The first formal meeting of the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Department was in January of 1899 and a vote was taken to incorporate Ramsey as the second oldest department in the Mutual Aid. Permanent officers were elected and 32 men signed the original charter. At the same meeting, a $25 deposit was put down on their first fire engine, an 1885 Babcock Chemical Wagon, purchased from the Rutherford Fire Department.
In June of that year, the Dater family gave a deed for property near the railroad tracks for the department's first firehouse, constructed for $197. The first "run" for the chemical wagon was a brush fire near the railroad in April, and the first building fire was in January of 1900. In 1901, the department purchased its second apparatus from the Short Hills Fire Department for $350, a Gleason and Bailey Horse-Drawn (or by hand) Ladder Wagon. Teams of horses were used to pull this heavy rig to fire calls, and if none were available, the boys would pull it by hand along the dirt roads of the community.
Around 1912, the department's third apparatus was mounted on a truck chassis to become the first motorized piece of equipment. Four years later, a converted White truck with a large open body was utilized to carry hose and other equipment.
New Equipment/Restoring Old Equipment
As the borough grew in population and size, the need for a modern pumper become apparent. In the era of the late 1920s, with a water system installed, a 600-gallon-per-minute (gpm) American La France Pumper was rated the best machine available. Therefore, at a price of $10,500, this was the choice in 1927 which would serve the community for decades. This antique apparatus has been fully restored to its original specifications and is housed at fire headquarters alongside of the 1885 chemical wagon, "The Phoenix," and the Gleason and Bailey 1895 ladder wagon.
The Ladies Auxiliary was founded on March 26, 1935 with 23 charter members. Today, the auxiliary is actively supporting the Fire Department in many ways.
In 1934, the department added a Chevrolet Utility Truck with a 250-gpm pump, giving the fire fighters two pumpers. After several fires that required longer ladders, a 1939 Diamond "T" Ladder Truck with a 50 ft. pole ladder was purchased. After World War II, the borough purchased a 1947 John Bean High Pressure Fog Engine that issued in a new method of fire fighting.
The year 1948 was special as the department celebrated their 50th anniversary with a large parade and other activities. The 2 surviving charter members, John Garrison and John Y. Dater were made honorary chiefs for their 50 years of service.
With the original building unable to house all the apparatus, the Island Avenue fire station was constructed in 1951, thus providing the department with coverage on both sides of the railroad tracks. Also in that year, a 1,000-gpm Mack Pumper was purchased, with another Mack 1,000-GPM arriving in 1957.
In the autumn of 1963, the department's first aerial ladder truck, an 85 ft. Seagrave was put in service, with another apparatus ordered and arriving for duty in 1966-67. Until Ramsey took delivery of their Seagrave, Ridgewood had the only other aerial ladder apparatus in the Mutual Aid, a 1948 American La France 65-foot unit.
With the above-mentioned engine and truck plus other units, it soon became apparent that the original firehouse built in 1899 was inadequate to house modern fire fighting rigs on the west side of town. The solution was a three-bay addition on the right side of the borough garage facility to be used as a sub-station to house two units for fire protection on Ramsey's west side. From 1967 on, the Island Avenue facility was designated "Headquarters Station" and it is here that all meetings are held and where offices and general operations are located.
Young People/Apparatus Color Change
In 1973, the Ramsey Junior Fire Brigade was organized to permit under age young people to join the fire department. They are not permitted to enter burning buildings, but may ride the apparatus and work on the fire ground.
The spring of 1973 saw a major change in fire apparatus color from traditional red to "lime yellow," a color that is still in use today by the department. The new lime-colored engine, a Mack 1,500-gpm Pumper with a V-8 Diesel Engine, was the department's most powerful unit to that date.
With the theme, "75 Years of Community Service 1899 to 1974," the department celebrated its 75th anniversary with year long events and a large parade on June 2nd. The anniversary was dedicated to all those men who had served the Borough of Ramsey in the art of fire fighting.
From 1979 to the present, the following apparatus was purchased and many of these units are still in service protecting the borough. The current roster is: four class "A" pumpers, one 75 ft. tower aerial-scope ladder truck, one 100 ft. aerial truck, one class "A"/foam unit, one mini pumper, one Mobile evacuation unit, one pick-up truck, one fire alarm bucket truck, and three chiefs' vehicles.
In 1975 and 1984, the department was the recipient of the "Box 54" Unit Citation Award at the annual convention of the New Jersey-New York Volunteer Firemen's Association. Members performed daring rescues at both fires, disregarding their own safety, to remove the victims. The first fire did have a death as the occupant removed by fire fighters succumbed from his injuries.
On January 25, 1981 at 3:30 a.m., the members found themselves as the fire victims as an arson fire destroyed the second floor of the Island Avenue fire headquarters. On October 9, 1982, the building was rededicated with many dignitaries in attendance.
On July 9, 1983, the department paid honor to 50-year member, Robert Litchult. At that time, Bob attended all fire calls as a driver of the Mack Aerial Scope, receiving many gifts and awards that summer evening. In 1989, Bob received the "Hillsdale Service Award," at the New Jersey-New York Volunteer Fire men's Association Convention for community service along with his 50 plus years of active fire duty. At the May meeting in 1996, Bob announced his retirement from active service with over 63 years, commencing in 1933. On Memorial Day, the Island Avenue fire station was dedicated to Bob as the "Robert E Litchult Fire Safety Building." It is doubtful that any other member will ever achieve Bob's accomplishments.
25th & 90th Anniversaries
In October 1983, the Mutual Aid celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner-dance held at the Elk's Lodge in Ramsey. Ramsey has the distinction of being in the center position of the Mutual Aid banner since the first meeting of the association was held at the Island Avenue fire headquarters, February 12, 1958.
The fire fighters celebrated their 90th anniversary on June 24, 1989 by hosting the North Jersey Volunteer Firemen's Association parade and other events during the year. Fifty-five year member, Bob Litchult, served as grand marshal.
During 1991 and 1992, major renovations took place at fire headquarters: a room for all three antique apparatus; a new radio room; a new chief officers' room; and an additional office for the administration officers. In 1997, a new 150 ft. radio communication tower was erected alongside the building as the borough modernized its entire radio system. The west side station also had many improvements during this decade to upgrade the facility to conform to current standards.
Recruitment & Retention Program
In 1994, Fire Chief Ed Cohn realized a major problem existed not only in his department, but state and nationwide, with the recruitment and retention of emergency service personnel on the volunteer level. Four fire fighters in this area formed the Recruitment and Retention Program. In 4 years, this program has achieved state and national recognition with ex-chief Ed Cohn serving as general chairman of what is known as 800-FIRE-LINE.