It all started in 1909, shortly after the succession from Verona Township (now Cedar Grove Township). Mayor Palm and the Verona Borough Council passed an ordinance on May 7, after a meeting of interested Verona citizens was held in the old Heider building on Bloomfield Avenue, between the point of Claremont Avenue and Cumberland Avenue, and the fire department was organized on May 12. Three companies were formed: Hook and Ladder Company 1, Hose Company 1, and Hose Company 2. There were thirty volunteer members in the entire department, ten members in each company. All members had to be residents of the Borough of Verona. An earlier attempt to organize in 1903-04, after a disastrous fire, failed when the voters of old Verona Township rejected funding.
In 1909 the mayor and council passed an ordinance that $1500.00 be appropriated for equipment. Three Fire wagons were purchased; two hose wagons and, one hook and Ladder wagon. All the wagons could be pulled by hand or by horses. The horses were borrowed from local businessmen, primarily from William P. Johnson, Mayor David H. Slayback, Charles Bahr, Adam Wiessmann (a Verona butcher) and Charles Coleman. The Fire Department members drew up a set of by-laws to follow and elected their first Chief, Mr. Theodore S. Farrand, who was a member of Hook and Ladder Company 1. The Mayor and Council had neglected to fund for operating costs, so the firemen took care of the expenses themselves. The funding to hire horses when necessary for calls or drills was passed by resolution on June 3, 1910.
Hook and Ladder Company 1 and Hose Company 1 were housed in a barn at the rear of the old Methodist Church Parsonage on Grove Avenue until 1910. That year the borough acquired The Old Methodist Church at the northeast corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Avenue, which was converted into a small firehouse, while a small building in the rear became the Council room and the office of the Borough Clerk. Hose Company 2 was housed in Mr. Charles Coleman’s barn located on Bloomfield Avenue, where Miscia’s Service Station is today. Mr. Coleman was one of the first members of the department.
During bad winter weather, the horse would be tied to a sleigh instead of a wagon. The first fire was the ice shed at the hotel operated by the Lichtenbergs on Bloomfield Ave. opposite Lakeside Avenue. There were eleven fire hydrants installed in 1909.
In 1917, the firefighters raised funds to purchase land and build Firehouse 2 at 209 Bloomfield Avenue, where the current Firehouse 2 is today. The Verona Fire Department eventually gave this land and building to the Borough.
In 1915 the Borough purchased a Brockway Fire Engine, its first motor driven apparatus, which was housed with Hose Company 1. The Brockway was equipped with a 40 gallon chemical tank, 250 feet of chemical hose, 1000 feet of 2.5 inch hose, two short ladders, two play pipes (one with shut off nozzle) and two 2.5 gallon chemical extinguishers.
On April 3, 1917, Hook and Ladder Company 1 was merged into Hose Company 1 and its members joined either Hose Company 1 or Hose Company 2. Prior to 1918 the members of Hose Company 2 retired its horse drawn hose wagon by mounting the hose wagon body on a Ford model T automobile chassis. A map of 1918 shows Firehouse 2 located at 129 Bloomfield Avenue. The Model T fire engine was equipped with 750 feet of 2.5-inch hose, two short ladders, two play pipes (one with shut off nozzle) and two 2.5 gallon chemical extinguishers.
In 1919 the model T chassis was replaced with a Pierce Arrow automobile chassis equipped with an air starter. In 1922 with Bill Graham as Chief a Packard Fire Engine was purchased and operated by Hose Company 2. In 1923 Hose Company 1 was moved to the Gould Street side of the New Municipal Building. The original firehouse 1, the old Methodist Church built in 1833, had burned to the ground in January but the apparatus had been saved. The Montclair Golf Club Clubhouse, then located in Verona, was destroyed by fire in 1925. In 1927 with Les Requa Chief an American La France 1000-gallon pumper was purchased for Hose Company 1.
In 1927 Hose Company 2 created one of the first rescue squad units in New Jersey, The Verona #2 Rescue Squad, and consisted of Company 2 members. The members raised funds to purchase a Pierce Arrow truck and firehouse 2 was remodeled to accommodate the new truck. The truck was loaded with a first aid kit and a Clark inhalator.
In 1931 with Emil Schmick Chief a used REO hook and ladder truck was purchased and was operated by Company 1.
The annual department dinner in 1931 was held in the Montclair Hotel located on Bloomfield Avenue opposite Sunset Avenue and Bill Coerper, a probationary member of Hose Company 2, arranged for the affair. In 1933 with Howard DeCamp chief the Congregational Church was heavily damaged by fire.
Numbered badges were issued to the firefighters during August 1933, with badge #1 being given to Silias Voorhees and badge #2 to John Williams, both were charter members. Charter Members are the original Verona firefighters who were responsible for creating the Verona Fire Department. Today, badge numbers are issued to firefighters who complete necessary training and go through their probationary period. Once a badge number is issued, it will never be re-issued again.
In 1935, with Fred Ingold chief, Hose Company 1 changed its name to Engine Company 1.
