Our History

In June of 1960 a new truck committee was appointed. Kenneth Oppel was appointed Chairman. He and his committee worked hard and finally in March of 1961, the contract was let for a new C85F Mack 750 G.P.M. Pumper. At that time, the Department sold the 1930 Mack after 31 years of reliable service. The old engine was acquired by Chairman Oppel who used it to entertain the Borough children with rides around town on special occasions. Regrettably, that vehicle has since been lost to posterity.

Fire fighting never was an easy job and as time goes on, it becomes more complicated. Where wood and stone or concrete was the main building material, now plastics begin to come into the picture. Our fighters were attending Fire Training School and drills all over the County. The number of man-hours given by our volunteers went into the thousands. Parties, picnics, dinners, etc, are their only pay, and the cost of these things comes out of their own pockets. In the early 1960’s a regular training program was set up at the schools and at the firehouse during Fire Prevention Week. The idea being that if the school children were given an interesting program they would take it home to their parents. No one wants a fire in their own home so pamphlets were distributed to all the children to take home. The idea worked. Children with a match-burning proclivity have seen what can happen and the parents have told us how the program has helped in most cases of that kind. Also, the number of grass fires has decreased and the parents have also been more careful, example-very few furniture fires.

In October of 1961 we decided to dress up our Chief a little so a motion to supply the Chief with a white hat was passed. Each Chief taking office comes in with ideas of how we can better our Department, so when Harold Traudt came in as Chief in 1962, he and his officers set up some new rules on servicing the equipment, engine room and training. The Engineers, under a different officer each month, have their duties spelled out for them. The plan has generally worked very well.

In February 1962 we held a wet down for the new Mack Pumper. Some twenty different fire companies were represented, as this was one of the newest pieces of equipment in this area. Updating of bylaws continues every couple of years to keep them up-to-date. Our annual Halloween Party for the school children goes on but it is becoming something of a burden as the number of children involved is becoming too large to handle. After some troubles with the siren at the end of Marshall Terrace, in March, 1963 that required updating of the wiring and relay equipment, it was decided that the daily test should be changed from noon to 5:00 p.m. daily except Sundays.

Mendham is an old town. Many of the buildings in town are of pre-revolutionary construction and it is the responsibility of the local fire department to keep them from burning down. Updating of the water department, cleaning of most of the original mains, installing new mains in some places and connecting all dead ends into a complete grid, increased our capability to get water where it might be very necessary. A special drill was held in the center of town in August of 1963 to try out coverage of some landmark buildings. With the help of Mendham Township, we hooked up at three different hydrants; one on East Main Street, one on West Main Street and one on Mountain Avenue. The drill was a success and the column of water quite sufficient. Our Ladies Auxiliary always of help, donated money in December for some new trophy cases in the meeting room. At our February 24, 1964 meeting, Chief Warden Raymond Marsh was presented with an Ex-Chief Wardens Badge. This year Ray completed 46 years of service to his town as an active fireman. Like every budget, ours keeps creeping up. 1963 budget was $5,400. This year’s is up to $5,500.00 for the town and our own company budget increased also.

1965 started out as a year of changes. The off ice of Chief Engineer was abolished, “Engineers of the Month” took its place and one of the elected officers was responsible for the engineers each month. Our steward’s duties were revised eliminating the trucks and their equipment from his duties. In February, our training program was advanced by the purchase of a Bell & Howell, 16 M.M. projectors and screen. In March, a committee to look into the purchase of a new ambulance was appointed. In April, Bal backs Hill went off again, this is the toughest place to fight grass and brush fires in town as the wind always blows here. Help was sent from Schiff Scout Reservation as well as from the Sisters of Christian Charity. Brush and leaf filled woods to the south, leaves and grass to the east make for fast work when the wind is from the northwest. Ralston and Brookside helped out at this one also. May, saw some automatic alarm systems installed in the firehouse to cover Foodtown and some other big buildings. We advance by degrees in our fire fighting abilities. We also think about the health of our volunteers. The Lung Bill signed by Governor Hughs set us all up for chest x-rays and our department participated fully in the program. On July 3rd, the First Aid Squad held its 25th Anniversary dinner. October was a busy month; the ambulance committee reported the new ambulance (a Chevrolet chassis with a Hat Alexander Body) was in service and the bill of sale turned over to the Borough Council. A check for $9,204.00 from the ambulance sinking fund paid for this ambulance with “no tax” dollars involved. Jacob T. Lewis of our department was elected the sixth President of the State Chief’s Association. Changes in the bylaws of that organization set the presidents off ice up for a two year term and set things up for an equal distribution of state areas for the officers.

