"Almost as old as Red Bank itself, the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department has mirrored the history of Red Bank. Since its beginnings in 1870, Red Bank has grown and become the most important businesses center in the county. This growth was due in large measure to the efforts of the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department.

Countless hours and years of sacrifice on behalf of their fellow citizens have earned these firemen the undying respect of this community. In recent years, social tensions within the community have increased the burden of the firefighter's work. But now the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department moves into its second century animated by the same spirit of devotion to community, neighbor and our eternal creator, confident that it will meet the challenges of the future as its men have measured the challenges of the past."

-Mayor Daniel J. O'Hern and Council - February 8, 1972
19th Century

Prior to organizing the first fire company, the men of the town had formed a bucket brigade. The first man at a fire with his bucket was in control of the volunteer firefighters. Almost every man in the village had his private bucket which he kept handy in his home. When an alarm sounded, usually signaled by church bells, the men will run to the fire with their buckets, ready for duty.

Navesink Hook and Ladder Company. The Red Bank Fire Department dates back to September 20, 1872. The village of Red Bank had grown sufficiently in size to demand fire protection and the Navesink Hook and Ladder Company was organized. The first meeting was held in William T. Corlies' clothing store. At this meeting Corlies W Thompson was chosen the first foreman of the company, hence the first chief of the department.

This first company housed in a small frame structure on Mechanic Street used a homemade wagon for their ladders and equipment, but later they had a regulation hand-drawn truck. After some years this equipment was abandoned for a combination hand-drawn and horse apparatus.

Relief Engine Company. Relief Engine Company No. 1 was the second fire company organized in the Red Bank Fire Department, instituted February 3, 1880 and incorporated December 18th, of the same year. The first meeting was held in an undertaker's shop, the firemen using pine wood boxes for seats. For four years the members of Relief housed their hand-brake engine in R. R. Mount Building on West Front Street. In 1899 they moved to larger quarters on Pearl Street which was home for the remainder of the Century.

Independent Engine Company. Independent Engine Company No. 2 was the second engine company, which was organized on February 10, 1880 and incorporated May 2, 1880. The company's hand-brake engine was housed with the Hook and Ladder Company on Mechanic Street until 1898. At that time the company transferred to a building on White Street leased from Mrs. O. E Davis. Both Relief and Independent Engine companies gave up their hand-brake engines in 1884 when the town got its water supply. Independent Engine Company became then a hose company. The town had later supplied the company with a large hand-drawn four-wheel hose carriage. The company, subsequently converted the hand-drawn carriage into a horse-drawn apparatus with a drop harness attachment.

Liberty Hose Company. On a cold night of February 11, 1880, thirteen men met in Commissioner's Hall, Mechanic Street. Their purpose was to organize a volunteer hose company to augment the fire fighting of the then existing Navesink Hook and Ladder, the Relief Engine Company and the Independent Engine Company. This company will then become the Liberty Hose Company No. 2. A hand-drawn hose carriage was acquired at the end of 1880. In 1890, a jumper cart was acquired from Union Hose Company giving Liberty two apparatus. A horse-drawn four-wheel jumper was acquired in 1892.

Union Hose Company. As Red Bank grew to the west, fire protection was needed in that section of town and on July 23, 1890, the West Red Bank Hose Company was organized in a building owned by John Sheehan. A jumper cart was acquired and used as the primary apparatus for many years. In 1891, the members rented a two story brick building with room for two carts and stalls for horses. Five years later the company moved southward on Shrewsbury Avenue into a building next to the school. The company incorporated March 18, 1897 as Union Hose Company No. 1.

Westside Hose Company. The newest Red Bank firefighting unit, the Westside Hose Company, will not be organized until the next century.

Fire Police. The Red Bank Fire Police was organized in 1886 by James Wolcott. It was made up of three members from each company.

Great Fires of the 19th Century

20th Century

With the advent of the 20th century, Red Bank Fire Department becomes motorized. Slowly, each company abandons the hand-drawn and horse-drawn apparatus in exchange for the modern gasoline driven engines.

Westside Hose Company. The Westside Hose Company organized on October 13, 1909 by a few dedicated men concerned in protecting their homes in the vicinity of Westside Avenue and Newman Springs Road. At that time the Westside section was a part of Shrewsbury Township. As they were too far from the Shrewsbury Fire Company to count on protection from them; and since they were also too far from the nearest Red Bank fire company which had no jurisdiction over their area, there was nothing else for them to do but to organize their own fire company. Accordingly, the Westside Hose Company No. 1 was then formed. Soon thereafter the town boundaries changed and Westside Hose Company was incorporated into the Red Bank Fire Department.

Westside Hose Company has the distinction of having the first and only lady fireman on active list in the State, back in 1926. Mrs. Emma Vernell became a "fireman" when her husband Harry died from injuries received in a fire on Leighton Avenue. She became a member April 26, 1926 and received exemption papers in 1936. At the age of 72 she marched proudly with her company in the 75th Anniversary of the Red Bank Fire Department.

