Fire Department History

Fire protection in the City of Bridgeton was "born" in 1819 when the Neptune Fire Company Volunteers was formed under the leadership of Chief Bevan. The Neptune Fire Company Volunteers continued serving the city until approximately 1840 when the Minerva Fire Company was formed. The Minerva Fire Company provided protection with a hand pumper called the Minerva, a horse drawn wagon and other man-powered and hand drawn apparatus. Another hand pumper called the "Bridgeton" followed the Minerva. Neither of these was preserved but were destroyed. The Minerva Fire Company disbanded sometime in the early 1850's. It is unclear if there were any other fire departments formed between the 1850's and 1877 when the first city fire company was organized. The Cohansey Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 was organized in March of 1877, and was located at the corner of Washington Street and Cohansey Street. In 1896 the Fire Department moved to its current building on Orange Street near City Hall.

Early Fire Department Timeline:

  • 1886:  Population 10,500 - one steam engine (Silsby) drawn by two horses - 20 men, all paid - two hose carts 1500' Eureka linen hose - one hook & ladder truck.

  • 1891:  Population 12,000 - 28 men, all paid - one La France & one Silsby steam fire engines drawn by horses - two hose carts, one hose reel - 2500' Eureka linen hose.

  • 1896:  Population 13,000 - 28 paid men - alarm at each house - Gamewell Fire Alarm System, 15 boxes - five horse - one La France steam fire engine - one Silsby steam fire engine - one hose wagon drawn by horses - two hose carts - one hose reel - 3000' 2 1/2" hose - one hook & ladder truck - two Babcock extinguishers - one man at engine house day and night.

  • 1903:  Population 15,000 - two paid drivers and 27 partly paid men - five horses - one La France steam fire engine - one Silsby steam fire engine - one hook & ladder truck - one hose carriage - one hose cart - one combination chemical engine & hose wagon.  

  • 1908: Population 15,000 - two paid men - 23 call men - six horses - one La France steam fire engine - one Silsby steam fire engine - one hose wagon - one hook & ladder truck - two extinguishers - one combination chemical engine & hose wagon - 2700' of hose - Gamewell fire alarm system, 25 boxes - one hose cart now kept at 3rd Ward Hose House which is soon to be abandoned.

  • 1915:  Population 16,000 - three partly paid officer - two fully paid men and 19 partly paid men on call - seven horses -   one La France steam fire engine - one Silsby steam fire engine - one combination  wagon with 900' 2 1/2" hose - one hook & ladder truck - 3100' hose in reserve - all equipment kept at Orange Street Headquarters - Gamewell fire alarm system, 28 boxes.

Line of Duty Death: Lieutenant William Channels 11/02/1949

Lieutenant William Channels , driver for 23 years, collapsed and died shortly after he moved his pumper into position at Irving Avenue and Walnut Street. Lieutenant Channels was on the first alarm assignment for a fire at the Martin Corporation plant on November 2, 1949. Detecting a problem with the hose pressure, firemen rushed to the pumper only to find the Lieutenant lying on the ground. He was carried to a car and rushed to Bridgeton Hospital but succumbed to a heart attack on the way. Around 6:30 pm on November 2, 1949 the fire department was sent to Martin Corporation's dyeing and finishing plant on Irving Avenue. Employees stated that the fire broke out near a dryer and spread rapidly throughout the heavy timber building. Fire extinguishers were useless as the timbers "caught like powder" one employee stated. A mildew proofing solvent that was applied to the building is believed to have contributed to the rapid spread of fire. At its height, the fire could be seen ten miles away. Over 200 firemen battled the blaze. Four neighboring homes caught fire from burning embers. Lieutenant Channels was a veteran fireman having served for twenty three years. He was known as one of the more able men in the department and played a leading role in many major fires over the years. He was described as friendly and had served as treasurer and secretary for the FMBA Local No. 52. Lieutenant Channels was 49 years of age. Source: Bridgeton Evening News November 1949


Line of Duty Death: Royal J. Rainear and Harold Jackson 10/05/1943

Royal J. Rainear, regular driver, and Harold Jackson, volunteer hoseman, both died in the line of duty on October 5, 1943 while operating at a massive fire at the George Schalick and Sons Feed Mill in Centerton. Assistant Chief Robert Mulford, Dave Meyers, Royal Rainear and Harold Jackson were operating a line hosing down hot spots when they plunged into a deep grain pit. Meyers escaped, Chief Mulford clung to the hoseline but Jackson and Rainear plunged into the red hot grain bin. Around 6 pm Tuesday night a neighbor of the mill saw smoke coming from the grain elevator and notifed Mr. Schalick, who was still in his office at the plant. An alarm was sounded for the fire departments from Elmer and Bridgeton. Bridgeton sent its new pumper, Carl Horner driving, with a crew of nine. Other departments, including Vineland, were summoned as the fire grew before Elmer, six miles away, and Bridgeton, seven miles away, could reach the scene. Elmer Fire Chief Charles Nelson commanded the scene until relieved by Bridgeton Chief John Peguesse late into the night. Assistant Chief Robert Mulford, Dave Meyers, Royal Rainear and Harold Jackson plunged into the burning grain bin fours hours into the fire. The four firemen were taking a hoseline into the building as the floor around the grain chute collapsed sending them into the pit. Jackson and Rainear could not escape as the grain acted like quicksand. State Police two-way radio cars quickly called their Hammonton headquarters who in turn telephoned City Hall with a request for the City's ambulance and inhalator. John Price was attributed with pulling Rainear and Jackson from the pit after entering from the grain chute as other rescuers forced a door in the lower part of the bin, allowing Price to pull out the bodies. Price's hands were burned during the heroic event. Both Price and Rainer were members of the Department of Defense plant fire department in Pedricktown. Twenty-three Bridgeton firemen fought the flames and the City's flood light unit was used at the scene. The Bridgeton Salvation Army mobile canteen car also responded providing firemen with food and refreshment. State Police Detective Clitch of the Malaga station and Inspector of Police Norman Fletcher investigated the blaze. It is reported that the fire was the result of a carelessly tossed match or cigarette near the loading dock. Royal J. Rainear was a well known member of the fire department having served for ten years and was a regular driver. Rainear was 34 years of age. Harold Jackson was also a popular member and had served as a volunteer hoseman for three years. Jackson was 32 years of age. Source: Bridgeton Evening News October 1943

Fire Department Gamewell System & Diaphones Horns

The City of Bridgeton used a Gamewell fire alarm box and alerting system. Gamewell horns and pull boxes provided a timely way to activate the fire department for many years. The fire alarm boxes were gone by the 1970s but the horn system was used to alert firemen up until the 1990s. Many parts of the system are still present in the firehouse. The diaphone horns are still located in the firehouse hose tower.  Today, one diaphone horn has been restored to service and can be manually activated.