In October 1891, Main Street Clinton suffered a fire which raged for several
days, destroying much of the business district as well as the dwellings
of many merchants and townspeople. Because Clinton had no fire department,
Mayor Johnson telegraphed for help from the existing companies in Flemington,
Somerville, Easton [PA], and Phillipsburg. Flemington, Easton, and Phillipsburg
sent equipment by train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
citizens of Clinton fought hard to save Main Street, but without fire
equipment, and a high wind rising, the loss was great. In 1892, Clinton
expressed gratitude and sent fifty dollars to be distributed among the
six or eight Easton fireman who had come to assist.
The fire changed the appearance of Main Street forever, and merchants
and citizens began planning a local fire department. On March 14, 1892
the Clinton Steam Engine Company No. 1 was formed. There were forty original
members, many of whom were local merchants who had sustained losses.
first act of the Company was to purchase a steam engine, pulled by hand
to local fires, and by horses to outlying districts. The August 1892 tax
map notes: "one Amoskeag Steamer, 1500' new rubber hose, and three ladders
purchased. Water supply: nearby river and cisterns." The members received
no payment, purchased equipment, and paid dues to fund the company.
On April 1, 1894, the New Jersey State Firemen's Association authorized
the organization of the Clinton Firemen's Relief Association for the protection
and relief of injured firemen and their families.
In 1898, the Company moved its equipment, previously stored in a shed,
to the new firehouse--a section added to the western side of the Grandin
Library Building on East Main Street. To the rear of the building stood
a narrow tower in which hose was draped to dry.
the years the fire department showed a steady growth. The department became
mechanized in 1925, when the town purchased a modern fire truck. In 1938,
an American LaFrance body on an International chassis was purchased to
render the service to the eight or ten mile radius outside of town. The
truck was sent by freight car from Elmira, New York and was greeted by
two hundred invited guests, most of whom had contributed or solicited
funds over a three year period to pay for the $3,900 machine. George R.
Hanks, a major contributor, gave a speech, and a bottle of water was broken
over the engine, christening it the "Nancy Hanks."
On August 15, 1938, the membership voted to incorporate "as an association
not for pecuniary profit," registered its selected name with the New Jersey
Secretary of State, and became the Clinton Fire Department.
The Clinton Fire Department marked its fiftieth anniversary on March 14,
1942. On April 6 of that year, a program was presented to a full house
in the Music Hall on West Main Street. The organization presented a play,
written by Lester Oliver, Sr., based upon the actual minutes of the first
three meetings. Of course, America was at war, so the play was followed
by a speech by Leo A. Smith, of the State Defense Council, whose topic
was "Firemen and Bomb Attacks." Mr. Smith's talk was followed by a demonstration
by local firemen on how to handle incendiary bombs. The demonstration
was held in the railroad freight yard.
At the time of the fiftieth anniversary, four charter members were living:
John Rowland, Oscar Rittenhouse, John Reed, and Frank Van Syckle.
During this period, the firemen also took first aid courses, and a rescue
squad was organized. Uniforms were still purchased by the individual members,
and dues and fines were collected to support the Department.
Many of the fires covered in the 1940's were farm fires, and very often
securing enough water to save buildings and livestock was a problem. In
one 1941 fire, snow was packed against the burning wood, confining the
blaze and saving several nearby barns.
A great deal of social activity in Clinton also centered around the fire
company. Holiday dinners and socials were held in the "Old Fire House,"
a few doors down from the 1898 building. The socializing also became a
source of raising money as the Clinton Fire Department became quite famous
for its annual minstrel show, staged at the Music Hall. In later years,
pancake breakfasts were well received by the public.
In 1949, the Ladies Auxiliary was organized, and has been an integral
part of the Department ever since, constantly working to assist the firemen.
In the 1960's two notable fires occurred in the town, the Fox Lumber Yard
fire and the Municipal Building fire.
As the Clinton area became less agricultural, less rural, the nature of
firefighting changed. When Acme Grocery Store closed in 1975, the Fire
Department purchased and restored the building to accommodate its increasingly
technical and safety equipment. The members attended fire schools and
seminars. State regulations concerning fire gear and equipment are ever
changing, making retraining and upkeep a major time factor.
Costs are high. Today, the Fire Department makes most of its necessary
funds by hosting banquets and wedding receptions. The Town of Clinton
and neighboring municipalities, along with individuals through the annual
fund drive, contribute funds.
The Clinton Fire Department is a progressive organization. The commitment
of its members, some of them third generation, is essential to the well-being
of the citizens of the town. The men and women of the Clinton Fire Department
continue their dedicated service.
Modified from the Hundredth Anniversary Book, by Allie McGaheran,