Westmont Fire Company No. 1


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HISTORY OF THE WESTMONT FIRE COMPANY NO. 1

Its Origins

In 1902, Richard Griffith and Frank Bollinger saw the necessity for an organization that would be dedicated to the protection of residents’ homes and the overall improvement of conditions in Westmont. Together they formed the Westmont Improvement Association, an organization that would later found a fire company, with Richard Griffith, William J. Fowler and William J. McDevitt as members.

On May 10, 1902, the Association elected James McCauley acting Chairman and William A. Wilkinson Secretary. At its first meeting on June 7, 1902, held at the home of Edward A. Martin, Sr., the fire company was formed. Interestingly, the place of that first meeting is where the firehouse stands today. At its second meeting, held on June 14th, 1902, a subsequent election produced these results: James McCauley as President, Richard Griffith as Vice-President, William S. Clements as Secretary, and William A. Wilkinson as Treasurer. The company was incorporated on July 9th, 1902 with 31 names on the charter papers. At the July 11th meeting, Richard Griffith was elected as the first Fire Chief.

The meetings were later held at Mr. D.C. Kays Hall, located opposite the present firehouse on West Walnut Avenue. The company laid out the boundaries for Fire District No. 1 and the Township Committee approved its lines on April 17, 1903. On Saturday May 30, 1903, at 3 PM, the first Fire Commissioners election was held.

The first apparatus, the “Baxter”, was purchased for the fire company on March 14, 1903 for the sum of $350. It consisted of two 50-gallon tanks on a horse-drawn vehicle. The first person to arrive with their horse to pull the apparatus received $1.50. The chemical engine was conveniently housed in a neighbor’s barn until a junk dealer stole the brass fittings. Seeing the need for a more secure storage facility and also for a permanent meeting place, the Company sold the Baxter to the Fire Commissioners and with the money built the first firehouse at the corner of Highland Avenue and Center Street.

Felton Gamble (3 years old) with horse drawn Hook and Ladder. His father, Oliver D. Gamble joined, August 16, 1907.

The first meeting in the new fire hall was held on April 21, 1905. At a special meeting held on May 4, 1905, it was announced that the construction costs of the firehouse totaled $1,115. A mortgage in the sum of $800 at 5 1/2% was to be secured to offset the costs. Continuing with the expansion of the firehouse and equipment, the Company approved the purchase of a hose wagon from the Camden Fire Department for the sum of $50. The trustees negotiated a loan in that amount from the Collingswood National Bank for 90 days. The same was to be paid by subscription from the members of $1 each.

 

Old firehouse at Highland Avenue
and Center Street

 

Westmont Fire Co. – August 16, 1907

On August 20, 1909, it was decided to have the original firehouse moved to the back part of the lot and a larger addition built to the front with a tower to dry hose. The original building was then to be attached to the rear of the new section. The building remained the same until 1929 when it was again altered.

 

Old firehouse after addition

 

Technological Advancements

1918 introduced several technological advancements to the Company. It was the year the Company installed signal lights on top of the tower to indicate the direction of the fire. Also, the Company secured its first motorized apparatus, both of which were built by the Hahn Company of Hamburg, PA. The first was a 500-gallon pumper and the second was a combination chemical and hose wagon. These two pieces cost the district $7,500. As the Company became increasingly modernized, there was little need for the hand/horse drawn apparatus and they were eventually disposed of --- the Hook & Ladder being purchased by the Lambs Terrace Fire Co. of Gloucester Township and the Baxter Chemical Unit and Hose Wagon going to an unrecorded location.

On Saturday, September 14, 1929, the Company housed two new pieces: the first was an American LaFrance City Service Ladder Truck and the second was an Ahrens – Fox 1000-gallon pumper, which is still active in our fleet today. On January 1, 1933, a Diamond "T" utility vehicle was introduced to the Fire Company. The Diamond "T" chassis had the body of the 1918 Hahn Chemical and Hose Wagon mounted on it, and thus the 1918 Hahn cab and chassis was discarded.

On December 7, 1941 the Company put into service a Hahn Booster Combination 500-gallon pumper, also known as the "Little Hahn". With the purchase of the new Hahn pumper, the 1918 Hahn pumper was disposed of. While there is no record its disposal, the last "sighting" was on the Wildwood side of the Rio Grande Bridge, advertising fishing trips as a billboard on the side of the roadway. The members constructed a lighting trailer, but this was taken out of service when the 1918 Hahn body was removed from the Diamond "T". It was refitted with a modern body with compartments, generator, and mountings for searchlights, as well as a deluge gun. In April 1953, the Company put into service a 1952 American-LaFrance 100-foot Aerial Ladder Truck. The 1929 American-LaFrance City Service Ladder became a Camden County Civil Defense Unit, and was housed at the Camden County Hospital Complex, in Lakeland.

