History

History

The Somerdale Fire Department, Inc. was formed on March 13, 1998 by the consolidation of the former Magnolia Heights Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. on February 6, 1924 and the former Somerdale No. 1 Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. on October 1, 1924.

 

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Somerdale Fire Department has been 100% volunteer since 1924. If you are looking to serve the community and have an interest in becoming a firefighter come to 101 Park Avenue, Somerdale, NJ 08083 on any Monday night after 6:00 p.m.

 

A History of the Somerdale Fire Department Somerdale Borough, Camden County, New Jersey

Fire protection in what is now the Borough of Somerdale began as a goal of the two civic associations formed in this area of Clementon Township. The Magnolia Heights Civic Improvement Association (incorporated 1923) and the Somerdale Civic Improvement Association (incorporated1919) were created by the residents of their respective villages. The physically separated Magnolia Heights subdivision formed one association, and the new Crestwood subdivision residents with the adjoining crossroads community of Somerdale formed the other. Somerdale was the name given to the Atlantic City Railroad and trolley stop at the present Somerdale Road and Atlantic Avenue (the trolley track bed). The Laurel Springs Water Supply Company ran a 6″ water main up the White Horse Pike to Magnolia between 1909 and 1921, which made growth in the area a possibility. Four 6″ branch mains additionally served the present area of Somerdale. Fire hydrants were installed every few hundred feet along those mains. The grand opening of the concrete paved White Horse Pike on November 4 ‘th, 1922 further helped to open the area. The Improvement Associations met, set goals and petitioned businesses and government, collected donations, held fund raisers, amateur nights and social dances to raise money. 1919 saw them petitioning for electric lighting to be run on the streets to the 60+ homes. By 1920, Somerdale Civic Association had built the building as a town hall and planned fire engine and hose house. By 1922 electric floodlights were installed on their stage. Advertised on transit buses as the “best dance floor in South Jersey,” they had a full monthly slate of one dinner, two social dances, and one jazz dance with orchestra held on Saturday nights. Once month movies were shown. School was held in the station until an addition was built to the school, 1926. The PTA held regular meetings there. Edward Kirkbride was the first Chief of the Somerdale Fire Protection Association, as it was then known. By 1922 both Civic Associations had 40-gallon hand drawn wheeled extinguishers to provide some measure of fire protection, but better equipment was needed. By February 1924 the Magnolia Heights Improvement Association purchased a motorized chemical fire apparatus on a 1922 Model T chain drive truck chassis, “The Scatter bolt.” It was placed in service by the members of Magnolia Heights Fire Company by late March. In May 1924 the Improvement Association presents the fire apparatus to Magnolia Heights Fire Company “free of all debt.” Somerdale Improvement Association was able to purchase a new American LaFrance Chemical Engine mounted on a Brockway type 3 chassis from donations. Somerdale housed their unit in the Civic Association building. The Magnolia Heights Model T was kept in a garage on the 500 block of Wilbur Avenue, near the Improvement Association Hall at Wilbur and Evergreen Avenues. A second Model T truck was donated by C. Franz to Magnolia Heights in August 1924. Somerdale had received a donated Studebaker in July. The national economy was rolling along, and everything seemed possible in the mid 1920s. It was in this era that the Fire Companies were formally incorporated in the Township of Clementon. There has always been the question of who formed the first Fire Company. Records do not make it clear. There is the oral story of a Somerdale Fire Company holding meetings in 1923. Written records show a request for a copy of Magnolia Heights Fire Company in June 1924. But both Fire Companies formal legal incorporation dates are:

Magnolia Heights Volunteer Fire Company, Inc.

February 6, 1924 William Buckley, Chief.

Somerdale Volunteer Fire Company, Inc.

October 1, 1924 James Milligan, Chief.