Also in 1965, a Chevy chassis with a Nat Alexander body was placed in service for the First Aid Rescue Squad at a cost of $9,204. The vehicle was purchased entirely with Department funds and incurred no direct burden for the taxpayers. Funding for the purchase represented a community effort rarely seen today. Each household was provided with a “A Quarter Board” – a display in which spare change could be deposited. Filled displayed were returned to the Fire Department until the fund drive objectives were met. Senior members of the Department still recall the community’s effort and generosity.

Service Stripes

At the January, 1966 meeting, a committee of the Officers was appointed by motion for getting new service stripes. The stripes turned out to be solid bar pins and worked out very well. The state government has passed a sales tax and our department has applied for an exemption. It was granted. In July, a request for the fire department to burn the old Peter Clemente Cow Barn, Creamery and Feed Shed came from the Spagna Equipment Company. They obtained a permit and the Mendham Township Fire Department was asked to assist us as a drill. Water to keep any stray fires down was pumped from the swimming pool. Things worked out very well and a good relay drill was worked in. This was almost the end of Mendham’s Farm Era as the Bockoven Property had been sub-divided some time before. A new film of firemen and their families were taken during August. This film is to augment our present one and should be kept updated. In September, a general discussion on the condition of the Mack Engine took place. We felt the Mack Truck Company should repair the engine as the noise had been in the engine from the first day we had it. For many years the fire department had held a Halloween Party for the school children. Contributions were solicited from the citizens, businesses, etc. Each year the size of the party increased, some township children were brought in and children too old for our type of party came. This year the crowd was too large to get in the two floors of the firehouse and the cost was over the donations. There were about 600 children at the party and we had no place to handle a crowd of that kind. At the December meeting it was decided to discontinue the Halloween party.

At the meeting of February 27, 1967, it was decided that, though Waiter Rentsch was an honorary member, his service to the Fire Department and First Aid Squad was so valuable that he should be granted service bars for his time, starting with the time he first joined the Department. In April of 1967, Mendham lost one of its most outstanding citizens, Dr. F. Clyde Bowers. Known throughout the entire western end of Morris County as Doc, his care and treatment went far beyond mere pills. He treated not only the aches and pains of the body but of the mind and soul as well. He was elected Mayor of the town; backed up the Fire Department and First Aid Squad and used them as his aides whenever he could. He had little time for sleep and saw to it that his councilmen and every one he could get, got as little as he did keeping them busy doing things for his town and the young people of the area. Doc was not a big man in physical size but his psyche was greater than any other man it has been my pleasure to know. His foresight and drive gave to Mendham a town that is the envy of others around.

In April we received a request for a badge from our Fire Department, from Ireland. This was to add to a collection of a man there that had visited us here; we sent him one. In May, the first reading of the Proposed Changes to the bylaws were read. This was a regular up-date, to our trying to keep abreast of the times.

We had discussed the need of a power wagon to be used as a Brush Truck for some time so Foreman Shank appointed a committee to look into and come up with some recommendations for one. In August, three bids were received and the committee recommended the purchase from Freeman Motors of a 3/4-ton, Flair Side, 4 wheel drive, Ford pick-up, price $3480.00. The committee requested that they be allowed to equip this truck to their discussed design for a total cost not to exceed $6000.00. It was regularly moved, seconded and passed that the request be granted. Once purchased, all of the conversion work was done at the Borough Garage by volunteers spearheaded by Dave Crotsley. Total cost of the vehicle was $9,480.

