Our History

Mendham Fire Department: 1905 – 2005

Bucket Brigade

A meeting of the citizens of Mendham Township is hereby called for the purpose of forming a Bucket Brigade. The meeting will be held in a Township Hall on June 10, 1905 at 8:00 p.m. With some such notice as this the first meeting of the Mendham Fire Department was called. Mr. E.S.P. Bretherton acted as chairman and Mr. J. Smith Gunther served as secretary. Committees were appointed to solicit funds and members, and June 20th was set as the time for the next meeting.

At the June 20th meeting the name MENDHAM FIRE DEPARTMENT was formally adopted, and officers were elected. These officers were, President: Edward S.P. Bretherton, Secretary: J. Smith Gunther, Treasurer: Charles P. Bretherton, and Chief: John M. Hoffman. The Committee on solicitations reported they had raised $517.50 to date.

The next meeting June 27th provided the Chief the opportunity of appointing his assistant officers of the department. These were First Assistant: Everett L. Garabrant, Second Assistant: Aaron V. Apgar, Third Assistant: Frederick R. Guerin, Steward: John S. Tiger. A committee for the purpose of purchasing Fire Apparatus was appointed and a roll of charter members was taken. The committee for purchasing the Fire Apparatus consisted of George Delp, Everett Garabrant and Frederick Guerin. The President and Chief were to act on the same committee. This committee went to work at once getting pictures, specifications, prices and full information on all available equipment. On September 5th they reported the purchase of an American LaFrance combination Hook and Ladder Truck, which was to be delivered in about 90 days.

At the September meeting a committee was appointed to arrange for and hold a dance or ball, proceeds of course for the apparatus fund. It didn’t take long in those days to arrange for and run a dance for we find in the minutes of the October meeting that net proceeds of $264.98 were turned in to the treasury. This was the first of the Annual Balls that were to be the only regular means of financing the Fire Department.

Dinner Dance – Beginning of a Tradition

In December a dance was held to celebrate the arrival of the Fire Apparatus.

The Department’s original equipment was a ladder wagon with a hose reel. The equipment was, of course, horse drawn. The vehicle was known as an American LaFrance Combination “Hook and Ladder” truck. The term “hook” refers to a piece of fire equipment used then and continuing into the modern era for “ pulling” plaster from ceilings and walls. A hose reel carried about 500 feet of cotton-jacketed hose.

Prince & Brownie

This horse drawn vehicle costing a total of $885.00 was a beauty but it presented a problem in housing. Not having thought fully ahead, the department purchased the rig with out having thought about where it would be stored. Mr. George Millen very generously offered the use of his barn, which was accepted and used for some time. In December of 1905, the Department took delivery of the vehicle and In May of 1906 Mr. John Hoffman built a shed to house the equipment—here it was kept until the new firehouse was ready. Jim Menagh was the regular driver of the new rig, and his well-known team of Prince and Brownie provided the motive power. The shed was located off of East Main Street in the vicinity of the Methodist Church.

At this time the regulation New York City Firemen’s uniform was adopted and a fund started for the purchase of them. The price of the uniforms was $13.50 for cap, coat and pants. Lapel pins with the name Mendham on them were purchased at a later date.

Mendham Fire Department circa. 1908

Though the uniform price may not have been high, $6.00 was thought to be too much for a car wheel to be used for a fire alarm and the alarm subject was dropped for the time being.

In 1906, the first official fire house was built and everything was moved there. That building was located in the vicinity of 19 West Main Street – the location of the present-day Weichert Realtors office. In September of 1908, a cart and 800’ of hose were purchased from The Fabric Hose Company and the shipment arrived in March of 1909. Although the Department has not been able to reacquire the original apparatus, a similar model of the same vintage has been acquired and restored and is currently on display at the current fire station.

It is interesting to note that the dignity of parliamentary rule was not always upheld even in days gone by. On the 5th of June 1906, the date of the second annual meeting, the minutes read as follows, “Rule No. 1. Roll call and absentees noted. The meeting got the cart before the horse at this point and elected the officers for the coming year when it should have been done under Rule No. 7.” Then under Rule 7 we find, “Rule No. 7, Election of Officers. None to Elect.” The officers were elected under Rule No. 1 where we got the cart before the horse. Ah me, such is life. Though the officers may have been elected under the wrong rule, business went forward as usual.


Dance Card from 1908 Firemen’s Ball

In August the Department bought a seal, the bylaws were completed, read and accepted and were soon printed and distributed. About this time a motion consolidating the office or President and Chief was passed. This motion was to take effect at the next annual meeting.

In December of 1906 the long awaited Fire House was finished. Chairs and a table were bought, and truck, men and equipment all moved into the building that was to be their Fire Headquarters for many years.

Early in January 1907, a chimney fire broke out in the boarding house of Mrs. J. Phoenix, and the new 40-foot extension ladder was used for the first time. Evidently no practice or procedure had been worked out for the use of this ladder. It took 10 men over ten minutes to get it up and then it was upside down.

The fire alarm business was brought up again at the February meeting and a new committee was appointed. At the March meeting this committee reported that they could buy a 34-inch bell for $50.00 or a car wheel for $6.00, and that an electric whistle would not work. They were then ordered to get two car wheels. In September, when the wheels arrived one was placed by Gunther’s Garage, and the other by the Freeman Building.

The Vamps having received their uniforms were anxious to show them off, so when they received an invitation from Hackettstown to parade there in August of 1907, arrangements were made to go and make a day of it. This wasn’t as simple as it would be today. The trip had to be made by train from Morristown. Services of a band were secured, tickets purchased and off they went. No mention is made of any prize but it was noted that a good time was had by all.