Both Civic Association Buildings were built as combination fire stations and civic meeting halls with stages. By 1925, the Magnolia Heights Civic Association had completed construction of their second building. Both Civic Associations were petitioning the Clementon Township Commissioners for more improvements, like motorized pumping fire apparatus. A wise idea as growth in the area had required an addition to the two-room Somerdale School (1921) by 1926. In 1927 the Clementon Township Commissioners purchased five (5)- 500 GPM Hale pumpers and one (1)- 350 GPM Reo Chassis Hale pumper to upgrade fire protection in the villages within the Township. One 500 GPM Hale went to the Somerdale Fire Company and the 350 GPM Reo/ Hale went to Magnolia Heights. One Ford Model T Chemical Truck in Magnolia Heights and American LaFrance/ Brockway Chemical Truck in Somerdale completed the fire apparatus inventory. The fire apparatus color in both companies was red. The Improvement Association and Fire Company members, mostly the same people, had pressed for better roads, schools, and fire protection. By 1929 they had achieved the incorporation of the Borough of Somerdale. In August 1929 at the second official Somerdale Borough Council meeting, first Mayor (and Magnolia Heights member) Wm. Amme stated that the Somerdale Borough Fire Department will be comprised of the two companies as presently constituted. The Borough Council, and firemen, agree. Ordinances for the operation of the Fire Department were published as part of the Municipal Code in early 1930. Due to the Stock Market Crash of October 29, 1929, growth in the area slowed to a crawl, then stopped. The economic survival of the Fire Companies was now at stake. In the next three years financial hardships abounded. The Magnolia Heights Civic Association turned its responsibility for the mortgage and building to Magnolia Heights Fire Company. When the bank begins to foreclose on the Somerdale Fire Station in early 1933, Chief Milligan recommends to Council to move the apparatus to the Magnolia Heights Fire Station. Mayor Lily was opposed because of the distance from the rest of town. After this the Somerdale Civic Association deeds the Fire Station to the Somerdale Fire Company. From this point on the stations are owned by the Fire Companies. On July 16, 1933, at about 3:05 a.m., an alarm is sounded, Somerdale Fire Station is on fire. With heroic efforts by firemen of both companies the fire trucks are pulled out of the building, put into action and the building is saved with help from Stratford, Kirkwood and Laurel Springs Fire Companies. During the 1930 ‘s the Companies succeeded in making do with little and kept going by running socials and vaudeville shows. Sometimes fundraisers were passing the hat to buy coal for the building or gasoline for the trucks. Only one change in fire equipment occurred at this time and that was the donation of a V8 Cadillac Touring Car to Magnolia Heights. It was quickly converted into a powerful chemical type of truck without the need for chemicals. The Cadillac came equipped with its own air compressor which could discharge water from the tank without damaging chemicals. This truck later became a hose wagon and served into the mid 1950s. Records of calls to Erlton and other parts of the county for both companies were common. But so was blown hose and broken axles. In 1933 the Somerdale Firemen ‘s Relief Association was founded. After a fire at Our Lady of Grace Church, services were held in the Somerdale Fire Station while repairs were made. By 1940, people had returned to work with RCA, the shipyards and other industries. The Somerdale American Legion began an ambulance service in 1941, housing the unit in Magnolia Heights Fire Station. In April 1941, Chief Sieber reports on installing a 265 gallon tank on the Heights engine Hi Nella Fire Company is incorporated, ending 12 years of the Somerdale Fire Department providing direct fire protection to their area. December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought about many changes. Many of the young and single members of the Fire Department join the military in the next few weeks. For others, war production cycles into full swing with extra shifts. About January 14, 1942, the sudden shift of available manpower takes its first blow. The manually stoked coal fire at Magnolia Heights was unattended and went out. The 1927 Reo-Hale engine block froze as did the engine on the American Legion Ambulance thus ending local ambulance service until 1953. Pine Hill and others provide service until then. A used 1927 engine was found and by May 1942, the Reo-Hale was back in service, costing $56.60. For the next 3 1/2 years many companies made with a few boys and older men. Magnolia Heights had equipment and manpower problems which put it out of service at times. Most meetings of the Somerdale Fire Company barely had 10 men present. By 1946, Fire Marshal Joe Weber reports that the Somerdale 500 GPM Hale is the only piece of equipment that still works in the Fire Department. Fire Chief William Barton serves first as Chief for Somerdale Fire Company 1942-44 and later as Chief of Magnolia Heights when he moves into that section of town, 1948-49. In June 1946, the Borough bought two war surplus fire trucks. A Ford 500 GPM suburban type pumper went to Somerdale Fire Company and a 1 1/2-ton 4-wheel drive Chevrolet/General 300 GPM pumper goes to Magnolia Heights Fire Company. Later, Somerdale Fire Company obtained a war surplus1941 Ford telephone type utility truck. Both Companies realized new buildings would be needed to house larger fire apparatus. Fundraising efforts including carnivals began in the late 1940 ‘s. With new equipment, returning members and new members and an improved economy, the Fire Companies rebuilt themselves back to organizational health. Somerdale experienced the beginnings of a building boom. A survey was taken in central and lower Camden County to see if people would use a Hi-Speed Rail Line. In 1948, 80% of those surveyed say yes. Magnolia Heights member Robert Feaster developed pneumonia after fighting a fire at the Harley House. He never recovered and died two years later of complications. Both Companies participated in fires at Hollingshead in Camden and Lucas Paints in Gibbsboro. The 1950 ‘s continued the building boom of new homes, a new school, a new church (Our Lady of Grace) and roads. The Fire Companies each have a building boom of their own. The firemen learn to become bricklayers, carpenters, roofers and plumbers in between their full-time jobs, fire calls, fund raising, fire drills and families. Somerdale Fire Company adds a three-bay addition in 1953. In 1954, Magnolia Heights built a new three bay station. Later at the end of the decade they tore down their old station. By 1959 many of the old farmhouses served as training drills after having been donated for that purpose by developers. In January 1951, Magnolia Heights buys a used 1926 Reo-Hale from Magnolia Fire Company for $3.00. It was used until 1955 when a new Ford/Central 500 GPM pumper with 750-gallon water tank, color white, was purchased by the Borough. After an accident in 1953 where the parked Reo is hit, a decision was made to paint the new fire truck white for better visibility. By 1958, all Magnolia Heights trucks were white in color. The Reo-Hale was sold in October 1955 to the just starting out Tansboro Fire Company for $1.00. Their trucks are white! 