Serving Our Community Since 1871
The City Of Hackensack Fire Department was established April 1st, 1871. It has its origins going back to March 11, 1864. That evening a meeting of all citizens was held for the purpose of devising measures to protect the village from fires. Two weeks later, on March 25, 1864, it was reported that the village commission had no power to raise money by taxation for fire apparatus of any kind, but suggested that the fire committee try to raise $500.00 by voluntary subscription to purchase hooks, ladders and buckets. Thus the Hackensack Fire Department was born. In 1871, the State Legislature created the Hackensack Improvement Commission empowering them to organize a Fire Department. The response from the community was immediate and within a short time the following Volunteer Fire Companies were formed: Bergen Hook & Ladder Co. 1; Relief Hook & Ladder Co. 2; Protection Engine Co. 1 ; Vigilant Engine Co. .Liberty Hose & Steamer Co. 1; And A Fire Patrol Co. was formed on July 4, 1876. Six years passed until Alert Hose Co. 2 was formed and in 1890 Hudson Hose Co. 3 incorporated. In 1895, Union Hose Co. 4 was formed.
Bergen Hook & Ladder Co. #1
Bergen Hook & Ladder Co. 1 was organized June 1, 1871. The first truck operated by this company was purchased in Jersey City. This apparatus was built in 1868 for Bergen Hook & Ladder Co. 1, in Jersey City. It was then sold to a private company who in turn sold the rig to the Hackensack Fire Commission after it had been decided by the Jersey City Fire Department to purchase trucks hauled by horses. The truck was sold to the Bergen Hook & Ladder Co. 1 of Hackensack for $500., a bargain since it originally cost $1400. A committee of the Bergen H&L was appointed to bring the truck from Jersey City. At the same time another volunteer company was sent out on a similar mission with the understanding that the apparatus reaching Hackensack first would have the title of No.1. The Bergen Company won the race and the truck was stationed in a small building on State St. near the Susquehanna Railroad for a few years. They then moved into quarters with Protection Engine Co. 1 on Bergen St. They remained here until March 30, 1894 when they moved into new quarters on Morris St. with Protection Engine Co. 1. The truck was sold to Rockville Centre, N.Y. in September, 1896. In 1896 they had 34 members.
Relief Hook & Ladder Co. 2
Relief Hook & Ladder Co. 2 was also formed June 1, 1871. They lost the race back from Jersey City and thus were dubbed No.2. Their first apparatus was twenty years old when it was purchased by the commission. The apparatus was remodeled in 1891, getting a new frame and the ladders being placed on rollers. Two ladders were fitted together to make an extension ladder 43 feet long. This rig served for a few more years until a new two-horse steel frame truck was purchased from the Gleason and Bailey Co. for $1350. The company was originally housed in a blacksmith shop on Union St. It then moved to a boat house on Anderson’s dock at the rivers edge near the intersection of Passaic and River Sts. In March 1896 they moved for the last time to quarters at 346 State St. between Passaic and Berry Sts. In 1896 they had 42 members.
Protection Engine Co. # 1
Protection Engine Co. 1 was formed in November 1871. They were put into service on May 6, 1872. They were quartered alone on Bergen St. and on March 30, 1894 larger quarters were built on the same site and Bergen H&L moved into the second bay. Also in 1894, an American La France engine was purchased. This company was considered by many to be the best firefighting company in the city, and there was a waiting list to join the company. In 1896 they had 34 members.
Liberty Hose Co. #1 -Liberty Steamer Co. #1
Liberty Hose Co. 1 was formed September 19, 1882 with 12 men. On November 2, 1885 they were put into service. On June 10, 1888, a hose carriage of -at that time- the most modern construction was purchased, and was delivered September 19, 1885. It was owned solely by the company. The company ultimately arrived at the conclusion that it could do better service with an engine than with a hose carriage, so a steamer was purchased for $3000. This apparatus was accepted by the company on April 14, 1893 and was the first steam fire engine in the City. In September 1893 the company sold its hose carriage to the Maywood Fire Department, and then purchased a Gleason & Bailey improved hose wagon. It was at that time that the company changed its name to Liberty Steamer Co. 1. They were housed in quarters at 346 State St. with Relief H & L Co. 2. In 1896 they had 21 members. This structure later became the municipal building.
