July 1 through June 30 and was changed to January 1 through December 31, with nominations in November. The recommendation was sent to the Borough Council. On September 3, 1953, an amendment required that candidates for line officers have 5 years of service at 60%.

During a November 1953 drill, a Scott Air Pack was demonstrated to the Company for the first time.

 

The Raritan Borough Council told the Company on March 3, 1955, that it was thinking of building a firehouse on the north side of the railroad. The Borough did not have funds, but it felt that perhaps an arrangement could be worked out with the Company. At the following meeting on April 7, 1955, a building committee was appointed.  

 

For many years, new members were initiated into the company in what became a raucous celebration. During 1955, a new member required surgery for injuries sustained during initiation. The Company promptly voted to prohibit rough "horseplay" during initiations. The Borough Council was outraged over the incident, and on September 19, 1955, passed a resolution condemning the behavior and demanding that it be discontinued.

1956 American LaFrance 750 gpm Pumper

On July 5, 1956, the Company decided to sponsor a team in the firemen's bowling league for the first time.

 

The members of Relief Hose Company No. 2 realized that it was time for them to construct their own firehouse.  The idea took hold, and on October 3, 1956, the Borough of Raritan acquired a piece of land on North Thompson Street from the Townview Manor Developers.  The property was formerly a part of the estate of the late Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen. The Borough, in turn, donated the land to Relief Hose Company No. 2. The deed was presented to Fire Chief Nicholas Esposito (who was building chairman) by Benjamin Shalit, representing Daniel Realty Company of Newark, N.J.  An enthusiastic fund drive was immediately undertaken. On November 24, 1956, construction of the new fire¬house began, but the Borough was not able to contribute any funds. The construction was a truly cooperative effort: all members of the Company participated in construction; many local tradesmen donated their services; the project was financed by contributions from the citizens of Raritan as well as local businesses and industry.

 

By May 1957, the four exterior walls had been erected. By mid-summer, the roof trusses had been set and the utility lines laid. By September, the front brick veneer had been laid and the exterior wall's stucco and money was running out.

 

On September 11, 1957, a fire destroyed the historic Frelinghuysen mansion. Located on Route 28 just west of the Traffic Circle, the house was being demolished when the suspicious fire occurred.  This had been the home of U.S. Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen, a member of Relief Hose Co. #2 from 1883 to 1893. The site is notable since President Warren G. Harding signed the armistice ending World War II in the Frelinghuysen mansion. He had been golfing with Senator Frelinghuysen at the Raritan Valley Country Club, across the street, when the armistice arrived for his signature.

 

On September 19, 1957, the Company decided to take a 5-year mortgage of $8,000 from the Raritan Firemen's Relief Association. By October, the concrete floor had been poured and on November 1, 1957, one pumper (which had been housed in a privately-owned garage north of the railroad tracks for some time) began to call the new firehouse "home". In October 1957, the Company distributed coin cards ($4.00/each) throughout the Borough. The Borough Council decided, in February 1958, to pay $100 per month to the Company for housing fire apparatus in the new firehouse. The finishing of the interior of the new firehouse continued through the summer of 1958 and on through most of 1959.

 

On August 7, 1958, the Company held its last meeting in the old engine house on Anderson Street.  (It was a long one, ending at midnight since the new by-laws were being proposed. On September 4, 1958, the first meeting was held in the new firehouse.  (The most significant order of business was that the new by-laws were adopted.)

 

On December 4, 1958, in accordance with the newly adopted by-laws, a president and vice president were elected to administer the new firehouse. The new officers took their offices effective January 1, 1959.

 

On June 4, 1959, the Chief reported that two-way radios were installed in two pumpers.

 

The new headquarters of Relief Hose Company No. 2 was dedicated on October 10, 1959, after three years of hard work, and an open house was held. Since then, the Company has proudly occupied and cared for the firehouse for which its members labored so hard.

 

March 1960 A traffic light was installed on Route 202 at North Thompson Street to allow fire trucks to cross the highway.

 

The mortgage on the firehouse was paid in full on September 8, 1961. A Mortgage Burning dinner was held on November 18, 1961.

 

February 2, 1961 members Al Navatto and Carl Aversa donated a desktop fire bell to be used at meetings.  A suggestion was made to put an addition on the back of the firehouse.

 

The well-known Raritan Valley Inn met its demise on April 24, 1961, when a pan of bacon caught fire.  While the dining rooms were busy with lunchtime customers, the fire spread up the exhaust duct and through the attic of the rambling wood structure. Several large water streams were put into play throughout the afternoon, but the landmark couldn’t be saved.