1953 sees a new International 500 GPM pumper with 500-gallon water tank purchased by the Borough for the Somerdale Fire Company. Magnolia Heights obtained a 1938 Parcel Post delivery van to carry equipment, it burns more oil than gas, but the fender skirts make it look sharp. In March of 1958 a snowstorm combined with a Nor ‘easter and ice storm took down power lines and left the Borough without power for over two weeks. Both Fire Companies got quite a workout as did new Mayor and Somerdale firefighter Maritn Hansen. In April 1953, the Beringer home on Evergreen Avenue was destroyed by a daytime gas explosion, Bob Stetser drove two pumpers to the same fire, one to fight the fire and the other to supply water. This was former Chief William Barton’s last fire he attended; although sick, he came to help. These are the years when fire department Rev. Austin ‘s Sunday sermon would pick up noticeable speed when the fire siren went off. In 1958, the Somerdale Police Department went full time. Fire Department member Robert Pickup, Jules Sandor, Sam Rizzo, Peter D ‘Amico and Warren Patton form it. Before that, part-time police were usually the Fire Police from both companies. Many of our police are still firefighters. Since 1929 Fire Police have served the Borough from both Companies and an active team is still part of the Fire Department. In 1949 Warren Patton is appointed to Fire Police, and in 1999 retired Police Officer Warren Patton is still a member of the Fire Police. The building boom continues in full swing, but now it is 1960. Several hundred homes were being built in the Borough along with all the apartment complexes. A new school at Our Lady of Grace and Sterling High School were built as was a light industrial park. Magnolia Heights built a meeting room/social hall. In January 1961, the largest life loss in a single fire occurs when five members of the Ward family perish in their home before an alarm can be sounded. Some other notable fires were fought at Penn-Jersey Auto, New York Shipyard Camden and forest fires below Hammonton. The Borough purchased a 1961 Ford P-500 van for Magnolia Heights to replace the 1938 Parcel Post truck. In 1962 a Ford / American LaFrance C-800 750 GPM pumper with 500-gallon water tank replaced the war surplus Ford pumper at Somerdale Fire Company. In March 1964, Magnolia Heights received a 1963 Ford / Maynard 750 GPM pumper with 750-gallon water tank to replace the war surplus 1943 Chevrolet / General. By 1970 the building boom was over. The Borough bought several replacements in the next few years. A 1969 F-500 Ford Utility Truck equipped with two generators and wired flood lights, as planned by Chief Cliff Stanton for rescue use, to replace Somerdale ‘s war surplus Ford Utility. The 1955 Ford pumper is replaced at Magnolia Heights by a 1974 Mack 1000 GPM pumper with 750-gallon water tank. 1977 sees then Governor Brendon Byrne ride atop Somerdale Fire Company ‘s new high visibility Lime Yellow American LaFrance 1500 GPM pumper with 500- gallon water tank at the housing parade. In 1974 the two Fire Companies jointly planned a 50th Anniversary celebration and parade. Over 100 units participate in the parade. Magnolia Heights members installed an A- roof on their station to replace the leaking flat roof. Former Chief Robert McAlister Sr. planned and directed the work as he had done when building the fire station in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1976, the Second Store had the largest fire in this decade. The Borough replaced three pieces of equipment in the 1980s. A 1982 Ford Saulsbury with 12.5 kW generator, mounted flood lights and an 8- bottle breathing apparatus refilling system replaced Magnolia Heights 1961 Ford equipment van. Later the same year Somerdale Fire Company received a lime yellow 1982 Ford / Pierce 1000 GPM pumper with 500- gallon water tank to replace their 1961 Ford / LaFrance pumper. And in 1988 Magnolia Heights received an E-One Hush, rear engine, fully enclosed 1500 GPM pumper with 750 gallon water tank to replace the 1963 Ford / Maynard pumper. In 1982 former Assistant Chief, former Councilman, active member for 49 years, George O ‘Brien passed away while still serving as Magnolia Heights President, an office he had been elected to for thirty-five years. In two separate fires in the mid 1980 ‘s three more people lost their lives in dwelling fires. A number of “working” fires occur during the 1990s, probably the most memorable fire at 104 Park Avenue. A family of 14 people, including two Fire Department members, escaped a raging 2:00 a.m. house fire because the fire drill they had practiced repeatedly WORKED! Somerdale Fire Company raised money and purchased a powered hydraulic vehicle rescue tool. But by the middle of the decade the suggestion of consolidating the two Fire Companies was openly brought up. First by Mayor Holloway and Council and then under Mayor Passanante. Mayor Passanante formed a Fire Department Consolidation Committee made up of 2 members from each Fire Company and 2 members of Council and the Mayor to work out the details. At the end of 1997, the last of the work on the new Fire Department Constitution and Bylaws were being finalized. The new Somerdale Fire Department, Inc. Constitution and Bylaws was passed in February 1998 by the volunteer members of both Fire Companies. On March 13, 1998, the State of New Jersey recognized the Magnolia Heights Volunteer Fire Company and the Somerdale Fire Company as being consolidated into a single corporate organization. SOMERDALE FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC. 101 PARK AVENUE

