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Bucket Brigades

On September 4, 1865, the dark night was brightened by sharp flashes of light which appeared high in the blackness and traveled sharply toward earth. Cornelius B. Campbell was aware of the storm and listened attentively from his Park Avenue residence. Suddenly, there was an awesome, crackling sound which sent a chill down his spine. He rushed to the window and was forced into action as he saw his barn become inflamed. Neighbors ran to his aid, but Campbell’s barn was destroyed.

This was the first fire recorded in the initial publication of the Vineland Weekly. In those days, most people did not have insurance and when property was destroyed the loss was usually suffered without compensation. However, there were times when neighbors offered assistance. In the case of the Campbell’s, John Gage and Truman Mabbett, Sr. started a subscription paper and four hours after the fire brought Mr. and Mrs. Campbell $100.

In the early history of the Borough of Vineland, before the forming of an organized Fire Department, each householder took fire precautions as he deemed necessary. Buckets were the main implement used, either the ones commonly found about the home which could be taken to the well in time of need, or special ones standing filled for an emergency. The leather fire bucket was the first specialized equipment, usually of three gallon capacity. In Vineland, cisterns were established at various corners on Landis Avenue to supplement the individual wells. When fire struck, citizens formed human lines called “bucket brigades” stretching from the nearest well or cistern to the fire. It was not uncommon in most communities to see woman and children in these lines. When it came to fire, everyone who was able helped.

Most citizens were fairly content with this arrangement although there were some who tried to enlighten the town to the dangers of not having some better means of combating such an unrelinquishing fiend. Mr. C.B. Bagster was one who tried to touch the consciences of those who ignored the problem. He stated in an article in the Vineland Weekly on June 22, 1867, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is better by foresight to save than by aftersight to repair.” He urged the town to purchase some simple apparatus to aid the population.

Surely everyone was aware of the danger, but it seems they held the attitude why do today what can be done tomorrow. On July 2, 1872, that tomorrow came. In the early hours of the morning, the town was awakened by the alarm of fire. The fire originated in a wooden building owned by Silas G. Sylvester. Its lower part was divided into two shops occupied by Samuel E. Baily, harnessmaker, and Casper Hoffman, barber, while the upper rooms lodged Daniel A. Russell and his family. Quickly, the fire spread to Sylvester’s brick black which consisted of several buildings housing approximately seven businesses on the north side of Landis Avenue between the Boulevard and Sixth Streets.

The flames roared out of control. They were finally arrested by tearing down the wooden structure in their path used by James Chance for his grocery store, thus saving the mechanics block. No one was injured, but this was the most destructive fire the town had known ending with $20,000 in damages. After this disaster, the people were finally moved to discuss a means by which they could be protected.

Several suggestions were proposed for the prevention of future disasters. The most feasible was the purchase of “some hook and ladders, with a company to handle them together with several Babcock Fire Extinguishers to be kept at convenient points always ready for use.”

Vineland's First Fire Company

On July 23, 1872 a meeting of the Fire Department was held at the Union Hall. George Souther submitted the draft for a constitution which was adopted with few exceptions. The first officers elected were: Ezekiel Morely, Foreman, a carpenter from New York who settled in Vineland in 1863; William V. Prince, First Assistant, who came to Vineland with his family when he was 20 years old and went into business with his father at Kimball and Prince Lumber Company; John L. Ring, Second Assistant, a farmer and later a shoemaker who settled here in 1864; Rev. Oscar Clue, Secretary, a former teacher and Mathematics Professor who arrived in Vineland in 1867 to take charge of the Unitarian Society; and George Pearson, Treasurer, a Pennsylvanian and one of Vineland’s older citizens who settled here in 1864 and purchased 20 acres of land on Landis Avenue.

Several days later another meeting was held at the Union Hall. The company adopted “Vineland Hook and Ladder Fire Company” as its official name and five new volunteers were admitted. The Foreman appointed as Fire Police: Lucius H. Babcock, Proprietor of a small supply store; Eli H. Pierson, a Blacksmith and owner of livery stable on Landis Avenue; Nathan P. Wiswell, a Shoecutter and co-owner with his brother of the first shoe factory in the settlement; William Dawson, an England born Plasterer and Mason; Charles D. Baily, owner of a confectionary and bakery shop; and Dr. David W. Allen, Dentist.