In May, Charles P. Bretherton passed on. Charles was the last of the charter members of our Department, 62 years of service for his community. In October, our long awaited F.C.C. License for our Base Station arrived; call letters were KD3808. At the meeting of the Trustees on October 30th, it was proposed to give all the members of our department that have served for 25 years, a silver watch. After some discussion, a motion was presented and seconded that this be done; a committee was appointed to report back in November. At the November meeting the committee reported with the suggestion that an Accutron watch be presented to the members at the Annual Dinner and each year there after to all those that reach the 25 year goal. To date, we have given out 30 watches, we do grow older and I hope wiser. In December a First Aid Directors badge was sent to the Newark Firemen’s Museum. This made two of our badges registered there.

Raymond Marsh

On March 15, 1967 over 100 members of the Mendham Fire Department and their wives attended a testimonial dinner for Raymond Marsh, one of its members for the past forty-nine years. Raymond’s wife, Elsie, feted along with her husband. After a very delicious dinner, Chief Jacob T. Lewis, Master of Ceremonies, called the group to attention pointing out that it wasn’t just a “pot luck” supper as originally announced but that it was a testimonial dinner for one of its best loved and outstanding members. It was pointed out that one charter member, Charles Bretherton, is still alive but that unfortunately he could not be present on this occasion. The occasion was to honor the second oldest living member in the point of service. Mr. Marsh, who still serves in an active capacity, was born on Hardscrabble Road between Mendham Borough and Bernardsville on 29 June 1889. In 1910 a local girl, Elsie Hill, became his wife. While raising their family, Mr. Marsh continued to serve in the Fire Department and as part of the testimonial pictures were shown of the apparatus and the men who made up the Fire Company when Mr. Marsh first joined in 1918. The company was founded in 1905. Other pictures of his activities as a member of the Department were shown as were scenes in and about the Borough of Mendham when the grass grew on Main Street and when Mountain Avenue was a depressed, narrow dirt road over-shadowed by telephone poles. During his service in the Department Mr. Marsh served under 26 different Fire Chiefs many of whom were shown in a group picture. It was pointed out that while Ray Marsh was never a Chief always too busy—that he has long held some of the Departments highest and most respected positions. For many years he had headed the Grave Decorating Committee that places the flags on Memorial Day on the 50 members who rest in the cemeteries in and around the Borough of Mendham. He has long been and is the President of Mendham Firemen’s Relief Association. He served for years as Chief Warden, and was unanimously elected by the entire Fire Company to wear Officer’s gold for life and to serve as a Trustee. He was unanimously elected and still serves as President of the Trustees of the Mendham Fire Department. It was pointed out that Mr. Marsh has been a living symbol of devotion and service to his Department and that he has inspired every man who has been privileged to serve with him and at this point the entire assemblage arose and sang “For He Is A Jolly Good Fellow.” The entire affair was a complete surprise to Mr. Marsh although Mrs. Marsh had to be let in on the secret before hand in order to secure certain needed information and to make sure that M r. Marsh was on hand for the occasion—he had been ill. He was presented with his original Badge #115 which somehow had been secured by his fellow members and which had been gold plated so that it would match the gold on his uniform. He was also presented with a new badge on which was inscribed not only his name but also the numeral 1 indicating Badge #1. Awed by these presentations he became speechless when he was presented with a 25″ screen RCA color television as a gift from the members of the Mendham Fire Department. The Women’s Auxiliary, which handled the dinner part of the program, also presented Mr. Marsh with a very excellent portable radio. Of course, Mrs. Marsh participated in all activities and was the recipient of a beautiful corsage. Fred Crammer chaired the overall program and all members of the Department participated in various phases of activity under the direction of Chief John M. O’Keefe.

Crash Landing

In January of 1968, an airplane crash-landed on the Thomas Estate. Two men were killed and the plane was demolished with gasoline spilled all over. The firemen had their hands full with sightseers and cigarettes to keep things from blowing sky high.