The newly consolidated Somerdale Fire Department developed a plan to put all our personnel, apparatus, and equipment under one roof. Chief James Mohan Sr becomes the first elected Chief of the Somerdale Fire Department. Long-term and varied service to the community has been a tradition among the members of the Fire Department. Edward Costello, former- Assistant Chief, President, Relief Association Secretary, Special Police Officer, closed the books as the last Treasurer of Somerdale Fire Company, having actively served for 52 years. At least six Mayors and several dozen Council members have come from the Fire Department. Department members continue to make up membership on the many boards and organizations that make the Borough go. The residents can only hope to encourage that same type of volunteer spirit for the next 75 years. A sense of community, a call to civic duty and civic pride have brought us to where we are today. With community support we hope to continue helping our fellow residents in need well into the new millennium. As we move into a new century, as one organization with two intertwined histories, we still have many things to do. To accommodate all of the current apparatus, the station has to be renovated. Fire trucks are being constructed much larger now than they were in the 1950s when the station was built, and the station had become quite tight. Our plans include building a new engine bay and creating much-needed offices and storage space in the existing engine bay. We are fortunate in today ‘s world of busy people to have a roster of over 40 active people. We are trying many ways to fundraise for a new addition to our building. We continue our dedicated volunteer service to the Borough of Somerdale into the new century. As the Somerdale Fire Department moves into the new century, plans are made to renovate the fire station located at the corner of Park and Hilltop Aves. A large four bay garage 4320 square feet, with a “radio room”, workshop and a storage room built by Mibo Construction. Property behind the firehouse was purchased to make room for the bay. Once the apparatus was moved to the new truck bay, the old engine room was renovated overtime by our own member’s hard work. Along with building two offices, one each for the Chief and the other the President. The project was partly funded from the sale of the original Somerdale Fire Company No. 1 and a mortgage to cover the rest. September 11, 2001, The Terrorist Attack on America saw many changes come about, besides uniting a country. There were 343 FDNY firefighters lost that day. Countless more have developed 9-11 cancers and are fighting it or have passed on years later. The following year, in Gloucester City on July 4, 2002, three firefighters were killed in the line of duty as well as three young girls perishing in a house fire. We provided coverage for them while they grieved with many other area fire companies. During this busy time, we were able to purchase a full set of Holmatro Hydraulic Rescue Tools to add to our capabilities. Changes in turnout gear, technology, equipment, apparatus and overall new challenging needs call for action. We replaced three fire trucks with one, the 1969 Ford Utility was turned over to the Office of Emergency Management, while the 1977 American LaFrance Engine and the 1974 Mack CF Engine were both sold off. The replacement is a 2003 Ferrara Heavy Duty Quint. The Quint has a 1500 GPM pump, 515-gallon water tank, 163’ of ground ladders, attack and 1200’ of supply hose and becomes our primary response truck for all structure calls. 2005 saw us purchase a Dodge Durango to use as a Command Vehicle. Firefighting training and equipment testing, and upgrades continue throughout the decade with standards becoming much stricter. 