The Fire Police were to have the care and protection of all goods removed from the buildings during a fire, with the power to arrest those tampering with any of the properties. They had the same privileges as the firemen, exemption from jury and militia duty. John Huggett, a road master on the Vineland section of the West Jersey Railroad and a foreman supervising the laying of the West Jersey and Atlantic Railroads; Charles Bracket, a lumber foreman and salesman; Truman Mabbett, Jr.; and Albert Markland, shoemaker and buttonmaker were appointed as Axemen.

The Foreman also appointed an Executive Committee consisting of Edwin M. Turner, Charles K. Landis and George Pearson to purchase hooks, ladders, buckets, a fire extinguisher, chains crowbars and badges for the hats of the men and also to order a Hook and Ladder Truck. Mr. Turner was a lawyer from Pennsylvania with great ability in the music field. In 1865 he and his partner, William A. House, formed the first bank in Vineland under the name of House and Turner. And of course, Charles K. Landis the founder of Vineland was born in Philadelphia, practiced law and later became involved in real estate. He founded Vineland in 1861 at the young age of 28.

A fire station to house the equipment was erected on the south side of Landis Avenue between the Boulevard and Sixth Street. On October 19th, the new Hook and Ladder Truck, made by Ed. H. Hoffman and painted by Justus A. McGargle, was completed. This was a four wheeled frame with brackets on top to transport the ladders. If also carried buckets, crowbars, axes, hooks, picks, and torches if needed. When the truck was loaded if often weighed a great deal and to compensate for the extra weight there were iron protection bars on each side for the firemen to grasp along with the tongue or rope attached to the front.

The “Hook and Ladder Boys” paraded their machine on Thanksgiving Day. The town band marched musically behind the men as they walked with their heads high prominently displaying the new badges on their hats. These hats were made mostly of leather with iron or metal reveted segments and were designed similar to the modern hats worn today with the rearward extension of the brim. This attempted to prevent water from running down their backs. The crown was designed as a shield for the face against the sudden confrontation of smoke or fire. Overall, the hat protected the firemen from falling debris. The entire town came out and shared with the “Rough and Ready” men, as they called themselves, in the pride of their new machine.

Niagara Fire Company No.1

The feeling of confidence in fire protection was destroyed on September 20, 1877 when Vineland’s second disastrous fire took place. Again, in the early morning hours between two and three the citizens were aroused by the cry of “Fire!” The bells of the Methodist Church and the High School building rang out the alarm. Several businesses were destroyed on Landis Avenue, the loss amounting to $8,000.

Although the citizens worked heroically, their means were still insufficient to prevent the destruction and they realized that something more must be done. A meeting was held in the Baker House on October 2nd. Another group of men joined the department calling themselves the Niagara Engine Company and they took immediate steps towards procuring a fire engine and hose wagon.

The new hand pumper arrived in March 1878 and on the 26th an entertainment was given to raise funds towards its payment. During the show, the new engine was displayed for the first time to the public. It was of 7″ to 9″ cylinder velocity and required eight men to operate. The nozzle tube was attached to the side with hooks for buckets and a bell on top. There was a long handle in front used in transport. Everyone marveled at this little pumper and the town once again inspired with confidence and pride.

The hose wagon arrived the following month. It was called a “jumper” because being drawn on only two wheels it could easily be jumped over curbs and other street obstructions.

Until the close of the 18th century, fire engines could only pump water directly into the blaze. If the fire was beyond the reach of the nozzle mounted on the pumper, nothing could be done except with buckets. The invention of hose was a tremendous step forward. Firemen could enter the burning structure with a hose line and go directly to the flames while the engine was operated on the street. Unlike the old engine which had to be filled manually with buckets, the new hose engine could draw water through a hose line directly from a cistern of lake by means of suction. Every hundred feet of hose was as effectual as sixty men with buckets. This first hose was made of leather which was riveted in sections. The hand sewn leather hose often leaked or cracked and was replaced by rubber hose in later years.

