Thomas Woonton
First Chief of Department

The First OBVFD Engine

On January 9th, 1906 at 8:00 pm, a meeting of a group of local citizens was called to order by Dr. Ira T. Crandall for the purpose of organizing a fire company, and obtaining fire equipment for the protection of life and property in the Village of Old Bridge located at the southeastern end of East Brunswick Township.  The formation of this fire company would also mean fire protection for all of East Brunswick Township.  The need for a fire company was so great that at the first meeting of only a small group of men, subscriptions totaling $226.00 were received.

The next meeting was held on January 16th, 1906, at which time a motion was made and carried that the application for incorporation papers be made, and enrollment of charter members take place.  Using the Constitution and By-Laws of the Enterprise Hook and Ladder Company of Spotswood, New Jersey as a guide, the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company was now legally formed.

Nineteen men were honored as Charter Members, namely William Rivers; Albert Appleby; William Hollenback; M. Leighton Appleby; Thomas Woonton; Herbert Appleby; Willis Gordon; S.W. Stout; Mulford Rogers; Theodore Rice; Dave Stonaker; J.K. Dill; Dr. Ira Crandall; Rev. John Carter; J.W. Squires; Stockton Rogers; George Rue Sr; Douglas Montgomery; and Raymond Treat.

Officers elected to serve for the ensuing year were President Dr. Crandall; Vice President William Hollenback; Secretary J.W. Squires; Treasurer William Rivers; Foreman Thomas Woonton; 1st Assistant Foreman Willis Gordon; and 2nd Assistant Foreman M. Leighton Appleby.

The next meeting brought about the decision to purchase the necessary equipment needed to carry out the purposes of the organization.  The following items were purchased: 50 galvanized 12 quart buckets; 1 sixteen foot extension ladder; 1 twenty foot ladder; 2 axes; 4 pike poles; 1 small hose wagon to be made by Mr. J. K. Dill, the local blacksmith; 100 feet of 1 ½” canvas hose; 1 force pump to be installed on the hose wagon; 1 dozen lanterns; and 1 5-gallon oil can.  To house this equipment, a motion was made and passed to construct a building 10 feet wide by 22 feet long and 8 feet height.  The support posts were to be enclosed with galvanized iron.  The location of the first fire house was on the Allgair property, which is now the old Crandall-Kossman American Legion Post #177.  The first fire alarm consisted of a metal tire ring which was donated by the Pennsylvania Railroad.  This served the purpose well until August 15, 1907 when a fire bell was purchased and put into service.  The bell still hangs as part of the monument located at 5 Pine Street.

On February 20, 1906, the Incorporation Papers were received and the small group of men were now officially The Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company.  The Fire Company continued to prosper for many years.  The record of their outstanding work can be verified in the minutes of the company and local newspaper clippings.  Unable to have a quorum in order to conduct formal business meetings, this aspect of the Company remained dormant, but the men were always ready and willing to respond in the case of an emergency.  In March 1926 the men voted to enlarge the Fire Company membership by conducting a full-scale membership drive, and to become an active and progressive fire company.  The old Town Hall, located on Willow Street, {now Kossman Street and the Baptist Church Parking lot} in the Historic Village of Old Bridge, was the site for this momentous meeting.

March 29, 1926 brought the election of new officers.  The first chief of the reorganized company was Mr. Arthur Heiberger.  May 17, 1926 an order was placed with the Fomite-Childs Company in Utica, New York for a 750 gallon pumper, with the purchase price of $7,800.00.  This truck was to be the Company’s first motorized piece of fire apparatus.  It served as a major pumper for 22 years and was paid for in five years. 

In 1927 Mr. George Hunt served as Chief.  December 1927 saw the annual election of officers and Mr. John Hendrickson as Chief for the year 1928.  This was a banner year for the fire company.  In February 1928 Mr. Charles Layton, Sr. donated the property on which the Pine Street Fire House now stands.  A contract was awarded for the construction of the fire house for the price of $5,048.00.  On July 7, 1928 a siren was purchased and raised to the top of a wooded tower directly in front of our paper storage building which is now Axel’s Used Car Lot.

In August, 1930, the Company purchased its second piece of fire apparatus.  It was an old Hudson Chassis on which the members built an open wooded body.  This vehicle was to be used mainly for fighting woods fires but also served another purpose carting wood used for heating the firehouse.

February 17, 1932 brought another memorable date into the history of the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company…..the formation of the Ladies Auxiliary.  This group consisted of 22 members and was lead by Mrs. Lester Squires, who served as the first President.  Since its formation the Ladies Auxiliary has remained an active organization and is still going strong.

Mr. G. Dallas Rue was elected Chief in 1933 and served the Company until 1945.  He was and has been the only fireman to serve for twelve years in the elected office of Chief.  The annual Christmas Party for area children began in 1933 and continued until 1966 when due to the growing number of children in the Township and the lack of funds became limited only to those children of fireman.