 

April 1963 An addition was begun on the back of the firehouse.  It was completed in November 1963.

 

February 23, 1964, Federal Steel Corp. fire at 2:30 A.M.  Loss estimated at $100,000. Started by burglars attempting to open a safe with an acetylene torch.

 

February 1964 Fire at Angelone's Greenhouses.

 

December 1964 Fire at Hannon's Funeral Home - $10,000 damage.

1965 Ford Pirsch 1000 gpm pumper

A centennial committee was appointed on July 1, 1965.  Funds had been set aside for this event beginning in 1960.

 

July 1965 Fire in the Brick Row.

 

October 1, 1965, The Borough Fire Ordinance was amended to increase membership from 50 to 75.

 

For the first time, balloting for a new member was done by roll call on February 3, 1966.

 

August 1966 A 1949 Pirsch 65’ aerial truck was purchased from the Borough of Somerville.

1949 Pirsch 65' Aerial Ladder

 
 

February 11, 1967 Fire at Somerville Borough Hall - mutual aid.

 

March 2, 1967 Applicants were voted into membership by a simple majority vote on paper ballots.

 

March 2, 1967 Fire at National Gypsum Plant.

 

June 30, 1968, The Company participated in the Centennial Parade of the Borough of Raritan. The Supreme Fur Dressing plant on Mill Street (now Orlando Drive), just west of Thompson Street, was destroyed by fire during the early evening of June 9, 1969. The fast-moving, vicious fire was fueled by oil and sawdust that were used in the dressing of furs. The blaze grew so quickly that firefighters had to scramble to reposition apparatus farther from the building.  The aerial truck was actually moved with the ladder in the upright position. 

1970 Ford crash truck

In 1973, the proposed construction of a new fire station was investigated. The proposed block building with a wood truss roof and brick front was to be built for $60,000 on Borough-owned property at the corner of Gaston Avenue and Johnson Drive.

 

On Sunday evening, January 28, 1975, the very well-known Orlando’s Restaurant on Wall Street went up in smoke.  The bar and restaurant were long time favorites among the locals, particularly during World War II. It appeared that a fire in the kitchen ductwork had extended up into the second-floor apartments and proceeded to destroy the building.  The dining room toward the rear of the structure had been the former Methodist Church. An earlier building on the site, probably a small barn, had been the first firehouse of Lafayette No. 1, the first fire company in Raritan, organized in 1847.

 

February 1976 Fire at Glaser's Department Store.

 

March 1977 Roche Clinical Laboratory's gasoline tank floated out of the ground.

 

On June 17, 1977, a building occupied by the Middlesex Chemical Company was destroyed in a roaring inferno.  The 5-story structure, which was built in the mid-1800s as a part of the old Raritan Woolen Mills, was located on Mill Street (currently Orlando Drive) across from its intersection with Thompson Street.  Much of the building, constructed of brick, post-and-beam, and thick wood floors, collapsed during the fire. Flying brands landed on nearby homes and businesses as well as some distant properties. Burned chunks of wood, some as large as a fist, were found as far away as the Green Knoll Golf Course in Bridgewater Township.  Firefighters remained on the scene, operating multiple master streams on the remains, for several days and returned for several rekindles, the last of which was on August 26th.

\

Middlesex Chemical Company fire on June 17, 1977

January 5, 1978, The Company decided to ban smoking during regular meetings.

 

February 1978 The Borough Council awarded a contract to Ward LaFrance for an 85' aerial ladder truck.  The contract was canceled in May 1979, when Ward LaFrance declared bankruptcy.

 

Fall 1978 An enthusiastic campaign to draw new members was undertaken.  Signs were hung on several apparatus and posters were hung around town. A brochure was printed and distributed.  Advertisements were printed in newspapers and read on radio.  

 

On March 1, 1979, the Company accepted its first two female members by a vote of 24 to 16, following three months of discussion.

 

December 31, 1979 Fire at the Sconda Home on Somerset Street near First Avenue.

 

January 1980 Mutual aid to Somerville for a major fire that destroyed the Granetz Furniture Warehouse.

 

 June 1980 A Mack 75’ Aerialscope was purchased and delivered for $211,000.

75' Mack Aerialscope

Summer 1980 The Company worked hard to restore the old firehouse on Anderson Street, which had been the Borough Hall for many years, back to a firehouse.

 

On September 6, 1980, the Company celebrated its 110th anniversary with a dinner in the firehouse.  All members were presented with personalized commemorative mugs, and a newly designed uniform shoulder patch was presented. A photo of the Company was taken.

 

On December 4, 1980, the Company amended the By-Laws to provide for the establishment of an "Apprentice Organization" which would include 16-17-year-olds.