Alert Hose Co. # 2
Alert Hose Co. 2 was organized in a cigar store at 70 Main St. on March 21, 1883. On May 9, 1893, the company purchased an up to date hose wagon built to order by J.J. Post Of Paterson. On September 25, 1893 the wagon was formally turned over to the company. This Company in 1910 had a chemical and hose wagon in their house to try it out before it was given to Union Hose Co. 4. The Company was quartered on Mercer St. and, due to its location, responded to more alarms than any company in the city. These quarters were to become the first headquarters of the paid department. In 1896 they had 19 members. They were disbanded May 11, 1911 as their quarters became the first paid headquarters, with their members able to join the other volunteer companies. This building later became police headquarters.
Hudson Hose Co. # 3
Hudson Hose Co. 3 came into existence on June 16, 1890 at the Franklin House on Hudson St, and membership commenced on July 7,1890. This company came about due to the citizens and taxpayers of the old Third District wishing to be furnished with greater protection against fire. This section was at that time being built up very rapidly. The Company was placed into service on July 7, 1893. A new firehouse was built at 199 Hudson St. This was the only Company to own their own firehouse and is the only volunteer fire house in the City still standing. It is still occupied by Engine Co. 301. In 1896 they had 20 members. In 1910 they were issued a Chemical and Hose Wagon and became Chemical 2.
Union Hose Co. # 4
Union Hose Co. 4 was organized on May 8, 1895 and was placed into service on June 1, 1895 with 12 members. Its first apparatus was a four wheeled hose reel powered by the members. This hose reel was purchased by the commission from the Liberty Hose Company, who purchased it Flushing, N.Y., where it was known as the “Village Belle”. In 1910, it was doing auxiliary duty at Hackensack Hospital. They were then given the Chemical and Hose Wagon first assigned to Alert Hose Co.2. and became Chemical 3. It was drawn by two horses. The Company was first quartered in a shed at the old Fairmount Hotel until the commission built a house at 787 Main St. in the Fairmount Section. These quarters were located directly across from the present Engine 305. In 1896 they had 13 members. This structure burned to the ground in ???
Fire Patrol Co. #1
Hackensack Fire Patrol No. 1 was organized for the protection of property taken from burning buildings. The members were appointed deputy sheriffs and put into service on July 4, 1876 with 10 men to preserve order during the centennial parade and fireworks show. On March 14, 1879 the state legislature passed an act defining the duties of the patrol and specifying that the company should have 20 men. In May 1887, The Hackensack Improvement Commission granted the application of the Fire Patrol for an improved equipment, and in August 1887 a new wagon equipped with canvas covers, stretchers, ropes, lanterns, etc. was delivered to the Company and housed in the quarters of Relief H & L Co. 2., where it was organized. In February 1893 the wagon was moved to the firehouse on Mercer St. In 1896 they had 17 members.
Vigilant Engine Co.
Vigilant Engine Company was only around for a very short time and not much is known about their history. It is believed that they were formed June 1, 1871 and were disbanded on December 12, 1872.
Horses were first used to haul fire apparatus in Hackensack in 1891. Bergen H & L Co. 1 was the first company to abandon the use of rope hauling, followed by Relief H & L Co. 2.
According to one early historical account the volunteers were described as “a gay lot of young blades who boasted a fierce pride in their respective companies and an insane jealousy of their accomplishments.” According to the 1896 book Hackensack Illustrated, the “value of the Fire Department equipment, including real estate and fire alarm telegraph is $26,000. The department owned 5050 feet of cotton jacketed rubber lined hose. Apparatus consisted of two steam engines, one hose wagon, three hand carts, two hook and ladder trucks, and one patrol wagon”. There were 200 men in the department in 1896.
On May 20, 1896 Firemen’s Day was celebrated in Hackensack. The State convention was held here and it was called “the greatest parade that Hackensack ever held”. There were many volunteer companies from all over the state on hand to help celebrate the occasion, which also was the 25th anniversary of the volunteer department.
On July 24, 1896, John Gamewell, the inventor of the Gamewell Fire Alarm System, died in his Hackensack home. The Gamewell System of Fire Alarm Boxes has been in place in the city since the 1880’s and there is even a street named for him; Gamewell Street.
On May 19, 1905 a monument to Hackensack firemen was unveiled at Hackensack Cemetery, where it still stands today.
