The History of the Lakewood Volunteer Fire Department

The history of organized fire fighting in Lakewood goes back to the days when the town was called Bricksburg and part of Brick Township. In June of 1870 the Ocean Hook and Ladder Fire Company No 1 was founded. A small ladder cart was purchased the next year, but with the local economy in a recession during the period of 1872 to1873, the purchase of additional equipment for use with the ladder cart and a building to house the apparatus wasn't financially possible.

The Lakewood Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1888. Before it's organization there were only a few hydrants scattered about the town and the only fire hose was owned by the Laurel House. The Laurel House can be seen on the left side of this photo. The department was formed to meet the needs of a growing community. The first equipment purchased was the hand-pulled hook.

Lakewood's first fire chief was James Westhall who happened to be one of the town's foremost undertakers, a business the Westhall family would be involved in for many generations.
After a few years, the fire department would fade away from lack of activity and the demise of the Bergen Iron Works. The old ladder cart was left to rot in an open field on First Street and served as a symbol of the first company’s demise. Between 1874 and 1888 the town relied on the good will of its citizens to assist their fellow neighbors in the event of a fire.

Although this first group fire fighting activity was short lived, it provided a link to the success of the second attempt of forming a new fire department in late 1888. James Westhall was elected to lead this new group because of his previous experience as an officer with the old Ocean Hook & Ladder Fire Company of Bricksburg.

The current Lakewood fire department can trace its origin back to October 31, 1888, when a barn located on the southwest corner of Madison Ave and Second Street caught fire and was destroyed. The ringing of the local church bells were the only means of alarm at the time and word soon spread about a fire down on Madison Ave. Minutes later about two dozen men had gathered and started to battle the flames with a few lengths of hose and a nozzle borrowed from the Laurel house hotel. The hose was connected to a hydrant located on Madison Ave just north of Main Street. When the few lengths were found to be too short to reach the blazing barn, the call to form a bucket brigade and assist the men was given by some one in the crowd of gathered onlookers. After many pails of water were applied what was left of the once blazing barn was contained to just a pile of steaming rubble. The exhausted group of men were proud of the fact that they held the fire to just the one building and decided to retire to James Todd’s store on Main street to get some refreshments and try to warm up their soaked clothing. From this gathering it was decided by the group of men to start a fire company to protect the village of Lakewood and James Westhall was elected as its first Chief.

Over the next Thirty two years the Lakewood Department would expand to five volunteer fire companies as the town grew from just a small town village into a major winter resort for the rich and famous.

October 1912 - Engine Company No 1 in front of the old Town Hall. Old horse drawn ladder was kept in the west bay of the downstairs garage.

Engine Company No 1. Served as the original fire company and would move four times before it settled in its current location of Monmouth Ave and First Street back in 1914. From 1903 to 1914 the company housed its large horse drawn ladder unit in the old Town Hall building located at Main Street and the Railroad until the First Street building was completed.

Rescue Company No 2
In 1976, Rescue Company No. 2 celebrated it's 75th anniversary and posed for this portrait in front of their former home on Clover Street and the foot of East Fourth Street.

Rescue Company No 2. was founded in 1901 after a fire destroyed a group of buildings on East Fourth Street and Dewey Ave. Area resident recognized the need for better fire protection on the east side of town and formed this second unit. Company No 2’s equipment was housed in two different locations in the East Fourth Street area until 1921 when the Clover Street Fire house was constructed by the fire commissioners for use by the company. In 1990 a new building was constructed at the corner of Joe Parker Road and County Line Road for the company to better protect the growing far east side of the township.

Junior Hose Company No 3

Junior Hose Company No 3 was founded in 1903 by a group of high school aged boys that felt Lakewood needed a third fire company composed of young men. It would be an uphill fight for the boys, from the start the membership of No.1 Company, made up of men twice or more the senior of the youngsters were opposed to “children in the fire department”. It took considerable persuasion on the part of the youngsters to convince the fire commissioners, a group convinced of the idea this was a man’s world, that they were sincere in their efforts and capable of shouldering the man sized job of fighting fire. The commissioners decided to give them a chance. They were promised an old hose cart from No. 1 Company, if they would raise enough money to purchase the hose and other small equipment. Within hours of being sanctioned by the board, the young men raised $120 to pay for a few lengths of hose and an old nozzle.