A small frame building was constructed next to the present fire house and two hand trucks were purchased and converted into fire truck with a small motor driven pump. In 1920, the company built the present fire house with no help from the town of Red Bank. Funds in the amount of $9,000 were borrowed from Mr. L. S Thompson of the Brookdale Farm to finance the construction, and until this day company members own the Westside Hose building and lot. In 1927, the town of Red Bank bough the company a new American LaFrance pumper. In 1947, it received the first cab in front of wheels 750 GPM American LaFrance pumper to replace the 1927 pumper. A new bay was added to the Westside Hose fire house in 1969 to house a 1,500 GPM American LaFrance pumper, which was then replaced with a 1989 1,500 GPM Pierce Arrow apparatus.

Navesink Hook and Ladder Company. In 1911 the Navesink Hook and Ladder Company was supplied with a modern hook and ladder truck with extension ladders and rubber tires. The first fully motorized hook and ladder truck arrived to Red Bank in 1919, equipped with extension ladders and four hand fire extinguishers.

October 7, 1931, plans were started for the purchase of a new 75-foot aerial truck. The proposed purchase met with opposition and the question was placed on the ballot in the general election, in 1935. Overwhelmingly approved, the truck arrived in Red Bank on May 18, 1935 and was accepted by Council on May 30. The old truck was sold to a fire company in Hightstown, NJ. The new apparatus received its first real test at the time of the Globe Hotel fire on December 1936. Its usefulness in fighting fires in taller structures had been demonstrated. In February 1961, a truck committee was appointed regarding the purchase of a new 100-foot aerial truck. On July 6, 1962 the 100-foot American LaFrance aerial arrived.

The Navesink Hook and Ladder Company members own the current fire house building located on Mechanic Street, since January 8, 1964, when the purchase was completed. A two bay fire house housing a 100-foot aerial 1982 Seagrave truck and a tiller truck.

Relief Engine Company. The modern brick fire house currently housing the Relief Fire Company was built in 1914, on Drummond Place which at that time was adjoining the Borough Hall. The same year the town purchased for the company a motorized American LaFrance pumper. Its replacement came in 1928 with a 1,000 GPM American LaFrance pumper. In September 1951, the town purchased a replacement 1,000 GPM American LaFrance pumper which was then replaced by an American LaFrance Metropolitan Model 1,250 GPM pumper, in 1972.

Independent Engine Company. In 1912, Independent Engine Company received a Robinson Jumbo triple-piston pump engine and combination hose and chemical apparatus. This equipment had scaling ladders and other small firefighting tools and accessories. An auxiliary motor-driven apparatus was used to carry the firefighters and additional equipment to and from fires. A modern American LaFrance truck was purchased in 1927. This truck was then replaced by a 1,000 GPM American LaFrance in 1952. Its successor came in January 1972, the year of RBFD's 100th Anniversary, as an American LaFrance, Metropolitan Model 1,250 GPM pumper.

Liberty Hose Company. The first motor driven apparatus in Red Bank was a Pope-Toledo automobile purchased on October 12, 1908 and converted to a pumper by A. L. Davidson, in his shop on Front Street. The following is an interesting historical byline from the good old days:

Since the converted 1908 Pope-Toledo pumper could only carry four men, four numbered paddles were kept in the fire house and the first four men to grab them could ride. Everyone else had to do their best to reach the scene of the fire.

A 750 GPM American LaFrance truck was purchased in 1918 to be then replaced by a new 750 GPM American LaFrance in 1941. In 1966, this was replaced by a 1,500 GPM Seagrave apparatus.

Union Hose Company. The new Century brought a new fire house to Union Hose members. The current fire house located on Shrewsbury Avenue was purchased on March 19, 1907 and was operational August 2nd. Until this day Union Hose Company members own and operate the building and lot. In 1910, a new combination chemical and hose horse-drawn apparatus was purchased and housed in the building.

On May 4, 1910, the Union Hook and Ladder Company No. 2 was formed and used the Union Hose building for their meetings. Their hand and horse drawn equipment was supplied by Navesink Hook and Ladder Company after receiving their new ladder truck in 1911. By this time the Union Hook and Ladder had been absorb by Union Hose Company with now a membership of 50 firefighters.

Eventually, the ladder truck was retired and Union Hose Company No. 1 returned to operate as a hose company only. A Thomas automobile was purchased by the company and was converted into a fire truck by John W Mount and Son. In 1920, the company was equipped with a chemical and hose apparatus which was in service until a new American LaFrance pumper was purchased in 1940. This was then replaced by a 1961 Mack 1,000 GPM pumper, purchased by the borough of Red Bank. The company currently operates a 1982 Mack-CF 1,250 GPM pumper engine.