Mr. Gustav Rastak was elected Chief in 1951 and served until 1954.  1952 also brought the installation of a second siren at the top of Chestnut Hill Cemetery, and the establishment of the Ladies Auxiliary in the Company’s by-laws as non-voting members of the Company.  Another responsibility of the fireman at this point in time was the flushing of the fire hydrants.  This job is now done by the Township Water department.

After two years of planning, a contract was signed with Trautwein Company for a 1953 International 500 gallon pumper for the price of $14,000.00 on August 12, 1953.  In September, 1953 the Fire Company began its first annual fund drive.  Local homeowners and businesses were solicited for donations to help defray the expenses of their fire protection. Not waiting as long for delivery of the new pumper as the men had waited for the Ahrens-fox, the International was put in service in April, 1954.  

Mr. Adolf Golla was elected Chief in 1954 and served until 1957.  With the cooperation of the Township Committee a central alarm system was installed in the Police Headquarters located on Wallace Street in 1955.  This would allow the Police Department to handle all our fire calls on a 24-hours a day basis.  This was the system the Fire Company had long hoped for as it assured the people of more efficient protection.

On February 18, 1956 the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company formally celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Windsor Manor, located at the corner of Racetrack Road and Old Bridge Turnpike.  On August 27th, 1956 radios were installed in the trucks and call letters KEF 477 Car 84 were assigned to the International, and KEF 477 Car 85 to the Ahrens-Fox.  August 22 and 23, 1956 began a long standing tradition of dinners to be held at the Firehouse.  The first dinners were billed as the Harvest Home Dinner.

April 3, 1958 the Fire Company purchased a 1953 International Pick Up truck for the price of $600.00.  This vehicle was to become the Company’s third piece of equipment.  1958 also saw the formation of a new building committee. 

March 1959 The Company began looking into the use of a plectron system.  The International Pick – Up was equipped and ready to fight any and all woods fires.

1960, After two years of planning bids were received and a contract was awarded to Skevington Construction Company for the building of the firehouse at Pine Street.  The cost of the building being $49,000.00.

Due to the increase in forest fire calls and the old Hudson having served its purpose, a new Chevrolet fire truck was purchased from John Cross of South Amboy for the price of $1,250.00.  In 1937, we moved the siren and bell from its wooden tower on Main Street t its present location at 5 Pine Street.  The siren is located atop a steel tower at the rear of the Firehouse. 

The Fire Company experienced its most active time during the period of March 21 to April 16, 1938.  The Company answered five house fires, one hotel fire {The Riverside} which was rebuilt and is still located on Emerson Street, two barns, 1 garage, and 13 woods fires.  A total of 22 fires within 25 days….a record for any fire company in those days.

Junior membership was begun in 1940.  Ten boys, 16 years old or over, who were interested in becoming firemen and learning the proper methods of firefighting were recruited.  In 1942 the property next to and to the rear of 5 Pine Street was purchased.  A siren alarm button was installed in the home of Mr. Arthur Brown to insure better service for fire calls.

Mr. Donald Treat was elected Chief in 1945 and served until 1948.  During this time a contract was signed on May 19, 1946 to purchase an Ahrens-Fox 750 gallon pumper for the price of $10,000.00.  Due to World War II the truck was not received until 1948.  This pumper is still in service today and is used a reserve pumper.  

In 1948, Mr. Fred Rackenback was elected Chief and served until 1951.  Fred also served as President of the Fire Company from 1952 to 1973.  He realized the need for a rescue squad and helped organize the East Brunswick Rescue Squad, of which he is a charter member.  1948 was also a great year for Chief Rackenback, the long awaited Ahrens-Fox arrived, and was paid for by December 1949.  1950 brought about the renovation of 5 Pine Street.  A brick front was added and an overhead door was installed.  Under the direction of Chief Rackenback, a committee was appointed to replace the Chevy pumper.  On April 23, 1951 boundaries for fire response areas were established in East Brunswick….Old Bridge starting at the South River Line to Racetrack Road, then south on Racetrack Road to Summerhill Road, south to an imaginary line at Hall’s Corner, then south to Cranbury Road to Rhode Hall Road, along Rhode Hall road to Monroe Township.  On August 13, 1951 an agreement was made with the South Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company, assigning the area known as Madison Township, to their jurisdiction.  1951 was also the first time the firemen had their first fundraising game at the Middlesex County Fair.  This fundraiser has become an annual event.

January 1961 the firemen stood an all-night stand-by due to a heavy snow storm.  March 13, 1961 the Fire Company broke ground for the much needed new firehouse at Pine Street.  June 18, 1961 Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company, Brookview Fire Company and Independent Fire Company joined together to form the East Brunswick Fire Fighters Association for the purpose of conducting combined business with the Township Officials.  December 1961 brought about the disbanding of the Drum and Bugle Corps.