From 1903 to 1926 the company had five different locations that housed their equipment. In 1926 the commissioners purchased the old Bricksburg Grammar School and converted the building into a one bay fire station for the company. In 1961 the company moved to the new fire station located at the corner of Eighth Street and Monmouth Ave. Again in1977 the company moved out of town to occupy the recently built New Hampshire Ave Station. With half of the company’s membership living on the west side of town the commissioners agreed to build a small substation in 1991 on Pine Circle Drive to house one of the company’s pumpers.

October 15, 1914 - Reliance Hose No 4 on second street - prepared to march in the 1914 Gala Day Parade.

Reliance Hose Company No 4. was founded after a fire in late 1910. A fire on River Ave at the Sherman Store had many residents of the Pine Street area concerned over the amount of time it took the three existing fire units to respond to the fire, it was decided by the group of men to petition the Fire Commissioner at the Jan. 10, 1911 board meeting to sanction a fourth fire company in the village. The board accepted the application of the Lakewood Hose Company No. 4 and limited its membership to 20 members. In October of 1915 the company incorporated under the name of Reliance Hose Company No 4. At the April 11 1911 meeting of the board of fire commissioners, a contract was awarded to construct a firehouse for the new company on a donated lot located on south side of Pine Street just west of the small brook. In 1931 the fire commissioners purchased property on the southwest corner of James Street and River Ave. and built the fire house that the company currently occupies. In 1992 a three bay addition was added to the south side of the building.

Hook & Ladder Company No. 1

Hook & Ladder Company No 1. Was founded December of 1920, the commissioners decided to start a new company to staff the new motorized ladder truck. Mr. Michael McGravey of Engine Company No 1 was appointed Foreman of the new company No 1 for the term of one year. He was instructed to pick 20 men from Company No 1 or any other volunteers that desired to join from the other companies to staff the unit. The new group would still be a part of Engine Company No 1, but would have their own line officers. The unit was housed in the east bay of the old Station 1. The company would eventually be separated from Engine One in 1961, and reorganized as the fifth fire company of the department. The fire company moved into the Monmouth Ave and Eighth Street station in 1961 and shared half the building with Junior Hose Company No. 3 for many years. In the spring of 2003 construction was started on a new station for the company on Cedar Bridge Ave. The Monmouth Ave. building was not large enough to accommodate the size of modern ladder equipment needed to properly protect the township, and the commissioners wanted the ladder units centrally located in the fire district for better response time.

The Board of Fire Commissioners was created in 1896. The township Committee nominated five gentlemen for the positions of fire commissioner and on May 26, 1896 an election was held to establish the board. George G. Smith, James H. Todd, Luke Johnson, Richard Robbins, and L. K. Clough were elected. The polls were open for one hour and a sum of $1500 was voted to be raised for the equipping and maintaining of a fire dept in the new fire district. The first meeting was held on June 3, 1896. The next month the new commissioners appointed a committee to meet with the fire company in regards to taking charge of the company and apparatus. It was during this time that Fire Company No. 1 sold their apparatus to this governing body for the sum of one dollar. J H Todd was also appointed superintendent of the fire alarm system with a salary of $50 a year. Arrangements were made with local livery stables, for them to hurry to the firehouse when the alarm was sounded with a team of horses to hook to the fire rigs. The department assured itself of good service as the first team arriving at a firehouse got paid $2.00 and the second team was paid $1.50 for their efforts. This method of motivation continued until the department became motorized. The annual commissioner election and budget vote is held on the third Saturday of February as per New Jersey State statue.

The first paid employee of the fire district was Company No 1.member Edward Stothard who was hired to serve as the janitor at the No 1 station on March 6, 1904. The duties of the janitor were to keep the stove running at all times to provide heat for the station and to keep the building and apparatus clean. With commercial and residential building in town on the increase, the Commissioners realized the need to for a driver to respond to calls in a timely manner. A quick response in the downtown area was needed because of the closely packed and highly combustible structures that lined the Streets and Avenues. November of 1915, The Commissioner signed a lease with Mr. H. Elwood Kingsley for the apartment located on the second floor of Engine Company No 1 and was paid $ 20 a month as Janitor for the new No 1 station. It wasn't until a few years later that a job description and duties were defined turning this position from janitor to paid driver. At the March 1918 meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners, a discussion was held on hiring a full time employee to look after the four fire houses, apparatus, and other duties as prescribed by the board at a salary of One Thousand Dollars a year and rent of the apartment located on the second floor of the fire station No 1. In October of 1918 the board hired H C Jennings as the Houseman with care of all apparatus and the use of the apartment on the second floor of Station One for a period of one year. The next year the board advertised the position and requested bid for those interested in filling the position in 1920. Lewis “Dutch Louie” Theilen, successfully under bid Mr. Jenning by $100 dollars and was awarded the position of Paid Firefighter. He proudly served the community until 1936. Mr. John Hulseart was hired to replace Theilen.