Pioneer Fire Company No.1

As the year 1878 came to a close, Vineland had a Fire Department consisting of a hook and ladder company, an engine company, with equipment for each, fire police, a few uniforms, helmets and badges. To avoid friction and avail the city with the best, most smoothly operating fire protection, the Town Committee appointed five Fire Commissioners, giving them full control over the department and its property as a whole. They were also responsible for upkeep and care of the latter. A Chief Engineer was in charge of the department at fires while the officers of each company were to be a Foreman, Assistant and Secretary, elected annually and subject to approval of the Commissioners. The first Commissioners appointed were Freeman S. Hale, President; James Loughran, Secretary; M.J. Kimball; Ezekiel Morely and Joseph Mason. William V. Prince was elected Chief Engineer. With a well organized Fire Department, there was a necessity for more water access and within less than a month three new cisterns were built, all on Landis Avenue.

Although the citizens worked heroically, their means were still insufficient to prevent the destruction and they realized that something more must be done. A meeting was held in the Baker House on October 2nd. Another group of men joined the department calling themselves the Niagara Engine Company and they took immediate steps towards procuring a fire engine and hose wagon.

Along with these assets, the department faced financial problems. Before 1878, there had been no appropriation from public monies and that year it totaled only $256.78. Expenses had to be met through private donations. Of course, everyone relied on the department in time of trouble but the donations were much slower in arriving than the speedy firemen in response to fire alarms. Ungratefulness was not the reason. Its was just that the people had so little. The settlement of only seventeen years was struggling with the many personal and public problems confronting a new town, complicated by an increase in population. There were new roads to be opened and old ones to be repaired; schools and churches to be built; sidewalks to be laid to replace the casual board and a simple system of street lighting to be installed. And so the men of the department paid personally the smaller bills and held community suppers, balls and musical entertainments to liquidate the larger ones.

As the city grew, other means had to be found to support and develop the water supply and provide new apparatus for the department. The Town Committee engineered a new plan for securing the monies necessary to build up equipment. In March 1880, they organized a regular Fire District in accordance with State Law and the legal voters within that district elected five Fire Directors. The first directors were Freeman S. Hale, Chairman; Hosea Allen, Clerk; John Prince; Eli B. Hendee and Oliver D. Graves and the sum of $200 was then appropiated for fire purposes.

The Rough and Ready Boys of the old “Hook and Ladder Company” and the men of the Niagara Engine Company found it increasingly difficult to procure space for the purpose of their meeting and the rental of the various rooms became more of a burden. It became apparent with the increase in the fire equipment and the number of men in service that one fire house large enough to house together all the men and equipment was necessary.

A lease was obtained from the Town Committee for a lot on Sixth and Wood Streets and during the spring and summer the building of the new firehouse proceeded. The firehouse cost less than the estimated $1600 and was raised by tax on the property in the fire district. It was completed on October 1st and the Vineland Hook and Ladder Company and Niagara Engine Company combined forming Pioneer Fire Company 1.

A two story brick building, with apparatus quarters on the first floor, a parlor, meeting room and recreation apartment on the second, the new firehouse meant a great deal to the men of Pioneer Fire Company. They were now one Fire Department and had great pride in it. They felt a sense of belonging and comradeship. The firehouse became a social club where community picnics and dances were held. It was a place where the boys could gather and talk. They could often be found at the firehouse on cold winter nights drinking hot coffee and listening to old timers tell tales of bygone days. On summer nights, they would collect in front of the station while someone played a harmonica or other instrument.

The volunteer firemen became friends of the community. They were dependable and very generous. Often, when a family lost their home and didn’t have a place to go, the firemen offered the protection of the firehouse. There they gave whatever was necessary to make their neighbors comfortable until further arrangements could be made. It was a time of neighborly spirit where almost every face was familiar and the small settlement was like a large family unknowing and untouched by the pangs of the modern, noisy existence of today.


It seemed with each major fire, the city had continually installed new cisterns so that by March of 1882 fourteen had been built including the large one sunk in front of Pioneer Fire Station. Feeling it advisable to know the exact locations of these, Dr. Allen drew a map of the cisterns for the company. It was framed and mounted and Dr. Allen was paid $5 for his trouble.

During this time, a horse drawn chemical and hose wagon was purchased. The chemical engine carried 3/4″ hose and two 50 to 100 gallon tanks containing water. A mixture of sodium bicarbonate and sulfuric acid were used to generate pressure and provide an extinguishing agent. If the supply of soda and acid became exhausted, the engine could continue operation as a worker pumper.

