Professionally Staffed by Volunteers
The first organized fire protection in East Brunswick was provided by the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company (Now a part of East Brunswick Fire District 1) which was organized in 1906. Located in the southern part of the township they protected not only the Old Bridge area but responded to all sections of the township as necessary. Additional fire protection was provided by neighboring fire departments in Milltown, North Brunswick, South River, and New Brunswick near their respective boundaries.
During the period between the founding of the first fire company and the early 1930’s, growth in the township was slow. However in the late 1930’s rapid growth in the northern part of the township began to justify the need for additional fire protection in the township. A group of concerned citizens met one night in the back room of Fred’s Bar at the corner of Old Bridge Turnpike and Main Street (Cranbury Road). It was here that the groundwork was laid for the new fire company, soon to be named the Independent Fire Company.
This first meeting on February 17th, 1938 began a series of eight meetings in which the foundation for the fire company was laid. On May 20, 1938 the fire company filed the Certificate of Incorporation papers with the Middlesex County Clerk’s Office and on June 3rd of 1938, the fire company received its’ official Certificate of Incorporation papers and it was voted that they be framed.
The Fire Company originally intended to acquire a used industrial pumper as their first apparatus, however it was reported that the vehicle was only a chemical truck and did not have a pump. On February 3rd a committee was formed to ask the township for a donation of $1,000 toward the purchase of a new pumper and on March 3rd, 1939 Mayor Gunia announced at a meeting the township would put $500 towards a new pumper. On March 10th, 1939 a fund drive was started to raise the money necessary to purchase not only a new pumper, but to acquire land for and construct the firehouse.
On December 7th, 1939 the election of the first group of line officers to serve the fire company for 1940 began. Stanley Zielinski was elected as the first Chief, Eugene Z. Balajthy was elected Assistant-Chief, Richard Meyer was elected Captain and James Hoover was elected Lieutenant.
On March 31th, 1940 a special meeting was held, at which time it was voted that land between Milltown and Cranbury Roads would be purchased for the location of the firehouse. (However the actual land purchased was on Willow Street between Cranbury Road and Wallace Street). In April of 1940 the membership voted to purchase a new pumper from J.B Hunt Company in Trenton. The new pumper was built by the Ward LaFrance Company and was equipped with a 500-GPM Northern centrifugal pump, a waukesha engine, a 250-gallon booster tank, 1000ft of 2 and a half inch hose, and 500ft of 1 and a half in hose. Instead of the typical red color used, the new pumper was painted white, beginning our tradition of white apparatus. Construction also started on the new firehouse in the Spring and Early summer of 1940, with talks of installing a siren at the site.
On October 1st, 1940 the fire company responded to its first recorded fire alarm. The Alarm was received at 3:35AM for a fire at the Patrick Bottling Plant on Riva Avenue. The Maple Meade Fire Company of North Brunswick assisted at the fire. For the rest of the duration of the year the fire company responded to 2 building fires, 4 brush fires, one miscellaneous call, and one out of town call. The out of town call was for a fire in the Grand Hotel in South River. This is a far cry from the activity of the fire company today which typically sees upwards of 700 calls a year. Stanley Zielinksi was re-elected Chief and Louis C. Force was elected President for the following year.
The years of 1941 and 1942 proved to be busy ones for the young fire company, which responded to 70 and 78 alarms respectively. The first loss of life that occurred was on February 5th, 1941 when a woman and two children perished in a house fire on Fresh Ponds Road. The first major fire occurred when the fire company was called to assist the South River Fire Department in fighting a fire at the Colonial Dress Factory on Wilson avenue. The building was declared a total loss with damages estimated at $10,000 (Which would be $162,338.78 in today’s money). At a trustees meeting on March 11th 1942 it was voted to take legal action against the Boston Woven Hose Company for bad hose. Despite these incredibly difficult incidents the fire company faced, its membership continued to serve the community of East Brunswick and the surrounding towns.
The next few years involved numerous fires however not much changed within the actual fire company aside from the typical changing of officers. As World War II progressed the fire company faced the same issues many industries faced at that time, as members of the organization went off to serve their country and food, tire, and gasoline rationing went into effect. In 1947 a lot behind the current Willow Street fire house was purchased (lot 3) for an addition. However plans for the addition were dropped due to financial reasons. During the late 1940’s the fire company held a number of carnivals, fund raising activities, and participated in parades all over Middlesex County. The custom of holding an annual installation dinner also began during this time period. This covers our “founding” years, as time progresses significant changes to the organization of the fire company are few and far between.
On March 23rd of 1963, line officers met with members of the Township Committee to discuss the creation of a new fire company in the Lawrence Brook area. On May 6th, a meeting was held at Lawrence Brook School as a recruiting event for the newly proposed fire company. Also, on May 18th the Fire Company celebrated its first 25 years of service with a banquet. Unfortunately, there were two accidents involving our apparatus during this year, our 1962 Mack and our 1940 Ward La France were both involved in collisions while responding to emergencies. During the latter part of the year our radio frequency which is now used for dispatch 33.82mh was put in service.