Motorization came to the Hackensack Fire Department in 1909, when a group from the Heights Hill section of town organized Engine Company #5 located in that area. They felt that they had inadequate protection due to the long run by horse drawn apparatus from the Mercer St. firehouse. The residents of the Hill Section had subscribed $6000 for the purchase of an automobile fire engine. The members of Engine 5 had planned to ask the city to build them a firehouse but this was deemed unnecessary when the city purchased a chemical and hose auto. Engine Company 5 was never officially incorporated but the members attached themselves to Alert Hose Co. 2 and answered alarms with them.
Fire Chiefs in the volunteer days were known as chief engineers. John Ward was the first chief engineer of the Hackensack Fire Department. In all there were 22 chief engineers. William Ziegler was the last chief engineer in 1913-14 and the first paid fire chief, in which capacity he served from 1914 to 1933.
In 1911 the necessitation for a full time fire department was recognized and on May 11th of that year an ordinance was passed by the Hackensack Development Commission creating such a department. Headquarters were located on Mercer St. in the former quarters of Alert Hose Co. 2. 4 men were appointed to these positions. They were William Jackson(first paid driver), Michael Wygant(the captain), Joseph Mercier, and William Bahlburg. They worked 11 days straight and then had 24 hours off. They were allowed to leave three times a day for one hour for meals. They slept upstairs in the Mercer St. firehouse and were still on call on their 12th day. There were often times when there were only one man on duty, so the volunteers were still an integral part of fire suppression. The paid department had the only motor driven fire equipment in Bergen County in 1911, and the horse drawn equipment was still used by the volunteers. Unlike today, in those days Hackensack had low water pressure, so steamers were used to help pump multiple lines while using any available sources of water, since hydrants were few and far between.
In 1911 there were two ways of reporting a fire, either by telephone or by the 40 fire alarm boxes located throughout the city. When an alarm box was pulled it rang a bell on the front tower of the Mercer St. firehouse and blew a compressed air whistle at the rear of the building.
During this time the Fire Patrol ran out of the Mercer St. firehouse using the volunteers. They had a horse drawn wagon used to carry tarpaulins and lanterns. Although there were electric lanterns back then they were not in abundant supply, so oil lanterns and carbon arc lamps were used. The patrol did salvage work and also was used to maintain order at fire scenes. In 1921, the patrol became a salvage company, and performed many of the same duties.
The introduction of paid men began the end of the volunteer days and on December 15, 1914 the Commission created a full paid and part-paid fire department. Ten paid and thirty part-paid men were selected by the Commission. Chief William Ziegler, the last volunteer chief, was appointed Chief Of Department. The other men selected by the commission were Captain William Jackson; Mechanic H. Gross; 1st Lt. William Bahlburg; 2nd Lt. Joseph Mercier; 3rd Lt. Frank P. Walsh; and paid firemen Henry D. Rinker, Garrett W. Vreeland, Frederick Schrader, and Frederick W. Lavach.
The thirty part-paid men were split up to four companies. Chemical Engine 2 had a captain, lieutenant, and six firemen. Chemical Engine 3 was assigned a captain, lieutenant and four firemen. Assigned to Engine Co. 1 were eight firemen, with Truck Co. 1 also getting eight men. Part-Paid men were essentially volunteers, but were paid $50.00 per year. Each member failing to answer an alarm was assessed a fine of $1.00, unless a satisfactory excuse was presented. All fines were pooled and at the end of the year, split among the members who answered at least 75 percent of the calls. Members answering less than 50 percent of the calls were subject to dismissal.
The volunteers, who had served for 43 years, were dissolved on that same evening. The men at that time worked 72 hours on and 24 hours off. This was a one platoon system which stayed in effect until 1928, when a second platoon was formed by voter referendum. This meant an 84 hour average work week consisting of alternating 72 and 96 hour weeks. On January 1, 1933, the form of city government changed and officially the paid department as a whole was dissolved, however this was only done on paper. Due to this change, the part-paid section was placed out of municipal control on January 1, 1933 with disbandment of the part-paid section occurring on October 16, 1933.