Fire Horses

“The elements of nature such as mud and deep snow of the good old days often stymied the firemen in their efforts to reach the fires.” A fireman who owned a horse and was the first to arrive at the fire hall and hook the pumper to his horse received $1.25. Although domesticated to pull man’s load for thousands of years, this faithful servant and companion only became associated with the fire service in the twilight of the horse era. Firefighters felt that America was founded on brute strength, a strength and courage that could not and should not be replaced. They felt it was their duty to continue the heritage their forefathers had left. They were reluctant to allow the horse replace their own muscle power and claim the honor of pulling their beloved machines. They did finally realized that by giving the horse the task of getting the fire apparatus to the scene, their strength would be saved for the more serious job of extinguishing the fire. Through the years, the firefighters grew to love and respect their fire horses and marveled with pride at the beauty those noble creature manifested as they ran, hoofs tapping and fire bell ringing pulling the fire engine through the streets.

A Bell For Pioneer Fire Company No. 1

On January 8, 1883, Mrs. Emma H. Coomper, a dressmaker living on Seventh and Landis across from the Methodist Church spotted smoke seeping from one of the church windows. She ran across the street and being the first to arrive began piling cushions on the floor above the fire which barred the draft and partially smothered the flames until help arrived.

The alarm had been given promptly by the bell of the same endangered building. Men from neighboring homes brought buckets filled with water controlling the surface fire. When the firemen arrived with the engine truck more efficient work began. They found it necessary to cut away portions of the woodwork to stifle the flames. They worked for more than an hour after which several men offered to remain during the night with water supply to prevent a second outbreak.

After this incident, it became clear to the firemen and citizens that a fire bell specifically for that purpose was needed. This feeling was stated in the Evening Journal on January 10th when it started: “Vineland needs and must have a first class fire bell, which should be of incalculable advantage in many cases. As it is, firemen and citizens generally find it impossible to distinguish any particular difference between the ringing of the church bells for fires, funerals or meeting. A good bell could be procured for about $300.”

The Weekly-Independent seconded its rival by stating on January 11th: “In view of the trouble in this case to raise on alarm, the suggestion that a bell be placed on Firemen’s Hall and sounded only in case of fire is particularly opportune and is respectfully recommended to the powers that be.”

The firemen appointed a committee to secure information on the bell and cupola. The report was presented to the Fire Directors with a recommendation of raising $400 to cover the cost. The recommendation was accepted by the Directors and favorably voted on by those within the voting district on March 11th.

The committee worked rapidly and on April 19th the Weekly-Independent stated: “A tall tower arrangement is being placed on the engine house. A fire alarm bell will be placed in the same, and our people will know they ought to go to a fire when the bell rings.” On the 26th another announcement stated, “The Fire Bell is in town.”

The bell itself was purchased from McShane and Company for $196.00 and the total cost of building the cupola and installing the bell came to $411.08.

Through the passing years, many hours of sleep were lost to the clanking of Pioneer’s bell. As it sat in its pedestal above the fire station ringing out alarms which were answered by the first settlers of Vineland, it was still there awakening their sons and grandsons. Through the turn of the century, it competed with the noise of a growing town. From the clatter of horse hoofs to the roar of the automobile, it rang out its dire warning. And it saw the young town mature to a prospering city with telephone wires strung to its own height.

Yes, the fire bell was in town and it served its time well. And then the day came when its ringing could not be heard above the sounds of progress and the cupola had become weak with age. The bell was taken down to be stored in the City’s warehouse until sold as old metal.

Before this fate became a reality, it was rescued by members of the Fire Department and Historical Society. It now rests in silence at the corner of Seventh and Elmer Streets with a bronze tablet inscribed, “Fire Bell of the Pioneer Fire Company, Vineland, N.J., April 1883.” And if you listen carefully, you may be able to hear through its silence the sounds of the past.

A History of Reliance Fire Company No. 1

In the early years of this century, a new era in firefighting opened through the invention of the automobile. Firemen were slow to recognize it, just as they had been slow in accepting the horse, and automobiles were first used only to transport men to the fire while engines remained much as they had been–horse drawn. Anyone with an aesthetic eye could not fashion replacing the graceful fire horse with a noisy gasoline engine.