In October of 1957, the Company purchased a 1957 Chevrolet walk-in Utility Truck to be used as an ambulance and an Oxygen Delivery Truck. The truck was later sold to the Board of Fire Commissioners on February 27, 1958. The Chevrolet was modified by the members, and became the first rescue truck in 1958. A 16-foot fiberglass rescue boat and motor was also placed in service at this time.   On October 10, 1966 a Hahn 1000-gallon pumper was introduced. An open house and dinner was held on November 19th to commemorate the event. This piece of apparatus served our station for forty years.  In 1967, the Diamond "T" Utility truck was taken out of service and sold to Chief Preston G. Morgan Sr., and then to Lieutenant Steven Settles, who is continuing his efforts to restore the truck to its 1940’s specifications.

In 1973, a new Imperial Fire-Rescue Truck was placed in service, replacing the 1957 Chevrolet. The Chevrolet was sold to Oaklyn Community Ambulance Squad and was refitted as their second ambulance. In 1976, a Young Bison Custom Pumper replaced the 1948 Hahn, which was sold to a demolition company in Pennsylvania. As 1977 saw the incorporation of a Ford station wagon as the command vehicle, it also witnessed the Company commemorate 75 years of service with a parade and celebration at Crystal Lake Pool.

The last twenty-five years have seen just as many introductions and removals from the fleet as in previous years. In 1978, an Oshkosh/LTI/FTI 85 foot Tower Ladder was placed in service. The 1952 American La-France Aerial was sold to the Saugus, Mass. Fire District, where it was rehabilitated, repainted slime green, and served as Ladder Company 1. In 1981, a Hahn Custom Pumper was added and the 1941 Hahn Pumper was taken out of service and sold to a Pennsylvania apparatus collector.  In 1984, a Ford Econoline van replaced the Ford station wagon; in 1987, a Hahn Custom Pumper was added to our fleet; and in 1991, a Pem-Fab/Hesse Heavy Rescue was placed in service, and the Imperial Rescue was sold to Deerfield Fire Company No. 1 in Virginia. With the new rescue truck, a Zodiac inflatable boat was placed in service, and the fiberglass boat sold.

The Junior Fire Company

In an effort to promote membership and capitalize on growing interest of the local youth, on May 16, 1941 a junior fire company was established. The company consisted of sixteen- and seventeen-year old members who assisted the senior members. The Junior Fire Company was disbanded in January 1973, and all the members became "senior" members of the Company, when New Jersey lowered the age of adults.

A New Firehouse

On August 25, 1948, the Company approved the idea to build a new firehouse at the corner of Haddon Avenue and West Walnut Street. This land was obtained from the Board of Fire Commissioners for $1. In early 1949, ground was broken and the first foundation walls were poured. In June 1951, the Company adopted a resolution to sell the old firehouse property. On June 9th, 1952, as the Company celebrated its 50th Anniversary, the new firehouse, at Haddon & Walnut Avenues, opened its doors to house their 1948 Hahn Sextuplet Emergency Rescue Truck.  In 1955, work was started to add an addition onto the back half of the firehouse. This addition housed a meeting room for the Company, along with a coatroom, bathrooms, kitchen, and additional space to the social hall.

 

 

Groundbreaking on Haddon Avenue

 

Work in Progress on New Building

 

The Fire Company Today

In 1998, the Fire Station was extensively rehabilitated and modified. Many of the volunteer members worked long hours doing the demolition work in preparation for construction companies to rebuild the building as it was redesigned. This project was finally completed in late 1999. Apparatus changes include the following: the Oshkosh Tower Ladder was sold to the Orange Lake Fire District in Newburgh, New York; the 1981 Hahn Pumper was sold to the Cossayuna Fire Company, New York; the 1976 Young Bison Pumper was sold to the Elk Lake Fire Company, Pennsylvania. Two KME units, a 95-foot Tower Ladder and a 75-foot Tower Pumper, were subsequently placed into service. In 2000, a Ford Expedition was placed into service as the command vehicle; and, in 2001, a 16-foot aluminum boat was placed into service, replacing the Zodiac boat. In 2006, the 1966 Hahn was retired and a new Seagrave pumper was placed into service.  In addition, during 1998, the fire explorer program was established. This is a program with youths being trained and familiarized with firematics in preparation for "senior" membership.

 

 

1998 Building Reconstruction

 

1998 Building Reconstruction

     

1998 Building Reconstruction

 

In 2002, we celebrated 100 years of dedicated volunteer service to the Township of Haddon. We stand with a total membership of around 80 members, with an active force of approximately 50. We must take a moment to thank all of our friends, neighbors, and businesses for the support over the years because without that support, we would not be able to continue to serve our community.

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Westmont Fire Company No. 1
120 Haddon Avenue
Westmont, NJ  08108
Phone: (856) 854-1444
E-mail: info@westmontfireco.org

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