In 1947 there was again a referendum to reduce the work week from 84 hours to 67 hours but it was defeated, and instead a 70 hour week was instituted in 1949. In 1956, the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association Local 16(FMBA) sought to have a 56 hour work week instituted. This caused a conflict between the firefighters and the city manager. The city offered to compromise with a 63 hour week, and was rejected by the men. This created a local uproar in which newspaper ads were taken by both sides pleading their case. By a narrow margin the 56 hour week was voted into place and took effect January 1, 1957. At this time a third platoon was added and 9 new firemen were hired. In 1964 there was another referendum and the firefighters won a 42 hour work week. A fourth platoon was added and 20 new firefighters were hired. This new workweek took effect January 1, 1965, and remains in effect today. In 1971, there was a change in Unions, with the firefighters voting overwhelmingly to move to the International Association Of Fire Fighters Local 2081(IAFF)
The demand for the fire department services in this community has climbed steadily every year. Nearly 30 years ago, in 1974, the department had 1415 runs, and had 119 firefighters. In 2003 the department responded to 5143 calls for help, and had 98 firefighters. This tremendous increase in call volume is due to the increased rescue and EMS demands on the Fire Department, as the department responds to all life threatening medical emergencies, in addition to fire suppression, and other responsibilities.
Chief Of Department
The first Chief of Department was William Ziegler. He was the last Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Department and was in command from December 15, 1914 until October 16, 1933. With the adoption of the City Manager form of government in 1933, and the creation of the position of Director of Public Safety, the position of Fire Chief was eliminated. Chief Ziegler retired, and Captain Frank Walsh was placed in charge of the Division of Fire and Public Safety. On June 17,1937, the city abolished this title and appointed Captain Walsh to the position of acting Fire Chief. However, in December 1940 an ordinance was passed providing for the recreation of the office of Fire Chief. On December 18, 1940, former Chief William Ziegler was named Fire Chief for one day, then retired on pension. Acting Chief Frank Walsh was then put in command. He remained in this position until 1946. Battalion Chief William Frodsham was named Chief on February 22, 1946 and was instrumental in creating a new engine company, along with purchasing many new pieces of apparatus during his tenure. Upon his retirement on July 1, 1964, Deputy Chief Vincent Hoffman assumed command. Chief Hoffman was responsible for the modernization of the department at that point, purchasing the latest in radios and breathing apparatus. He was also able to get three engines and one ladder truck purchased in a five year period. His death on May 11, 1971 saddened the entire community. Deputy Chief John Bishop was appointed that same day and was in office while the new headquarters was being built. The Fire Patrol was reestablished in 1974. It was during his term that the apparatus color was changed to lime green.
On January 10, 1974 Chief Bishop left office, and was succeeded by Deputy Chief Charles Jones on June 18, 1974. During his time in office the department ranks swelled to 119 members, a luxury which did not last. He also oversaw the purchase of a Mack engine and a Mack Tower Ladder. This was a departure from the make of apparatus typically bought by the department. This proved to be a prudent move as these two rigs served nearly 30 years each. Upon retirement of Chief Jones on March 1, 1980, Deputy Chief Anthony Aiellos became Chief of Department. He retired on October 1, 1989. On December 4, 1989, Deputy Chief Ronald Freeman, a 33 year veteran of the department assumed command. Under his command, the department progressed further. New Standard Operating Procedures were established, along with a safety committee. The newest in apparatus was purchased, with the purchase of a Seagrave engine and Seagrave aerial ladder. The color of apparatus also went back to the traditional red. In 1994 Chief Freeman retired and Deputy Chief Richard Johnson was appointed Chief on Feb 1, 1994. During his tenure the medical first responder program was implemented. Two new Seagrave engines and ambulance have been purchased and a new rescue unit donated to the department during this time. In 2001, Chief Johnson retired. Chief Rick Yannelli was appointed Chief of Department, with Deputy Chief Joel Thornton appointed as Chief of Operations. In just 2 short years the department has evolved tremendously. Modern equipment that has been sorely needed for years has been purchased, and placed in service. Grant monies available thru federal programs have been aggressively sought out and awarded to us, with specialized equipment for the Special Operations teams being purchased, at little cost to the city taxpayers. Several of our members have been recruited for the New Jersey USAR team, a highly specialized rescue operations team within the last 2 years. Morale among the men has skyrocketed, and the numerous special operations programs that were begun under this leadership have placed the Hackensack Fire Department eons ahead of where we were just a couple of years ago. The current department leadership has made a commitment to the men to obtain the finest in training and equipment, and the men have responded in a positive way, volunteering for the various teams that have been formed in the last two years. Because of this new direction, the Hackensack Fire Department is known throughout the state as a highly motivated, well-managed department that is ready to serve not only in our city, but wherever we are called to go.