While this struggle continued in the larger cities, Vineland was faced with a struggle against the human element rather than machine. The budding town had grown and matured much and in 1915 a small group of men gathered together and decided that Vineland should have a larger fire department, thus giving the town better fire protection.

The Pioneer Fire Company had its full quota, so the only alternative was to form a new company. This was not easy. It was frowned upon by many; even the Borough Officials of that time refused to recognize the new group as a fire company. They were only supportive of Pioneer which was now very well known and established in the community. After all, the town had grown and experienced much with the men of Pioneer.

These unpopular men were unwavering in their purpose and with the help and support of the late Royal P. Tuller, all the necessary legal papers were drawn and the Reliance Fire Company was born.

With lack of proper equipment, scarce finances and the criticism of those bitterly opposed to the new company, the early members of Reliance struggled down a rough and burdensome path. But their courage in the belief that this was right and good for the town was rewarded. They began taking in new members which brought encouragement and energy to continue despite all handicaps. Hamilton Gebhart was named first Chief and the little fire company located in the old Palace Garage building (currently J.C. Penny Company) made itself a significant part of the city.

One of the first fires Reliance responded to was at the Kimball and Prince Lumber Company located on South East Boulevard and Almond Street. Here they had to use the little hose wagon found on the premises. It was not easy to call oneself a fire company having no equipment with which to fight fires. They were steadfast and with the help of the late G.B. D’Ippolito and Nicholas D’Pasquale, who signed a note, Vineland’s first motorized firefighting equipment was bought in 1916. This was a gasoline powered chemical engine.

The early prejudice against the gasoline powered engines did not affect the men of Reliance. On the contrary, they had great pride in their first engine. The old Brockway nicknamed the “Little Red Wagon” meant a great deal to those men determined to bring better fire protection to the Borough of Vineland and it paved the way for the modern trucks in use throughout the city today.

Everything was not settled with the buying of a truck. There was still the overdue note. Mr. Roy Brooks, a member of Reliance, took the truck everyday and made house to house visits for funds.

During those early years, distress and mirth both played their parts. There was the first parade held on a hot Fourth of July with members of Reliance marching up Landis Avenue clothed in their rubber coats and helmets. John Pennino led the company carrying a large bouquet of flowers. Reliance went in dept time and time again, but fate was always kind. The men bought their own uniforms, coats, boots, helmets and two trucks. Later, the two trucks were turned over to the Borough of Vineland for $1.00. This allowed Reliance to be funded by the city and they then received their fire hall on South Sixth Street.

While the forming of Reliance in the early 1900’s afforded Vineland with greater fire protection, it also created a fierce rivalry between the two companies.

In a day almost lacking in athletic competition and social contests, the incidents of firefighting made up the void for many men. At first the volunteer firemen wanted merely to extinguish the fire; then they wanted to do so before their rival. When a man devoted the major portion of his time and effort to his company, he wanted to be sure that other companies were regarded in an inferior light. Several means were used to keep one’s adversaries form getting there first. Some of these were street fighting or racing one’s engines on the more smoothly surfaced sidewalks, at a great risk to pedestrians; or sounding false alarms to weary one’s rivals so they could not run so swiftly to a genuine fire, the later crew was said to be “passed” and this was a feared disgrace.

This rivalry continued between Pioneer and Reliance until the late thirties when it subsided somewhat. In 1948, under the Fire Commissioners Ordinace, the two companies merged.

A History of South Vineland Fire Company No. 1

In the late winter of 1919, the cry of “Fire” rang out of Main Road and Sheridan Avenue. Almost instantly, the darkness around the John Bartholomew home illuminated into a reddish glare. The Dan Sanders and Fred Anthony families rushed to aid their neighbors, but with no equipment were helpless. The house was destroyed. This was only one of the many disastrous fires which afflicted the South Vineland community.

The citizens realized that the distance form Millville and the borough companies was a handicap. They knew a local fire company was desperately needed.

Two preliminary meetings were held in July and August at the South Vineland school to discuss the mechanics of forming this essential company. The first organizational meeting was held on Septmeber 2, 1919 with 32 charter members in attendance.