In January of 1969 a color-coding system was incorporated for the equipment on each truck. Trucks started coming back to the firehouse with their own equipment on them, it helped. On April 3rd, Bernardsville called us to give them a hand at Stonemere, a rest home for senior citizens, which was on fire and the closest water was a pond about three quarters of a mile away. There was no loss of life but the home was leveled. We had purchased a Float-A-Dock hard suction tip for just such drafting. The water was very deep near the edge of the pond and the pump operator and his assistant both got a good dunking before they were through. It may have been a bit early for their annual bath but they got one right up to their necks. At the July meeting it was announced that bids for the firehouse extension had been let—low bid was $19,500.00 which was accepted. At the September meeting it was announced that the brush truck was substantially complete and would be wet down and on display for the public, et al. This truck was then donated to the town by the firemen. There were no tax dollars involved by our citizens. In November we raffled off a TV and with the profit, we ordered a new color TV and a full size, full slate pool table. On December 20th, Santa Claus was brought to the Phoenix House for the Junior Women’s Club by First Assistant Barnes. This was the tenth year that we have brought Santa to town.

At the March 1970 meeting, a letter from the Firemen’s Association stating that prior to February 14, 1970 an applicant over the age of thirty-five years was ineligible for membership in the Relief Association. After that date, the age limit was extended to the forty-first birthday and older men were eligible for full benefits. In March the building extension had been completed and wall to dance floor carpeting had been put down. Ward Sands recommended three more tables and eighteen captain chairs is purchased to fill up the corners. This was done and this furniture is the envy of all visiting firemen. After the purchase and installation of the new TV, a sound system was installed under the direction of fireman Ed Snyder. We now have piped music or voice throughout the entire second floor of the firehouse. In September there were again some changes in the bylaws. One of the major changes was in promotion of our Line Officers from Chief Engineer to Chief of the Department and his Assistants from Foreman to Deputy Chief and Assistant Chiefs. If they do the job of Chiefs, they are entitled to the title. It was necessary that the Ordinance creating the Fire Department be changed to make this official so the Mayor and the Council were petitioned to make the necessary changes in it. Again, thank goodness we have Town Fathers that are willing to co-operate with the citizenry.

In September at the annual Morris County Caucus of the Relief Association, Richard Clark was elected to the Board of Managers of the New Jersey Firemen’s Home. Dick is sure a busy guy. All Fire Departments, paid and volunteer have problems with manpower. Volunteers need all the help they can get, regular members and auxiliaries. These people need to be covered by insurance as well as all the other things firemen need; turn out gear, badges, etc. They need all the encouragement we can give them. They are and can be a great help. In October we lost another good man. Waiter Rockefeller joined the Department in 1920. He was elected an officer in the Department in 1930 and appointed Chief in 1936. He was a member of the Pastime Club and served as its President; a member of the Planning Board, a member of the Library Board; a member of the Borough Council and elected Mayor of the Borough. Through it all, he remained a fireman whose guidance and leadership was a great benefit to the department’s growth and advancement. In December, a Plectron System was installed in the firehouse with all its tone decoders. Alarms for municipal buildings, Foodtown and some churches were also installed. This was a great improvement over our old system. The bill for them came to over $9000.00. At this meeting officers are elected for the following year and we list them now because of the new titles. The Chief, William Shank, is recommended for appointment to the Borough Council; Deputy Chief John J. Grassi; 1st Assistant Chief Earl G. Barnes, Jr.; 2nd Assistant Chief Donald E. Smith; Secretary William F. Wertz; Treasurer Vernon Garabrant; First Aid Director C. David Crotsley.

In January 1971 a system of rotating the new members from truck to truck, three months on each one, was started. This was done as part of their training and to acquaint them with the equipment on each one and the operation not only of the equipment but also the truck. In June, Donald Smith was made the Chairman of the New Truck Committee. This will be to replace the present ladder truck and the Oren pump. In July, many of the old pictures around the firehouse were reframed and cleaned; some of them are in the program book. Also during July, the firehouse and the ambulance were wet down together—quite a bash.