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In 1912, West Caldwell Fire Department Served Population of 600

An early history of the volunteer fire department, which was incorporated 100 years ago this month.

The West Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department (WCVFD) was incorporated on August 5, 1912. Past and present members recently  of the WCFD with an ice cream social. A community-wide celebation will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22. 

The WCVFD, with assistance from the West Caldwell Public Library, the West Caldwell Township Clerk's Office and Steve Williams of the Chatham Borough Volunteer Fire Department, put together the following early history about the volunteer fire department.

  • In 1912, the population of West Caldwell was about 600 people. There were about 50 improved lots in West Caldwell consisting mostly of small crop and dairy farms, some single family homes, a saw mill, a few trade shops including blacksmiths, a tobacco mill, a general store, a dry good shop, a funeral home and a church and school. There were few roads and none of them were paved. There was no public water or sanitary sewer service or street lighting.
  • Shortly after its incorporation, the members of the (WCVFD) elected Alson Van Ness as it first Fire Chief.
  • On August 8, 1912, the WCVFD requested $1,000.00 from the Mayor and Council to purchase necessary fire department equipment and heard a presentation from a fire equipment vendor.
  • On August 20, 1912, Council voted 4 to 2 to not approve the $1,000.00 appropriation to purchase fire department equipment. A motion by Councilman Crane to have a public question on this issue presented to the voters at the next election was passed unanimously. (Not sure if this public question was ever approved. We are still researching this.)
  • The Borough Council acknowledged at its December 13, 1912 meeting the incorporation of the WCVFD and thereafter appointed a Fire Committee to oversee the operations of the fire department. The Fire Committee was comprised of the following members of the Borough Council: Zenas Crane, John R. Jacobus and Theodore M. Gray. The Fire Committee is the predecessor of today's Public Safety Committee. In addition, Council at this meeting granted its permission for the WCVFD to hold its monthly meetings in the Council chambers located at the Old Brick Store (which served as the Borough's first municipal building) and to use Council chambers on December 18 to host its first fundraiser—an Oyster Dinner. The Oyster Dinner was a popular fire department fundraiser through the 1930s.
  • In May 1913, the WCVFD purchased land from Mr. Larson on Bloomfield Avenue for $600 in order to construct a firehouse. This building no longer stands, but was located approximately where the West Essex Electric Building is now situated today at Bloomfield Avenue and Dodd Road. Later in 1913, the Borough attempted to purchase a used hook and ladder horse drawn fire wagon from Dover. Dover demanded $600 for the wagon but West Caldwell believed that it was worth no more than $250 but directed the Clerk to offer $300. Dover rejected the offer and West Caldwell later purchased in 1913 from Chatham Borough a used horse drawn hook and ladder fire wagon for $400 that had been manufactured for it by the Newark Tea Tray Company in 1907. Thus, the WCVFD had its first horse drawn apparatus. 
  • Also purchased at this time by Borough Council was 700 feet of fire hose at 80 cent per foot or $560. Finally, the Borough Council authorized the payment of $5 to any person who arrived at the firehouse with a team of horses to pull the hook and ladder fire wagon to fire calls. It was later reported that Harry Kanouse, a blacksmith with his shop opposite the firehouse, would be first to arrive with team of horses that he obtained from the nearby Backus Stables.
  • In 1914, the Borough Council purchased and installed 6 Steel "Fire Rings" in various locations in West Caldwell that would be struck with a hammer by residents to alert fireman of a fire call. The Fire Rings were set between cedar post uprights that were anchored in a concrete base. With telephone service becoming more prevalent in West Caldwell telephone calls were later made to the Wilberforce Jacobus Funeral Home on Bloomfield Avenue and Mr. Jacobus or his employees would strike the Fire Ring to summon the WCVFD to fire calls. Also in 1914, the Borough purchased the Old Brick Store for $2,300 and renovated it for use as the municipal building and firehouse.
  • West Caldwell fireman in 1916 requested that the Borough purchase a motorized fire apparatus and in exchange offered to waive their entitlement to payment of $5 for providing teamed horses to pull the fire wagon.
  • In 1917, the first motorized fire apparatus is purchased for $4,200 by the Borough—a Brockway (chain driven) hook and ladder truck becomes the only vehicle of the WCVFD. Due legal and funding difficulties, the Brockway is not delivered to West Caldwell until 1918. It is unclear whether the Brockway was purchased by the Borough new or used. Our research continues on this topic.
  • The WCVFD budget in 1918 was $100.00. The Borough renovates the Old Brick Store which it had acquired in 1914 for $2300.00 for use as Borough Hall to accommodate the Brockway hook and ladder truck. The Old Brick Store serves as the firehouse for the WCVFD until 1968 when the Borough constructed the "new" firehouse at its present location on Fairfield Avenue.

Some of the information that is contained herein was taken from Celebrating A Centennial, A History of West Caldwell, 1904 -2004 and West Caldwell 1904-1954, An Informal History of the Borough of West Caldwell. Both volumes are available in the .

Cj August 14, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Great article. Very interesting. Thank you to those who serve on the Fire Department and all those that served in the past. You do a terrific job for West Caldwell and for mutual aid to the other towns. You are the best along with our great police departments
gregory l. mitchell April 07, 2013 at 12:58 PM
Very,very interesting.For someone who is a life long resident of this wonderful town it takes on a more personal story when you have gone to school with some of the descendants of the early residents of our town.What I would really like to know is the geographical locations of these 6 fire rings!!!!!Does anyone know where they were located???If so please contact on:GMITCH08@GMAIL.COM Thank you in advance..Respectfully,Gregory L.Mitchell,West Caldwell

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