Charles Davall was chosen as President; D.D. Sanders and C.E. Howe, Vice Presidents; and John Weed, Secretary. Bylaws were adopted and a Board of Trustees was elected including M.J. Sweet, Albert Morrison and Louis Castellini.

Headquartered at Main and Sherman, the new company called themselves South Vineland Company 1 and purchased a Ford Chemical truck at a cost of $1650.

A History of North Vineland Fire Company 3

On February 24, 1992, following the example of South Vineland and wanting to prevent further fire disasters, the member of the North Vineland Fire Company held its first meeting in the store of Arthur Von Lesweski. Fred Gillis was elected President; M. Rigor, Secretary and F.B. Wells, Treasurer. This was the start of a long and proud history of people working together.

The construction of North Vineland’s firehouse was completed in 1923. Located on N.E. Boulevard, it was built totally from donated funds or profits made from several social events sponsored by the company. Then in 1929 the first fire truck was purchased for $500.00.

The middle thirties found the company on a strong foundation and also a center for community affairs and functions. At this time, a Ladies Auxiliary had been organized and was playing a large part in the social aspects of the company as well as being a community service.

A History of Vineland Fire Company 4

The spark of growth continued to flare throughout the township and on March 23, 1923 twenty-five dedicated citizens met at the Oak and Main school house to officially form the Main Avenue Fire Company, District 4 of the Township of Landis. During that meeting, William Witte was elected to serve as the company’s first President along with C.J. Kimmeth and Dominick Ronchetti, Vice Presidents; Michael Schulz, Secretary and Albert Waldman, Treasurer, Paul Smith was elected Fire Chief.

During the first year of organization, the company purchased land as a cost of $2500 for the construction of a fire hall. The new fire station was completed in January 1924, funded by donations from each member, various social events and private donations, and the company purchased the “Old Brockway” from Reliance Fire Company.

The company’s strength grew to 36 members and it became the focal point for many social and community activities. The thirties also saw the creation of a Board of Fire Commissioners who administered public funds for the first time from the Township of Landis to operate Fire District #4.

The company continued to grow during the early part of the 1940’s with major alterations to the existing fire hall to make room available for a new fire engine. The new Peter Pirsch engine arrived in 1941 and was the last civilian truck built by Peter Pirsch. Subsequent apparatus went to the armed forces.

At a time when many of the members were entering the Armed Forces at the outset of World War II, the Ladies Auxiliary was expanded and played a major role in the activities of Company #4.

A History of Vineland Fire Company 5

The growing population of 23 years expanded the area of East Landis Township to a thriving community of farmers and residents who desired the peace and quiet of country living. As more people settled, of course, fires followed.

In 1946 a fire in the produce storage building of David Demantte on Panther Road prompted the area residents to form their own fire company. The residents had previously depended on Buena Vista Township #2 and South Vineland Fire Company for protection. Again, the traveling distance was just too extensive.

A vote was taken in the district and a fire department was approved 100 per cent. Five Fire Commissioners were elected with Charles Galeordi as Chariman and the department began with 26 charter members. The residents of the district were very generous and a group of men donated $200 each funding beggining costs which was later repaid. The Fire Commissioners then set up a $10,000 bond appropriation. The firemen themselves purchased the bonds. In fact, so many insisted on doing so that a drawing was held and the $10,000 was sold in ten minutes.

Frank Franceschini donated the land for the fire hall located at Panther and Italia Avenues and steps were taken to purchase a siren and 35′ tower which was bought totally by the members.

The new fire hall and apparatus was dedicated on September 27, 1947 in the presence of a score of county and municipal officials and fire chiefs from neighboring districts with Charles Galeordi laying the corner stone. Member Max Buckholz presented the company with a large American flag.

Galeordi presented the key to the fire truck to Chief Anthony Flaim who thanked the district for their generousity. In accepting the key, he stated “Previously the district depended on Buena Vista Township Fire Company and South Vineland and now we are only too glad to come to their assistance any time we may be called.”

It was noted in Galeordi’s address, “The fire company represented the realization of a year’s dream in the district.”

A dream accomplished as Vineland has seen so many times by people working together for the enrichment of the community.

