Bliss Mansion – Roxiticus Golf Club
Saturday, November 3rd, 1979 saw the worst fire in the history of Mendham. The Clubhouse at the Roxiticus Country Club was a total loss. The 40-room Georgian Mansion was fully engulfed and sections of the mansion had collapsed when our men arrived at the scene. Chief Don Smith was quoted as saying “We could see the big ball of flames in the sky when we passed Hilltop Church.” Sadly, the Club manager T. Marshall Walker and his wife Lorretta perished in the inferno. Nearly 200 firefighters and 20 pieces of apparatus were called out to aid with the firefight. The call for help went out at 4:43am and the first engine rolled out of the department at 4:49am. The heavy smoke conditions as well as the maze like interior of the mansion and open rooms prevented the Walkers from escaping alive. The nearest fire hydrant was located over a mile from the scene, and the fire trucks were unable to draft out of the ponds on the Estate. Because soggy conditions on the golf course prevented the trucks from accessing the ponds to draft water, the men were forced to lay hose from the hydrant and draft water from the club swimming pool. The blaze continued for hours and the men returned several times to extinguish areas of the fire that had rekindled.
The New Firehouse
The borough provided the construction of the new firehouse, however much of the interior was constructed by the volunteer efforts of the firemen at very little cost to the taxpayers. Furniture was purchased with firehouse funds and several local businesses donated time and supplies to the construction of the firehouse. Tom Crammer, a fireman, was responsible for the wallpapering and decorating. Gene Deltado donated the stone and labor to construct the fireplace in the back of the firehouse.
The Ladies Auxiliary lent a hand with the interior design of the firehouse. The ladies used their funds to purchase several of the curtains, drapes, and kitchen setups. The ladies have always supported us whenever we need the help.
In 1980, the Department took delivery of a brand new Ford C9000 Continental Cab Forward 1000 gallon-per-minute pumper. Known was known as “Engine 82”, a designation which survives in the current principal attach pumper.
On September 2nd, 1980, the second largest fire in Mendham Borough History broke out. The Carriage House was built in 1906 and converted to a residence several years later. After converting to a residence, the house required several renovations only six weeks later. The caretaker of the property reported a fire at 5:00 PM. Upon arrival, the fire was fully involved and was not brought under control until 10:30 PM. We returned several times throughout the night to make sure that the fire did not rekindle. 50 Firemen from five municipalities responded that day to help in any way they could. Two Firemen were taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital for heat exhaustion and Smoke Inhalation and at least a dozen other firemen were treated at the scene. The blaze was started by a pile of burning cardboard in front of the house that ignited the 25-foot high tower in the center of the structure and destroyed 95% of the residence. The fire extended to a wooded area behind the residence and was extinguished by the Forest Fire Service. A water shortage due to an existing drought and the volume of water used at this fire promoted existing concern from the mayor and council.
In 1981 an electrical fire in the kitchen of the Beers residence located on Talmadge Road broke out in the afternoon. Upon arrival on the scene, Mendham’s Firemen found the home fully engulfed. Although our response was good and the structure was saved, half of the house was destroyed. The fire, smoke, and water damage led to the necessity of the house being torn down. The quick response of the department led to the discovery of the original blueprints of the building in the attic. Because of this, the home was rebuilt to the original specifications.
In 1983, fundraising activities were beginning to fade off. In attempt to raise funds and bring the department together for a community activity, the first Surf & Turf Dinner was held at the firehouse by Tom Porter and Jack Hoffman. Sammy’s Steak House provided the meat and the men drove to Maine to pick up the eighteen-pound lobsters. All had a good time and the evening was a complete success.
In 1984, the Borough finally sold the Oren at auction to several of our Men that did not want to see the truck fall into the wrong hands. Firefighters Ken Betz, William Schreiner, William Menagh, Jr., and Robert Bretzger purchased the truck. For several years the truck was housed behind the former Carolina Rest Home on Prospect Street. The housing was eventually lost when the owners sold the property. The truck bounced back and forth between several of our men’s homes for years until the Department finally decided to restore the truck in 2000.
In 1985 the first Venison Dinner was held at the Firehouse. Dave Crotsley organized the event, which was sponsored by several members of the Mendham Hunt Club. The event was open to all firemen and Hunt Club members. All proceeds were donated to the St. Barnabus Burn Center.
In 1986, the Department purchased a Pierce mini-Pumper capable of 1000 gallons per minute. Carrying 500 gallons of water, and 1000 feet of 2.5 inch hose, the vehicle had an integrated foam system and one booster reel. The vehicle carries two pre-connected attack lines, and a deck gun for use in applying “master streams”. Known as “Engine 81”, the vehicle is smaller in size than standard pumpers and was purchased with the expectation that it could more easily negotiate some of our narrow streets and driveways.
In January of 1988 the department held the first Christmas tree bonfire at the Borough Park, run by Ed Finlay. The bonfire was held the second Sunday in January to celebrate the Epiphany. The crowd that joined us for the bonfire celebration was much larger than anticipated and has become an annual tradition that much of the community looks forward to as a way to “say goodbye” to the holiday season. Hot chocolate and other refreshments were served by the Ladies Auxiliary to help keep everyone warm on the cold winter night. Eventually the event was taken over by Honorary Firefighter Peter Kenny and run by him for over a decade.
In 1990, the Department bought its first “factory” built rescue truck. Known as “Rescue 85”, it was the predecessor of the current vehicle. Build on a Chevrolet diesel chassis, the body was built by P&L. The new rescue truck accommodated a growing list specialized rescue equipment including the “Jaws of Life”, a cascade system with an integrated booster pump, generators, lights, 12,000 lb. winch and tackle, and seating for 8 firefighters. The vehicle was designed to double as a field incident command post.