 

During January 1981, after several years during which the building was used as Borough offices, the renovation of the old firehouse on Anderson Street was completed and the Mack Aerialscope was moved into it.

 

On Sunday, January 31, 1982, a house at 411 Raritan Avenue exploded in flames as a result of a natural gas leak in the street that made its way into the basement.  The house was moved from its foundation and partially destroyed by the blast. The destruction was completed by the ensuing fire. One of the residents, who had been taking a shower in the basement, was injured in the fire. The gas was ignited when the hot water heater kicked on.

 

The F&F Pizzeria, located in a 2-story strip mall on Route 202 North at North Second Avenue, suffered an arson fire on the evening of September 29, 1983. The owner was seriously burned.

 

On February 12, 1985, the Company responded to a call for mutual aid in the Borough of Middlesex. The Chemray Corporation on Lincoln Blvd. experienced a major fire which was driven by high winds from a major winter storm.  The work of scores of fire departments under extreme conditions averted a near catastrophe

1983 Mack 1000 gpm pumper

On Saturday afternoon, April 30, 1988, a light fixture in the V.F.W. Building ignited a fire in the ceiling that eventually gutted the structure.  Firefighters were met by intense flames issuing from the front windows and struggled to protect the neighboring buildings. Within a short time, the entire interior of the V.F.W. was burning.  Although the building, located on West Somerset Street, two doors west of Wall Street, had been the home of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars for many years, it was originally Saint Bernard’s School.

 

On October 12, 1989, a tanker truck was off-loading gasoline at a service station on the northwest corner of Route 202 and First Avenue.  A fire erupted and the fuel tanker was consumed by the intense flames. The inferno was extinguished by a sea of high expansion foam.

1989 E-One 1250 gpm pumper

In the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1990, a fire was reported at the Valpeck Janitorial Supply Company on LaGrange Street, across from Reimer Street.  First arriving firefighters were met with flames coming out of the showroom windows and heavy smoke coming out of everywhere. The spectacular fire consumed the entire facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1995 E-One 1250 gpm rescue pumper

July 11, 1996 Ex-Chief Bruce Lindner died in the line of duty when he suffered a heart attack during a training drill at the Raritan First Aid Squad headquarters.

2007 Ford F-350 utility vehicle

2007 Seagrave 75’ Aerialscope

2017 Pierce 1500 gpm Pumper

Ex-Chiefs of the Raritan Fire Department

 

1870-1891 Job C. Kenyon

1891-1894 Daniel Smith

1894-1903 Eugene D. Dilts

1903-1906 John Slattery

1906-1909 Augustus J. Chamberlain

1909-1912 John Himer

1912-1915 Willard Henry

1915-1918 William Slattery

1918-1920 P. Finley Wykoff

1920-1923 Lawrence Hickey

1923-1925 James J. Scully

1925-1928 John J. Enright

1928-1931 Ralph S. Young

1931-1934 Cyrenus Slack

1934-1937 Michael Daniel

1937-1939 James J. Kelly

1939-1941 Clarence Barclay

1941-1943 Joseph Navatto, Jr.

1943-1945 Guido Mezzanotte

1945-1947 Arthur Amey

1947-1949 Joseph J. Liptak

1949-1951 Patrick Esposito

1951-1953 Edward Diesbusky

1953-1955 Angelo Forte

1956-1957 Nicholas M. Esposito

1958-1959 Edward Minetti

1960-1961 Joseph Krachun

1962-1963 Arthur Bencer

1964-1965 Albert Navatto

1966-1967 Patsy DiPaolo

1968-1969 Vincent Gara

1970-1971 Anthony DeCicco

1972-1973 John Bernabe

1974-1975 Arthur Soriano

1976-1977 Angelo Bernabe

1978-1979 Peter J. Carlino

1980-1981 Robert A. Krachun

1982-1983 Robert Comandini

1984-1985 Andrew S. Kovac

1986-1987 Robert T. Carter

1988-1989 R. Bruce Lindner

1990-1991 Carl B. Memoli

1992-1993 Stephen J. Krachun

1994-1995 J. Chris Jensen

                  Phillip Nanna

                  William C. Mener

                  Raymond Collins

2006-2012 Carl B. Memoli

2013-2014 William C. Mener

2015- Brian Kredatus


 

(Note:  This history is a work in progress.  Additional material is added from time to time as we continue to review 173 years of records.)

 
 
 
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611 N Thompson St, Raritan, NJ 08869, USA

Phone:

(908) 707-8540

©2018 BY RARITAN BORO FIRE DEPARTMENT