The Creation of Professionalism

As time passed, it became apparent to the borough officials that the city would benefit from the development of a paid Fire Department. In 1931 Howard Garrison was hired. His job was to remain at the Fire Hall during the day and when an alert was received, he would drive the fire truck to the scene. A Short time later, John Royal, Charles Pardington, Fred Ramish and Penn Toulson were hired. These men worked one day on and one day off. Pioneer headquarters became the station for the paid men since the alarms were received there.

By this time, telephone were widely in use and all that needed to be done was to call in the fire and the Pioneer fire bell would ring along with the High School and church bells. Of course, the volunteers were never discounted. On the contrary, they were still the main force in preventing disasters and have maintained this dependence today in smaller communities. Frequently, the alarm was not heard by the volunteers who lived or worked a distance from the fire hall. In this instance, the wives of firemen who lived closeby the firehouse would call these firemen and report the whereabouts of the calamity.

The change from amateur to professional statue was not accepted with composure. Volunteer firemen felt threatened. And rightly so, for in the larger cities as New York and Chicago the creation of professionalism expanded to such growth that the volunteers were no longer needed except at three of four alrm fires. In fact, they were banned from offering their help at less disasterous fires. There were other reasons for their discontent. Until this time, the volunteer firemen regarded their help in the community with great prestige. The firefighter had offered his service to the community, had sacrificed his time and sometimes his life. There could be no payment for this offering. They felt they were public servant not hirelings. Fortunately, this disapproval vanished when a fire was reported and the volunteers and professionals worked together for the good of the community. It must be noted that without the help of the volunteers the professional firefighter could not have proven himself.

Time was a great healer of the wounds of rejection experienced by the volunteers in the early creation of professionalism. It became a teacher, as we see today the progress in the manner of firefighting and the scientific advancement in equipment. Vineland can look back with respect at those struggled with minute means and know that without the first step there could never be another.


Progress is measured by the past, accomplished in the present and seasoned in the future. In 1952, the Borough of Vineland and Township of Landis consolidated into the City of Vineland. This consolidation ended a grand era in firefighting. The city passed an ordinance which demanded the creation of the City of Vineland Fire Department with an appointed Director. The competition between each of the separate fire companies was over. All departments were required to work together and modern firefighting as we know it today developed.

During the fifties, the department concerned itself with many organizational problems brought about by consolidation. Samuel Rochetti of the Main Avenue Fire Company was appointed as the first full-time Director. It was his job to supervise the workings of the department at fires and handle the administrative and executive aspects of the department. Ronchetti served in this position until 1956.

Headquarters for the department was established at Pioneer Fire Hall, the site of the old borough’s headquarters. Pioneer Fire Hall, then part of Company No. One also served as dispatch center for the city’s five companies.

Peter Elbeuf was appointed to the post of Fire Marshall for the new city. It was his responsibility to investigate all fire injuries and deaths, as well as investigations of all fires where properly damage occurred. Inspections of mercantile buildings and fire prevention were also the Fire Marshal’s job along with the responsibility for apprehending and prosecution of any person transmitting a false alarm.

Mr. Elbeuf had held the position for the borough since 1935 and with his retirement in 1961 the Fire Marshals Office was closed. The responsibilities were taken over by the Bureau of Fire Prevention and the Arson Bureau when they were were formed in the sixties.

Thomas Dell succeeded Samuel Ronchetti as Director in 1956. Mr. Dell held the position on a part-time basis until 1960. During his incumbency, the department acquired a two-way RCA radio system. The base station was installed at headquarters along with teh antenna and six mobile units which enabled communication between fire headquarters and firemen at the scene.

Growing With The Times

A time of change and tremendous growth for the department, the 60’s were years to remember. It was in 1960 that Lloyd Ronchetti was appointed as part-time Director of the department, a position his father had held in the early 1950’s. Nine years after his first appointment, due to the increase in the size of the department and the number of fires, Ronchetti was appointed as full-time Director.

Under Director Ronchetti’s administration, an expansion program in the city’s water and fire hydrant system, which had originated in the late 1800’s at the Keighly Shoe Factory, began. Every year since, the system has expanded to other parts of the city until today there are approximately 1500 fire hydrants throughout Vineland.
1949 Buick Ambulance

Volunteering to help in civic needs and with the underprivileged is second nature to firefighters. Vineland’s firemen today are no different from their predecessors. Company 1 operated an Ambulance Service from headquarters. The service was started in October of 1958 with a 1949 Buick Ambulance which was replaced later by a 1958 Pontiac. Although the service was discontinued in early 1963, it was a helpful asset to the city in the five years of fine service in rendered.