June 9, 1962, the new firehouse at Pine Street was dedicated.  August 27, 1962 Fireman William Germann offered his boat to be used as a fireboat.  In December of 1963, a control panel was installed at Police Headquarters for a centralized means of controlling the sirens.

In January, 1964 the first four home alarms were purchased for the line officers.  February 25, 1964 a truck committee was appointed to check into the purchasing of an additional pumper.  This was to become the Company’s fourth piece of firefighting equipment.  On October 26, 1964 the balance of the mortgage on Pine Street was paid off.  

July 12, 1965 brought the signing of another contract with Hahn Motors for the purchase of a 1966 GMC 750 gallon pumper for the cost of $34,000.00.  And finally, on August 23, 1965 plectrons were received for all the members of the Fire Company.  

February, 1966 a new Utility Truck was ordered, and delivered to the Firehouse on May 9, 1966.  After ten months of waiting, the new GMC was received.

Another momentous occasion 1967 brought the receipt of the deed to property on Lexington Avenue.  The property was being donated by Mr. Parracio.  On April 22, 1968 a committee was appointed to look into the purchase of the Company’s first real brush truck.  On May 27, 1968 a 1952 Army weapons carrier was purchased for $450.00.  The vehicle was reconstructed and outfitted for use as the Company’s first brush truck.

On March 25, 1969 the brush truck was put into service and became the Company’s fifth piece of firefighting equipment.  The Annual Fireman’s Carnival was discontinued in August, 1969.  November 17, 1969 the property across from the East Brunswick Water Pumping station on Rues Lane was purchased for the construction of another firehouse.  The property, measuring 150’ by 400’ was purchased at the cost of $18,000.00.  On October 13, 1969 a contract was signed for the purchase of a 1970 International Squirt, 1000 gallon pumper at the cost of $47,000.00.  This piece of equipment was to become the first piece of equipment in East Brunswick Township and the first truck of its kind on the East Coast.  The Squirt would also become the Fire Company’s sixth piece of equipment.

On February 9, 1970 the deed for the property on Old Bridge Turnpike was received.  October 3 of the same year saw the groundbreaking for the Civic Center Firehouse on Rues Lane.  Construction was begun on October 12, 1970, and was soon followed by a long awaited arrival the 1000 gallon Pumper Squirt arrived on October 26.

July 18, 1971 was the celebration of many years of service and the combined efforts of many men.  Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company was celebrating is 65th Anniversary, the dedication of its new firehouse at Rues Lane, and the dedication of its Squirt.

Imperial Fire Apparatus was the source of our next piece of equipment.  On November 22, 1972 an order was placed for a Ford F-500 450 gallon High Pressure Pumper at a cost of $18,700.00.

A building committee was appointed on April 23, 1973.  On the same date another committee was formed to award member’s recognition for their years of service.  September 10, 1973 another mortgage was burned, this time for Civic Center Firehouse.  On September 24, 1973 the new Brush Truck was put into service and the old one was sold for $500.00.

The Fire Truck Committee recommended the purchase of two new pumpers, one to replace the 1953 International Pumper housed at Civic Center, and one to be placed at the Fern Road Firehouse.  On May 13, 1974 a contract was signed with the Hahn Fire Apparatus Company for two 1000 gallon diesel pumpers for the total cost of $130,000.00, bringing the number of fire vehicles to eight.  The 450 gallon High Pressure Attack Truck was received on July 8, 1974 and soon put into service.

Mid April, 1975 there was yet another groundbreaking, this time for the Fern Road Firehouse.  Construction was begun immediately, and the Firehouse was completed on November 24, 1975.

Another celebration began on August 22, 1976 when the dedication celebration was held for the two Hahn Pumpers and the new Fern Road Firehouse.

In 1978 a 1952 Dodge M-37 was purchased for $2000.00 and converted to a brush truck.  1980 saw the purchase of another 1952 Dodge M-37, this time the cost was $5000.00.  This truck will also be converted into a brush truck.

1978 was also a very special year for long time, dedicated firemen; Donald Treat celebrated his 50th year of service with the Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company.  Friends; relatives, firemen, past and present; and township officials honored Donald with a gala testimonial dinner at the Consolata Mission in Franklin Township.  And speaking of special events, August of 1978 marked the purchase of a 1978 Oldsmobile to be used and outfitted as a Chief’s car.  Times sure have changed from when Mr. Treat was Chief.

In addition to the Chief’s car, O.B.V.F.D. set another East Brunswick Township precedent, Old Bridge Fire Company has gone district……And so ends a 75 year history of a dedicated Fire Company…….and on January 9, 1981 another Quarter of a Century will have begun……..