In 1898, after a disastrous fire at the Mittag and Volger plant, a few leaders of the community recognized the need for fire protection . A call was put out, and a mass meeting was held at Forester’s Hall on Magnolia Avenue (Kinderkamack Road) on January 18,1898. As a result of this meeting, thirty-nine men formed the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department. The original Charter was signed on February 4, 1898. The men did some fund raising, and soon had enough money to order a Chemical pumper from a company in Michigan. Delivery was delayed due to problems with the supply of copper needed for the water and chemical tanks. Who knows? The delay could have been due to a labor strike at the mines.
As they awaited the arrival of the truck, the men built the first firehouse. It was a shed at the southeast corner of Park and Magnolia Avenues, not far from Forester’s Hall, and served them well until more suitable quarters were built on Hawthorne Avenue. The Hawthorne Ave. building still stands today as a private residence. Drop Harnesses were purchased, and Mr. George Bennett allowed the department to use two horses. Eventually they purchased the horses and traded the bay for another gray, and the matched team became the pride of the
Volunteers. We think one of the horses was named “Betsy.”
Some of the still familiar names of the original “Volunteers” are: F.O.Mittag, J.B. Storms, J.C. Storms, R.A. Sibbald, G.H. Van Emburgh, Robin Bullock, Moses Rawiszer, and George Bennett.
In 1900, fifteen of the original members formed the Century Hook and Ladder Company # 1. They initially were allowed to use space in the Volunteers firehouse until they built their own, circa 1901, on Railroad Avenue (Broadway) between Roland and Perryland Streets. That building still exists today, just south of All Points Auto Parts and in 1937, was also used, when the Fire Department formed the Park Ridge Firemen’s Tri-Boro Ambulance Corps.
In 1906, the Colony Hose Company # 1 was formed to provide additional fire protection to the residents on the West Side of town. Their first firehouse was a barn, owned by a Mr. Healy on Colony Ave. The rumor is that this barn burned down forcing the men to build another firehouse just west of Fifth Street. The men bought a hand drawn pumper, which they stored in their new headquarters at Colony Avenue. The stone arches around the doors can still be seen on that building, which is also a private residence today.
A code of signals was worked out to coordinate thefirefighting efforts for the eight districts in town (a copy of which is mounted to our Firemen’s’ monument at the present day firehouse). Railroad locomotive wheel rims, or “tires” were used as fire alarm gongs.
The districts included Montvale and Woodcliff Lake, neither of which had yet organized their own fire departments. In 1938 an electric alarm system was located at the Mittag and Volger plant where their engineers maintained the system, and conducted daily tests. At that time, Fire Chief Robert Scharrenberg and Assistant Chief Francis Emerick worked in the plant along with several other department members so fast response to daytime fire calls was enhanced. Until then, daytime response required three minutes.
In 1912 Mr. Frank Mittag, one of the Fire Department founders, personally paid for the construction of a new firehouse at the northeast corner of Willet Street and Park Avenue. The building later became the home of Exempt Firefighter Julius Lucia, and he operated a service station there for many years.
In 1924, the Borough wanted to unified all three companies into one department, and agreed to assume all legal and financial responsibility (this agreement is displayed at the firehouse today). The men turned over all their trucks and equipment, the three buildings they owned, and three thousand dollars. The new unified organization became known as the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.
The original by-laws in 1898 provided for a President, Vice President, Recording Secretary, Financial Secretary, Sergeant at Arms, Foreman, and Assistant Foreman. The Foreman and his assistant were the Chief Line Officers. At meetings, “Cushing’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice” governed parliamentary procedure.
A journal was printed in 1912 soon after the completion of the new firehouse on Willet St. Some of the businesses that advertised in the journal were: Mrs. W.H. Romaine’s Dry Goods Shop; Frank Grey’s Beds and Bedding; Alfred Bush, Blacksmith; E.C. Frahn, Plumber and Gas Fitter; The Oak High Class Boarding House; Henry Bush, Wheelwright and Carriage Painter; P. Haggerty, Bushes set, and walks attended.
The New Jersey/New York Firemen’s Association was founded in 1913 at a meeting held in the Park Ridge Volunteer Firehouse. Robin Bullock, Foreman of the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department served as Chairman, and was later elected Vice President. You may remember that we hosted the 80th anniversary convention and parade of that organization, with Montvale and Woodcliff Lake in 1993. Over seventy fire departments participated in it, and helped celebrate the occasion.
Soon after the new firehouse was built in 1912, we took delivery of the first motorized apparatus in the Tri-boro area. It was a 1912 Pope Hartford chemical engine. Since then, we have used a Ford, a Pierce Arrow in 1929, and many American La France engines. In 1987 we returned to Pierce for our ladder truck, followed by a Pierce pumper, and a Pierce rescue truck. The modern fire trucks are longer, wider, heavier, and carry more equipment and manpower than the early apparatus due to the change in our lifestyle. The homes back then were built of wood or masonry, and were furnished with natural materials and fibers. Today’s homes have aluminum or vinyl siding, which either concentrate the heat of a fire inside the building, or generate toxic gases when burned. The modern furnishings burn faster, hotter, and thanks to petro-chemical technology, create a totally hostile environment that requires specialized equipment to extinguish and conduct search and rescue operations. Today’s firefighters are not only equipped to handle these eventualities, but we undergo more rigorous intensive training in the chemistry of fire, hazardous materials, search techniques, and all the tools needed to cope with the problems of fire protection in the twentieth, and twenty first centuries. The Bergen County Police and Fire Academy provides a “Hands On,” no nonsense environment for much of this training, but our own training regimen in Park Ridge enhances and hones our skills.
Although the tools, training, and techniques have changed dramatically since 1898, one thing remains constant in the fire service. That constant is the thing that motivates all of us in the fire service; it is the desire to help our neighbors in times of emergency and danger. It is the “Can Do” spirit that the firefighters
of Park Ridge have shown for the past hundred years.
The need for ambulance service in the Tri-boro area became very evident to the fire department, so in 1937 we organized the Park Ridge Firemen’s Tri-boro Ambulance Corps. By then, both Montvale and Woodcliff Lake had organized their own fire departments, but Hackensack Hospital provided the only ambulance service. Once again, the Park Ridge Firefighters rose to the occasion to protect the well being of the residents of Tri-boro. Responsibility for ambulance service was turned over, to the present day Tri-boro Ambulance Corps in the late 1960’s.
Our Junior Fire Department, or Fire Reserve, was the first one organized in this area, and possibly the state. It has trained hundreds of young men who were not old enough to serve in the Department, so that as they reach the age of majority, they are ready to assume the duties of a firefighter. Our new Fire Cadet program
trains members between the ages of fourteen and sixteen in the basics of firefighting to prepare them for the Fire Reserve, and later the regular department. It is working extremely well, and the Cadets are progressing nicely in their training.
The dedication to duty, the constant training, the original thinking, and the willingness to help others are some of the ingredients that have made the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department one of the best in the state for the past hundred years. We intend to carry on that tradition for at least the next hundred years.