The first formal training program for Hackensack firemen was begun in 1936. An officer of the department was sent to the New York City Fire School, and, upon his graduation, was named supervisor of the training program. Thirty hours of outdoor training evolutions were conducted in the spring and fall each year. Three hours per week were devoted to classroom study during the winter months to keep up with the growing fire-fighting problems arising as a result of the new synthetic products, high-rise buildings, and changes in firefighting techniques. In 1974, the department instituted a sophisticated training program developed by Oklahoma State University. Today, several hours a day are spent in both classroom and practical drill evolution, using modern equipment and technology, ensuring the safety and welfare of the citizens. With the recently developed special operations teams, hundreds of additional man-hours per year of training are spent outside the firehouse. Even more additional training is taken by the members on their own time, with numerous members traveling to Indiana, Baltimore, and other places to attend classes on their own time and at their expense to further their knowledge. Todays’ fireman does far more than fight fires. Building collapses, Hazardous Materials incidents, High Angle Rescues, and Confined Space/Trench Rescue are but a few of the disciplines that were are trained for and ready to act on.
In 1956, an International Emergency Unit was given to the department by the Federal Government for civil defense and was assigned number 328. Thus, the Rescue unit was born. The Rescue was equipped with a winch and many special tools needed for all types of rescues. This unit was special called to emergency incidents. It also responded to emergency medical calls when ambulances were not available. It responded to auto accidents for extrications and for the use of the winch. Extrications were performed using hydraulic porta power tools.
As the city grew, it became evident that more sophisticated tools were needed to perform the ever increasing amount of rescue calls. In 1983, a new Rescue unit was purchased and also purchased were the Jaws Of Life rescue tool, and its many accessories. There is a firefighter/EMT assigned to the unit with a lieutenant. They are trained in advanced emergency medical procedures, and are used in that capacity when the ambulances are not available. In 1995, a new rescue unit was acquired. Hackensack Medical Center donated a Freightliner/Marion rescue unit to the department to take the department into the 21st century. We have outgrown this unit, and will be spec’ing out a new one, hopefully in late 2004.
General Order 93 of March 27, 1963 provided for the Hackensack Fire Department to take over the responsibility of providing ambulance services for the city from the volunteer corps, using an ambulance leased from the volunteers. This was done due to declining volunteer membership. The Fire Department provided the service from 0600 to 1800 Monday thru Friday, a policy which remains today. Firefighters were given first aid training, and took turns on the ambulance. In the early days of the service, the procedure was for the department clerk, who was a lieutenant, and a firefighter to respond on all medical emergency calls. This practice lasted only a short time. After this, the ambulance ran out of Engine 302’s quarters. During the daytime, the ambulance sat in front of the engine; at night they were switched around. The way it worked was that the last man on the engine and a police officer responded to the medical call, leaving Engine 302 undermanned. Eventually all four platoons had a regularly assigned firefighter who drove the ambulance, and the second man assigned was rotated. This procedure lasted for 14 years.
In November 1977, Hackensack moved to the forefront of emergency medical care, sending seven firefighters to paramedic training. At first these men were assigned strictly as paramedics, but shortly after were assigned to a platoon and also fought fires. Also in 1977, the department hired civilian paramedics and had as many as fourteen of them by 1981. For the first time a female civilian paramedic was hired by the department. She worked day shifts only while the others were assigned to a platoon.
In 1981, the State of New Jersey ruled that the Hackensack Fire Department Paramedics must be reassigned to Hackensack Hospital by May 5, 1981 so that a greater number of municipalities could benefit from the advanced life support they were trained in. To cover the gap left by their departure, the department hired civilian Emergency Medical Technicians. There are currently only 7 EMT’s on the job, and they man the two Fire Department ambulances from 0600 to 1800 weekdays, while the Hackensack Volunteer Ambulance Corps man their own ambulances from 1800 to 0600 weekdays and all day on weekends. In 2003 the Fire Department ambulances responded to a total of 3015 calls while only being in service 60 hours a week.
Two of the ways a person can report a fire are by pull box and by telephone. In 1896, there were 22 pull boxes. They were primarily located south of Passaic St., as very few people lived in the Fairmount section of town at that time. The signal codes were very simple: 3- return taps 5-testing fire alarm 6-shut off water 10-relief call. There were two districts with 10 boxes in district 1 and 12 boxes in district 2. They were: