Early History

Newark's first fire company (near the First Presbyterian Church) was formed in the winter of 1797 in response to a fire the destroyed the Boudinot house on Park Place. The loss was described as between $10,000 and $15,000. An article in the town newspaper from a citizen lamented the lack of fire-fighting facilities and deplored the pilfering of goods slaved from the fire. Boudinot was a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court and recognized as one of the leading men in the state. The house was rebuilt and known as the Condit House. In 1913, the structure became the property of the Public Service Corporation.

The new fire company's assessors raised $1,000 from the members and fire hooks, ladders and other apparatus was bought, and two fire engines were ordered from Philadelphia. A year later one of the engines was delivered, a clumsy little tank on wheels with long wooden bars fastened to an iron pumping gear. When in action, men lined the bars on either side of the machine and pumped out the water, which others poured into the tank from buckets, through an iron or pipe towards the flames. Hose was introduced in 1815.

The second fire company (4 New Street) was formed in 1815 and the third (Hill Street) in 1819, with the fourth (4 New Street) and fifth (106 Market Street) between 1830 & 1835. By 1838 there were seven fire engine companies (Mulberry Street & 9 Bridge Street), a hook and ladder company (108 Market Street) and a hose company (106 Market Street).

At a meeting of the Newark Fire Association (fire company) on February 13, 1797, it was announced that three hundred citizens had volunteered to join the Night Watch. The volunteers were divided into squads of sixteen, one squad to serve throughout one night, each being called on in rotation. Instructions for the Night Watch were as follows:

"That they shall patrol every part of the town, silently, observing due order themselves, inspect into the cause of all lights appearing in any house or building at an unreasonable hour of the night; and in case a fire should happen to break out, the patrol on duty shall immediately give notice first to the family, and then to those in the Watch House, sounding the alarm as they pass along. The key of the Church is to be kept by the different watches and one person of each watch is to be particularly appointed to ring the bell incase of Fire."

The Night Watch was also directed to keep an eye out for all disorderly persons, night prowlers, thieves, etc. If any such were found they were hauled before the squad captain, who for the night was virtually chief of police. That functionary could lock up those so captured or let them go free, at his discretion.

"The patrols," said the instructions, "are to take up all persons found out at an unusual hour of the night and, in case they cannot give a satisfactory account of themselves, or if anything should appear suspicious about them, they are to be taken to the Watch House to be disposed of at the discretion of the captain.

"The captain of each watch shall make report in writing of every material thing passing under the observation of his patrols. No member of the watch is to go home until regularly dismissed by the captain."

In April 1798 the new fire engines got their first call. A barn on the Gouverneur estate at the corner of the present Mount Pleasant Avenue and Gouverneur Street. Many of the associators (firemen) had been directed by the association to supply themselves with leather fire buckets either had not done so or forgot to carry them to the fire. A bucket brigade was formed starting at the Passaic River, going up the steep hill to the engines. The scarcity of buckets made it impossible to keep the tanks supplied with water, with the pumping crew exhausting the supply faster than it could be replenished. The barn, of course, burned to the ground but an adjacent dwelling was saved.

As Newark grew, little ramshackle shops and mills were set up here and there and anywhere except in the very middle of the streets. By 1805, the centre of Newark had become a veritable tinder-box. Fires again, began to scourge the town. Major Samuel Hays, who fought in the Revolutionary War, and his family were driven from their home in their nightclothes. Victims of the fires sought aid from their neighbors to get back on their feet.

The next step was to seek fire insurance. A few people took out policies from companies in New York and London. An 1807 stable fire on Market Street, in the rear of Archer Gifford's tavern at the northeast corner of Market & Broad Streets, was the first insured building to burn in Newark.

In February, 1810, a mass-meeting was held in the Court House. Preliminary steps were taken at this meeting to form a fire insurance company. By April, 1810, the Newark Mutual Assurance Company was formed. After a few name changes, it became known as the Newark Fire Insurance Company.

In 1836 Newark had its first really disastrous fire, one that for a time threatened to destroy a large portion of the newly-created city, because of the inadequate supply of water. It started in a two story frame boarding house on the south side of Market Street, a few doors east of Broad Street, on the afternoon of Friday, October 27. Nearly the entire block bounded by Market, Mulberry, Mechanic (Edison Place) and Broad Streets was destroyed. The State Bank building, on the south corner of Broad and Mechanic Streets, and the First Presbyterian Church were saved through the efforts of the firemen. Fire companies were summoned from New York, Rahway, Elizabethtown and Belleville. Two lieutenants of the Navy, who were in Elizabeth, came to the scene and tried to stop the flames by blowing up several buildings, but this was of no avail. The fire was not under control until five hours had elapsed. The total loss was $125,000, which, while it represents but a small fraction of the block’s value today, was a large sum for that time. Alexander Kirkpatrick, a journeyman mechanic, saved one dwelling from destruction by remaining on the roof at the risk of his life emptying buckets of water on the flames as handed up to him through a scuttle.

On the morning of February 5, 1845, five dwellings on the west side of Broad Street, opposite Trinity Church, were destroyed by fire, one of them being the residence of John H. Stephens, the city’s leading merchant. There were two feet of snow in the streets and paths had to be shoveled from some of the engine houses to the scene of the fire before they could be hauled there. General Joseph Plume told the writer, in 1913, how he well remembered this fire. His father was captain of one of the local fire companies, and kept a hardware store on the west side of Broad Street a little north of where the Free Public Library now stands. He took fifty shovels from his store and by means of these the firemen dug a path to Trinity Church. “We have ourselves,” remarked the Sentinel of Freedom in its next issue, “witnessed no such examples of true prowess at a fire anywhere.”

City’s Hydrants 1846

Agitations in favor of fire plugs were carried on for many years, beginning as early as 1828, but the first fire hydrants were not supplied until May 14, 1846. On the following day the Daily Advertiser announced: “The experiments made by the Fire Department yesterday to test the capacity of the hydrants recently put up by the city authorities for the supply of water for extinguishing fires proved entirely satisfactory, as we learn from Mayor Vanderpool, at whose request they were made. Various trials were made with hydrants in both Broad and Market Streets. The sufficiency and value of this admirable arrangement for the supply of water may therefore be considered as placed beyond a peradventure, which is subject for general congratulation”

It was indeed a most important step forward. For half a century there had been no adequate means for supplying water in case of fire, and previous to that time there was little need, as the community was small and the fire but few.

Some of the Newark Factories had provide fire plugs of their own as early as 1833, as appears from the following newspaper notice of September 21, 1833, telling of a fire in Campfield, Mitchell & Co.’s blacksmith shop (Broad Street between Market Street & Edison Place), connected with the firm’s carriage factory:
“It is worthy of notice that one of the engines was entirely supplied with water by the fire plug which had been placed in the yard expressly for the use of the establishment, at the expense of the proprietor about a year ago. Without this it is believed the supply of water would have been deficient, and in all probability the entire factory, with its whole stock and all the adjacent buildings, would have been consumed. The plug, we understand, cost only $40 and the occasion suggest to other similar establishments the importance of providing a similar source against emergencies. In a manufacturing town, so compactly built, principally of combustible materials, in the midst of which so many fires are constantly burning, every possible precaution and provision should be adopted.”

First Fireman to Perish on Duty – 1857

On May 28, 1857, one of the factories of the Newark India Rubber Company was destroyed by fire. Jacob Allen, foreman of Engine No. 4, was killed y a fally wall, and John P. Thorn severely injured.

Reorganization in 1854

In the early 1850’s the fire companies were badly demoralized and their engine houses had become rendezvous for many of the city’s rough characters. The Common Council seized the houses and locked them up, and thus virtually disbanded the companies. This was done on June13, 1854. The department was then entirely reorganized and the disorderly elements eliminated. A new system, part paid and volunteer, was put in operation and the efficiency greatly increased.

Subsequent Advancements

In 1860 two steam fire engines were procured.
In 1870 the electric fire alarm system was installed.
The first relief valve was placed on a Newark engine in 1877
The Salvage Corps was organized in June, 1879.
Swinging harness was introduced in 1880, the first set being used by H&L Co. No. 1, then located at Broad & Branford.
In 1882 relief valves were installed on all engine, the shut-off nozzle was adopted. A little later the engine houses were equipped with circulating heaters so that steam could be kept up in the boilers of the engines.
All fire stations were equipped with electric trips to open the stall doors and release the horses, and appliances were adopted to turn up the lights and stop the clocks on receipt of an alarm.
In 1886 the Board of Fire Commission was formed.
In 1887 hose wagons were introduced to replace the hose reels, and chemical engines added to the department.
In 1889 the full-paid department was established, all officers and men giving their full time to the work of fire-fighting.
In 1894 a modern central-office fire alarm system was placed in service.
In 1894 combination chemical engines and hose wagons were introduced
In 1897 three-horse hitches were adopted to equip steam engines, H&L trucks and water towers.
In 1901 rubber tires were adopted for the heavy apparatus.
In 1903 a water tower was purchased.
In 1905 the high-pressure water supply was completed and placed in service. By means of it water may be had in large quantities at a pressure of 157 pounds, without the use of pumps or engines.

The Newark Fire Department was incorporated in March 1837 by act of the Legislature. This act expired in 1857 but was renewed for another 20yr period and considerably enlarged by a supplementary act. The department was re-incorporated in 1877 and that act revised in 1884.

The Newark Fire Department Pension Fund was created under an act of the Legislature in 1902, to which several amendments have since been made. The fund is administrated by a board of trustees, of which the chief is chairman, ex-officio. There are four other members, appointed by the Board of Fire Commissioners. The trustees are required to make a semi-annual report and to submit their books for the examination of the commissioners. The pension fund derives its resources from the following: Ten per cent of all premiums paid within the State, by fire insurance companies from without the State; the license fees received from theatres, motion picture houses, and by the Bureau of Combustibles; the fines imposed upon firemen; income derived from the sale of old fire department materials, horse, etc., and the income accruing from bonds, mortgages and other securities held by the trustees of the pension fund. Upon retirement, a fireman receives half the annual salary to which he was entitled upon retirement.