2007 we replaced the 1982 Ford Pierce Engine with a Ferrara Heavy Duty Rescue Pumper, known as Squad 65, with 1750 GPM pump and 785-gallon water tank, a roof mounted light tower, and mounted our Holmatro Rescue Equipment so that we would have both extrication and firefighting capability in one unit. The truck was donated to the Camden County Fire Academy in lieu of training for several classes to be taken at no cost. That same year we purchased a Ford F250 4-wheel drive pick up truck to carry personnel, equipment and even contaminated gear back to the station. Known as Utility 65 it still accomplishes those tasks as well as serving as Fire Police Unit when needed. The department continued to grow, both with personnel, capabilities, equipment and even the number of responses. It was time to replace Cascade 65, the 1982 Ford Saulsbury and with increased costs associated with the purchase of a new truck, it was determined to look for a suitable used truck to replace the 33-year-old well used truck. A group of our firefighters went out to inspect a truck in Ohio and determined that we could make it fit our needs. Once purchased, a group went out and drove the 2004 Ford Lifestar all the way back from the Joint Central Fire District of Ohio. Upon arrival our members went to work upfitting it with equipment, adding light towers, upgrading the cascade system, new LED lights, and even some body work to prep it for paint, the new to us truck was red. In the time of decision to purchase and get it home and ready for painting, those costs increased by at least double. Being resourceful Chief Steve Daniels came up with the idea to have it wrapped in vinyl. To this day – you may be asked a trick question “what color is that truck painted”. The Federal Government awarded a grant to replace all our Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA or Air Packs). Additional Holmatro Rescue Tools were added to give us an added element to keep up with the construction of newer cars on the road. Super Storm Sandy hit the coastline very badly in 2012 and as part of a response and coverage Task Force, Engine 65 responded and covered the Island Heights Fire Company for over two days along with other fire companies. The damage in that area was some of the worst in the state. As time passed, the station HVAC system passed, a kitchen suppression hood was needed over our cooking range, the roof on the original part of the building had to be replaced and many other projects took place. We were working on a replacement truck for our 1988 Engine when Covid 19 Pandemic broke out, causing us to pause based on the unknown. Nearing the end of the Pandemic we got back to work on replacing the 34-year-old engine with another rescue engine. With the changes and size of modern equipment and safety features, we purchased a 2022 Ferrara Heavy Duty Rescue Engine with a 2000 GPM pump, 500- gallon water tank, full set of Holmatro Tools, attack and supply hose, and even top side compartments. This truck is now known as Squad 65, with the 2007 Squad being renamed Engine 65, although it still has all the required “Camden County Squad” requirements. Our members upfitted the truck with some equipment that was moved from truck to truck and being resourceful making custom mounts, trays, and shelving. 2023 saw us receive a $34,000 from the state of New Jersey under the American Rescue Act, a federal program based on the pandemic. In 2024 we received an additional $74,000 from the same grant allowing us to purchase a breathing air machine and much needed turn out gear.ur current fleet of apparatus consists of Squad 65 (2022), Engine 65 (2007), Quint 65 (2003), Cascade 65 (2004), Utility 65 (2007), Support/Fire Police 65 (2005 Durango) and Command 65 (2020 Explorer). We also have our 1974 Mack CF Engine that is fully operational and is listed as Reserve Engine 65. Our “Mack” was located and was in front line service with the Burns Flat Fire Department in Western Oklahoma. We arranged to even exchange our 1988 E-One Engine with the 1974 Mack at no cost to either the Boro of Somerdale or the Town of Burns Flat. All associated costs were covered by donations for that specific purpose. In addition, once finding out the need for fire equipment there, we were able to arrange over a dozen local fire companies to donate equipment, gear and trucks to help our fellow firefighters in need. 2024 we proudly celebrate 100 years of service to our community and are very proud of our past. As we continue to serve, we will always do our best to represent the Borough of Somerdale and continue to uphold our motto “Pride of Mid-County”. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This history was written for our 75th Anniversary by Past Chief John O ‘Leary, the Chairman of our archives committee, in 1999 and Amended by Past Chief Brian Alexander and the 100 th Anniversary Committee in 2024.

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