Fire Police. In 1930, the Red Bank Fire Police membership was changed from three to five members from each company. The first fire patrol truck was purchased in 1947. A 1-1/2 ton Ford truck was acquired with two large flood lights, a gas generator, a deck gun and space for the men to be carried to fire scenes.

In 1965, a larger GMC apparatus was purchased and it was housed at the Union Hose fire house. The Fire Police is currently based at the Union Hose building. Their members respond to fire calls and all major incidents to secure the scene and to provide for general public and traffic safety.

Ladies Auxiliary. In the year 1950, Ladies Auxiliary representatives from Westside, Liberty, Independent, Hook and Ladder and Relief met to form the Executive Council of the Red Bank Ladies Auxiliary. The organization's purpose was to be ready to assist the firefighters in whatever way they were needed and to guide and coordinate the activities of the Ladies Auxiliary. Mrs. Jacob Bloom, of Liberty Hose Company, served as the first president of the council. On May 26, 1954, the Union Hose Auxiliaries was organized and sent representatives to the council. In the past, Ladies Auxiliary has participated in parades, worked fairs and fund raisers, wet downs, served refreshments at the Halloween parades and coffee and food at most major fires.

First Aid and Rescue Squad. At a meeting held in Union Hose Company's fire house, on March 21, 1930, the Red Bank First Aid and Rescue Squad was organized. Thirteen men met and dropped $10 each in a hat. With $100 of this money they purchased a used Meteor ambulance from the Worden Funeral Home, in June 1930.

The rig served until April 1932 when it could not be repaired anymore. At this time permission was given by the then Police Chief, Harry Clayton, to use an ambulance donated to the town by Dr. Ernest Fahnestock of Shrewsbury. The first new ambulance was an Oldsmobile, purchased in 1937.

In 1948, the number of calls rose to over 200 from 89 calls in the first year. It was obvious that two ambulances were needed and a new Cadillac was purchased. The 1937 Oldsmobile was overhauled and used as a reserve rig.

Both rigs were replaced in 1952 and 1954 with Packards and an aluminum boat was purchased for water rescue work. By this time the number of calls had risen to over 800 per year. All this time the Squad was housed in Relief fire house. Soon it became evident that separate and larger quarters were needed for efficient operations. In 1959, the Squad completed construction of the present quarters on Spring Street. Currently, the Squad responds to over 1,500 calls per year.

The Squad has served at major disasters in the area, such as the Morro Castle ship fire, the Hindenburg explosion, the NAD Earl ship explosion, the South Amboy explosion and the Woodbridge train wreck. The Squad is a unit of the Red Bank Fire Department and responds to all fire calls.

RBFD on the Web. The Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department commissioned this website with approval from Executive Fire Council, on October 27, 1998. The development work was started under the guidance of Chief George W Selah III, who promoted this automation effort during his tenure in 1998.

Great Fires of the 20th Century

RBFD Memorial

The Red Bank Fire Department Fallen Firefighters Memorial, is dedicated on December 27, 1998. On August 3, 1997 the Memorial Site at Marine Park was dedicated to the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department, at its 125th anniversary and on December 27 of the next year, the Fallen Firefighters sculpture is dedicated to the Memorial Site.

The sculpture. Depicts the Chief standing over the fallen firefighter's helmet which is embraced with the Phoenix bird. The Phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death.

The sculptor. A local artist of 50 years from Shrewsbury New Jersey, Nick Caivano donated his talent and skills to make the memorial sculpture a reality. After a year of donated weekends and holidays and 400 pounds of clay, Caivano completed the sculpture.

Firefighters who died in the line of duty

William H. Conrow. Member of Independent Engine Company, died on July 18, 1881 while fighting a fire which destroyed a block of the Borough's downtown. Died from a stroke of paralysis of the heart induced by overexertion.

Harry Vernell. Member of Westside Hose Company, died on January 25, 1926 from injuries received during a house fire on Leighton Avenue, the previous year. He fell from a ladder while fighting the fire, becoming an invalent.

H. Raymond Phillips. Member of Liberty Hose Company, died on November 7, 1941 from injuries received during a fire at I.B. Kleinert Rubber Co. plant, occurring on January 10, 1941. Phillips suffered multiple injuries when kerosene exploded during the fire.

Jacob A. Bloom, Sr. A former chief of the Department, died in December 23, 1960 after fighting a raging fire at the Bootery Shoe store and Seldin's Jewelers on Broad Street. Bloom collapsed from a heart attack when walking back to work after the fire.

Nicholas Caizza. A member of Westside Hose Company, died of a heart attack at Riverview Hospital after directing traffic at a possible fire at Riverside Tower Apartments. The incident occurred on September 12, 1977.

View Red Bank Fire Department…Then and Now photo gallery.