Hulseart retired in 1968. It was at that time the board hire three men to replace Hulseart. Each man worked a 24 hour shift and had two days off. In 1994 this group of men retired and was replaced by 3 new members.

The paid firefighters worked out of the old Station No 1 until 1992 when the building was torn down and replaced. In late 1992 they move their quarters to the old Clover Street fire station. In 2003 a new building was constructed on Cedar Bridge Ave for their use. In 2010 the department responded to over 2600 calls and for the past few years multiple calls would occur at the same time, taxing the response of both the volunteers and paid firefighters. The commissioner made the decision to add three additional paid firefighters and refurbish the old Monmouth Ave Station to include a living quarters to house the latest group of employees. There are now two paid engines on duty 24/7 to handle the calls of 90,000 plus citizen that call Lakewood home.

From 1889 the fire department operated a firebox alarm system strategically located on Street corners through out the township. Because of the high volume of false alarms being turned in maliciously from the boxes, the cost to maintain the system, and the lack of actual fires being reported via the boxes, it was decided to remove the system from the streets in 1991. Today fire calls are placed to a statewide 911 system and then directed to police headquarter for dispatch to the fire department. Fire department members carry a pager device to receive the calls from the police dispatchers.

The Lakewood Fireman’s Relief Association was established in November of 1896 to take advantage of the new state laws. The association was formed to help aged and needy active and/or otherwise qualified fire persons and their families.

The Lakewood Fire Department Exempts Association was founded in 1911.

The fire department is served by a Ladies Auxiliary unit that provides refreshment at fires when activated by the chiefs. Companies No 1, 2 and 4 each had auxiliaries that worked together before they were combined into one unit recently. The units from Rescue Company No 2 and Reliance Hose No 4 can trace their history back to the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The town has had a grim history of tragic fires over the years. February 12, 1936- the Victoria Mansion fire. Located on the southeast corner of Lexington Ave and Seventh Street, The hotel burned to the ground and 16 people were killed. April 20, 1941- A massive brush fire that started in Pleasant Plains, burned through the southern section of Lakewood, killing one resident, and destroying over 55 homes. Damage was listed at over $1,000,000. The fire was stopped the next day in the Laurelton section of Brick Township along Route 70. March 28, 1967 the largest of all Lakewood hotels, The Laurel in The Pines, spanning some 20 acres on North Lake Drive and Private Way was burned to the ground and two people died in the blaze. A May 1, 1973 fire at the Manhattan Hotel at Sixth Street and Clifton Ave killed five hotel guests. In November 1985, a fast moving fire on North Oakland Street would trap and kill 7 residents in a single family dwelling.

The Lakewood Fire Department would experience its own tragedy with the death of two firefighters. The deadly fire occurred the night of December 23, 1976 at the Hotel Allaben, located at the northeast corner of Monmouth Ave and Fifth Street. The department was summoned at 1:19 AM for a working hotel fire. Firefighters Stanley Marks and Alex Latyshev, members of Junior Hose Company No 3, were part of a crew that advanced a hose line to the second floor when conditions in that section of the hotel rapidly deteriorated and a flash over occurred trapping the men. Firefighter Stanley Marks body was found the next morning on the first floor just below the area of flashover having fell through the burned away floor above. Firefighter Latyshev was able to get to a small second floor window and was pulled down a ladder to safety. He was rush to a burn unit in Philadelphia, but would succumb to burns received during the flash over conditions on January 26, 1977. Firefighter George Reynolds of Engine Company No1 was also on the same hose line and was able to exit the building on his own but suffered burns and smoke poisoning. He was rushed to Paul Kimball Hospital and would recover from his injuries.

A firefighter memorial was constructed in Pine Park in 1988. Every October a department firefighter service is held in memory of Stanley and Alex. Junior Hose Company No 3 also holds a small service each Memorial Day to remember their two fallen brother firefighters. In December of 1996, the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, a service was held at town hall. A small tree was planted to serve as a living monument to these men’s spirit. An engraved plaque was also placed at the base of the tree with a written memorial.

The operations of the fire department are directed by the Chief of the Department and his two Assistant Chiefs. Each fire company is led by a Captain and two Lieutenants.

Respectfully submitted
Richard Errickson,
Lakewood Fire Department Historian

Special thanks to Charles Smith of Engine Company No. 1 for his assistance.