During the 1950’s, Walter Kulick* wrote a small article about the early days of the Caldwell Township ( Fairfield ) Fire Department that appeared in the Caldwell Progress. Much of the following is taken from his original story.
“Caldwell Township had no fire protection until 1911 when the original fire company was formed by, among others, Vince Mullane, Bob Hardy, Bill Whittle, Tom Pier, Ray Collerd, Reg Lea, Charles Pier, and John and Louis Schlapfer.”
A fire house was built in 1912 on land donated by J.W. DeBaun at 129 Fairfield Road ( directly across from the Kulick Road intersection today ). The Department had not even acquired fire equipment yet when the three year old building burned down with the Department “helpless to combat the flames”.
The Fire Company was inactive until 1925 when a new movement was started by Chief Andrew Shaw with a new group of Volunteers : Sam Klein, Lloyd Van Ness, Bill Wohkittel, Joe Schubert, Bill Stanek Sr., Lou LaRegina, Edgar Schmitt, Harold Jacobus, Al Sisco, Ralph Kent, Bert Garrabrant and Bert Steinert. Ray Collerd and Lou Schlapfer carried over their service from the original 1911 company.
The Department received no backing from the Township Committee and raised funds by holding dinners and soliciting contributions. They took on a $1,500 mortgage for the new building and also went through similar financial struggles when they acquired their first fire truck in 1927.
The Company went through several difficult years in 1928-1930 with the mortgage and truck loan payments being difficult to meet. However, the Company was ‘bailed out’ in early 1930 when the town bought the existing fire truck for $ 6,700 and took responsibility for future equipment needs. Eighteen years later the 1927 Day-Elder fire truck was ready to be retired and the Township bought a new “pumper” ( 1948 ). Then in 1953 a second pumper was purchased with a large 1,000 gallon capacity.
The ‘Old Fire House’ was used as a Recreation Hall after the new municipal building was completed in 1937. As it is today with a fire hydrant - just in case.
( My Uncle ) Pasquale Pollio was the Fire Chief back then, and I rode with him several times to fires in those ‘old’ pumpers (Try that today with Insurance policies, etc. ). You might think they’re fast trucks but all that water gallonage is a lot of weight and they take a long time getting up to speed. You needed a good running start to get over the Route 46 overpasses quickly. Today a turbocharged VW Beetle has about the same horsepower as those old water filled pumpers.
Before the Plectron era, the fire siren at the Municipal Building had a metal slug that created a series of long and short blasts unique to each street (really!). Theoretically, Volunteers would know the street where the fire was located by interpreting the signal. Later a placard with the street name was slid into an outside receptacle for late arriving Firemen who missed the outbound trucks.
Indian Brand Backpack Fire Pump
We teenagers even got to help put out small brush fires that were far from the street. This meant Indian Brand 5 gallon fire pumps on your backs. Try jumping a ditch with one of these on your back.
Now Fairfield has a Ladder Truck that is larger than the entire ‘Old Firehouse’.
There are many people who are more knowledgeable than I about the most recent decades, so I’ll end it here.
Dedicated to Walter Kulick and all the Volunteers and Auxiliary who helped - and continue to help - protect the Fairfield Community.
...............Paul Pollio January 1, 2019
*Walter was the son of Joseph and Agnes Kulick whose farmhouse was on Horseneck Road where Barista Expresso is today ( # 27-29 ). It was both Joseph’s and Agnes’ second marriages and they had eight children from their first marriages. Then they had three more children together: Benjamin, Walter, and Elizabeth. Another beautiful Fairfield Family that contributed a great deal to the Community.