Firemen also volunteered their time one Labor Day weekend in the early sixties to answer telephone for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and have been manning the phones ever since. Soon after, the firemen’s wives joined their husbands in this civic effort. Director Ronchetti became chairman for the Vineland Telethon in 1967 and in 1970 he was given the Chairmanship for the entire Southern New Jersey MDA Telethon. From the early hours of the night until morning and throughout the daylight hours on each Labor Day Weekend, the Fire Hall becomes a heartbeat of caring people giving their time to make life a little happier for the less fortunate

The Pride of the Department

The poor conditions of Pioneer Fire Hall, dating back to the late 1800’s was detected by the city building inspectors, who condemned the building. The inspectors found “the front to be sagging, the bricks out of plumb, the building shook when the over-head doors were opened, bricks could be removed by hand and one wall was buckling.” Also, beams that supported the second floor were sagging badly. This endangered the apparatus which was jammed so close together that a man could stand on the running boards of both trucks at one time. There was also a bell tower atop the roof and every time the alarm sounded the entire building shook.

Reliance Fire Hall was in good condition, but its location was inconvenient. Engines leaving the hall had to contend not only with a heavily congested street, but Sixth Street was also one way.

From every standpoint, one fire station would be a great asset to the city. Instead of having two old stations within two blocks of each other, one condolidated station would provide better service, thereby saving on lighting, heat and maintenance.

The first step towards a new headquarters came in 1960, four years after Pioneer Fire Hall had been condemned and Reliance Fire Hall considered a poor location. A site was acquired by the city at 4th and Wood Streets. Although the location of the new station proved controversial at times, plans had been carefully laid by Director Ronchetti with the aid of Vineland’s firemen and the consent of Mayor and Council.

The existing building were removed and architectural plans were drawn up by John A. Fletcher Associates. The general contractor for the new station was Pierre Letellier.

Reliance Fire Hall was in good condition, but its location was inconvenient. Engines leaving the hall had to contend not only with a heavily congested street, but Sixth Street was also one way.

The new headquarters station was opened on September 8, 1962. The new building, a two story structure costing just under $200,000, was constructed of concrete blocks, prestressed concrete beams and an exterior covering of brick. The interior was finished with glazed blocks in the engine room and paneling in the offices. The floors were covered with asphalt tile and the building was air conditioned with the exception of the engine room.

Today, the main floor is comprised of a 69 by 80 foot engine room. The engine room has four over-head doors on Fourth Street, for the exit of apparatus and can hold en pieces of apparatus. At present there are three pumpers, two arials, one brush truck and two department care kept at headquarters.

At the rear of the engine room is a wash bay and hose tower. The hose tower is equiped with five electrically operated hose lifts which will hold 2,000 feet of hose. This tower eliminates the age old, back-breaking problem of drying hose to prevent it from rotting.

Also found on the first floor is the control room for the department, dormitory for the paid firefighters, Director’s office, fire prevention office, locker room and lounges. The second floor consists of a large meeting room, kitchen and utility room. A finished basement had Civil Defense offices and storage and a recreation area for the firemen.

The “heart” of the entire building is the control room. Although it is only 10′ by 15′, the room contains the equipment which makes the department tick, including a moder alarm system, the siren alerting system for all five companies, direct phone lines to the other four stations plus the Police Department and the radio system which keeps headquarters in touch with all of the department’s vehicles. Today, the main floor is comprised of a 69 by 80 foot engine room. The engine room has four over-head doors on Fourth Street, for the exit of apparatus and can hold en pieces of apparatus. At present there are three pumpers, two arials, one brush truck and two department care kept at headquarters.

The acquisition of five properties, to the north of fire headquarters through various local and federal projects began in 1969. The one acre area was completed in 1973 with paving and the installation of a hydrant on the property. Although this area increased the parking area for headquarters, the most important use is that a drill and pump operator’s practice ground.

The dedication of the new station completed the consolidation of Vineland’s two oldest and most traditional companies, Pioneer and Reliance. They became completely “Company No. One” and their old halls on Wood Street and Sixth Street were closed forever as fire stations.

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