On August 25th of 1964, the fire companies first President, William Costello passed away. Township residents later filed suits to prevent the construction of the Lawrence Brook Firehouse on December 28th. This year our alarm volume reached 197. On March 3rd of the following year, a meeting was held to finally discuss the replacement of our first apparatus which was now 25 years old. On April 30th the suit against the township over the Lawrence Brook Firehouse was denied, and the groundbreaking ceremony took place on July 31st. On August 24th the Fire Company also purchased Pletron home alerting receivers, no longer would members be totally dependent on the the fire sirens placed around town for dispatch. On June 21st the membership voted to purchase a Bruco-International 100-pm pumper as the replacement for “Old 802”. On October 8th the Township of East Brunswick initiated its new number system for all township apparatus. EBIFC was designated the 800 series, the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company was designated the 700 series, the Brookview Volunteer Fire Company was designated the 900 series, and the East Brunswick Rescue Squad assumed the 600 series of numbers for their apparatus. Finally on November 6th the papers for the completion of the Lawrence Brook firehouse were signed and a brush truck unit was assigned to the new firehouse.
Later in 1969 plans for another additional satellite firehouse were beginning to form as East Brunswick continued to grow at a rapid pace. On April 14th a special meeting was held to vote on the purchase of the lot at the corner of Dunhams Corner Road and Ryder’s Lane for the construction of a new firehouse-the estimated cost being approximately $30,000. East Brunswick High school unfortunately faced two significant fires during the same time period, causing considerable damage to what was then Building 4 and Building 6. The High School would suffer another fire in 1972, causing extensive damage to building 3 after a fire bomb was thrown into the building. Our alarm volume had reached 292 by the end of the year.
1971 was a busy year for the fire company with total calls above 300 alarms. The membership voted to purchase our first chief’s vehicle and a committee was established to look further into the matter. The ground breaking ceremony for Dunhams Corner Firehouse took place on March 15th with the Chief William T. Timper, President Philip Kelton, and Mayor Joseph Mammon in attendance. The new chiefs vehicle was delivered on June 12th, a Ford custom 500. The township also opened its new Public Safety Building this year and the communications center was placed into operation just intake for Hurricane Doria on August 27th. Towards the end of the year the members discussed the purchase of our first ariel apparatus, a 75ft platform truck from Union City Fire Department. 365 alarms were answered this year.
Over the years the fire company received some financial assistance from the township, however most of the funds needed to operate the fire company and provide the fire protection to the citizens of East Brunswick were derived from a door to door annual fund drive. All commercial, industrial, and residential occupancies were contacted and asked for support. This was an extremely time consuming process but it was necessary to gain the critical funds necessary to cover the fire company operating costs. In addition to the fund drive, the fire company sponsored many money making events, and for years operated a booth at the Middlesex County Fair. As the costs of new apparatus and equipment grew not only due to the new technologies being developed but also due to the amount of equipment necessary to serve East Brunswick, it became increasingly difficult to raise the money necessary to fulfill our budgetary needs.
At a special meeting on October 16th, 1980, the membership voted to apply to the township for fire district status. On October 18th and 19th members went door to door throughout our coverages area and collected 1,219 signatures for a petition on our behalf. On October 20th the petition was presented to the township for the establishment of a fire district. The petition was placed on the agenda of the township council for their October 27th and the first reading of the ordinances establish Fire District No. 2 was read at the same time.
At a special meeting of the fire company on November 6th, the membership voted to support 5 members of the fire company for the position of commissioners for the newly founded fire district. On November 10th the ordinance was officially adopted by the township council and on December 16th an election was held for the five commissioners. The five members sponsored by the fire company far outvoted their 3 challengers. The organizational meeting for the new board of fire commissioners was held on December 23rd and the first officers were chosen. With the creation of the new fire district, the funds necessary to support fire protection were now to be obtained through a fire tax assessed to each property owner in the district. The door-to-door campaign became a thing of the past. The fire company responded to 510 alarms this year.
In 1988, Dennis Degraw was elected Chief and Anthony Alexander, Jr. was re-elected President. On January 9th a combination Installation Dinner and 50th Anniversary Ball was held at the Farrington Manor. On February 16th the Township Council voted favorably on an agreement with Middlesex County to acquire an 8 acre site on Edgeboro road to be used by the fire service as a training facility. At the Annual Election of Fire District No. 2 on February 20th Commissioners Willard L. Stockton the Third and Thomas E. Dziedziak were re-elected for 3 year terms, the $515,092 budget passed and the fire commissioners were authorized to issue bonds for the construction of a large addition to the Willow Street Firehouse.
Today the East Brunswick Independent Fire Company continues to serve the community of East Brunswick, typically receiving 800+ calls for service a year. Recently responding to a call on Agate Road for a house explosion, a tractor trailer collision on the turnpike which resulted in explosive oxygen bottles being set off, the tragic accident involving a Spotswood ambulance, and many more serious incidents across East Brunswick. Our roster has grown to include members not only from East Brunswick, but many surrounding towns who are looking for a place to help out others and who continuously do their best to make the community of East Brunswick a better place. If you want to get involved and make a difference in your community, join today! We are always accepting new members.