In 1936 an American La France “Cities Service” Hook and Ladder Truck was purchased and operated by Company 2. It was considered a “Triple Threat” as it functioned as a pumper, hook and ladder, and hose cart. In 1939, with George Dollmair chief, the buildings on the southeast corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Montrose Avenue, which included an Ace Hardware, burned during a snowstorm.
In 1942 the Verona Auxiliary Fire Department was created as a Civilian Defense measure, in the event of an enemy attack, and an aid to the Fire Department. In 1944 with Arthur Schmick chief, the bowling alley at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Fairview was gutted by fire.
A fire heavily damaged firehouse 2, in 1949 and the borough, on the same site, erected a new building. During 1949, while Bill Coerper was Chief, the members of the fire department build a fire engine on a Ford truck chassis and parts of a World War II civil defense trailer pump. This small fire engine with a five hundred gallon pump and tank, affectionately called the “Mudder” was extremely successful in putting out brush fires for decades with Company 1. In 1953 with Jack Coerper chief a V-12 cylinder Seagrave 1000 gallon Pumper replaced the 1927 American La France.
In 1958, the Acme Supermarket, 420 Bloomfield Ave, burned. In 1959 with Merle Burdett Chief, the first aerial ladder truck, an 85-foot Maxim “Quint” was purchased for Company 2 to replace the 1936 American La France. The term “Quint” comes from the word “Quintuplet”, and refers to the five functions that a quint provides: pump water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders. In 1960 a used 1939 Mack 500 gallon pumper was purchased from the Cedar Grove Fire Department to equip the Verona Auxiliary Fire Department. This group of young Firefighters had been aiding and assisting since World War II. In 1960 Engine Company 1 moved to a new firehouse, facing Bloomfield Avenue, in a municipal building addition. In 1964 with Walt McKenna chief, a Ford 750 pumper with a high-pressure pump, built by the TASC Co. was purchased and operated by Company 1.
The Tradition of numbering the apparatus began in the 1970’s.
In 1973, with Walt Trapp chief, the first diesel powered apparatus and first automatic transmission, an American La France 1500 gallon pumper and high-pressure pump was purchased for Company 2 as Engine 14.
The middle of 1973, the wives of company #1 members formed the Ladies Auxiliary. These ladies would provide support to the department during any fire or for events. At fires, the Ladies Auxiliary would get coffee, water, food or anything that would be needed at the scene. In September of 1980, the wives of Company #2 joined the wives of Company #1 to form today’s Ladies Auxiliary.
In 1975 with Sandy Weinberg chief, a Ford Young 1500-gallon pumper was purchased for Company 1 as Engine 10 and the Mudder was assigned to the Auxiliary Fire Department. At the same time, New Jersey State Legislation was in the talks of making all fire apparatus more visible. To comply with the expected law, and to save the taxpayers money down the line for improvements, the Ford Young was painted yellow. The law was never passed, but company 1 adopted the new color as their color scheme.
In 1976 the Verona Fire Department Training Center, located on Commerce Court, was built by the firefighters on Township property with funds from generous residents and businesses. Also, The Borough of Verona changed its name to “The Township of Borough of Verona”. Today, it is more commonly known unofficially as “The Township of Verona”.
Insurance coverage for sickness or injury of the members was initiated on March 3, 1976. In 1981 with Dave Brooks chief, a Pierce Arrow, a 1500 gallon Pumper equipped with a foam firefighting system, was purchased for Company 1 as Engine 11. In 1984 with Joe Gardener chief, an LTI (Ladder Tower Inc.) and Conestoga Custom Products ladder truck, with an 85 foot aerial ladder platform “Quint”, was purchased for Company 2 as Truck 12, and firehouse 2 was upgraded with new heating system, a new apparatus room floor and new doors to allow the new apparatus in the building.
In 1986 a used, 15 passenger van was donated by Schering-Plough Company and was put in service by chief Arnold Zipf as a command vehicle equipped with multiple radios and a breathing air cascade system. In 1990 the command vehicle was replaced by Chief Jeff Hayes with a Chevrolet, 4 wheel drive, Suburban and the cascade system was mounted in the rear hose bed of the 1973 American La France pumper. In 1991 with Rich Luzzi chief, a BECK 1500-gallon pumper with an 800-gallon water tank was purchased for Company 2 as Engine 14.
The Verona Firefighters Insurance Association was created on July 10, 1991 to improve and administer the insurance coverage begun in 1976.
On June 24, 1997 with Kevin Gifford chief, the new No. 1 firehouse at 880 Bloomfield Avenue was dedicated and put in service.
On July 17, 1999 with Larry Burdett chief, a Pierce Lance, a 2000 gallon pumper equipped with a breathing air cascade system, was put in service for Company 1 as Engine 10, and the fire department celebrated its is 90 years of continuous service. The Ford Young was put into reserve status as Engine 16.
On September 11, 2001, The Verona Fire Department responded into New York City for station fill-in duty for a Manhattan Truck Company.
In 2003, The Fire Department reactivated the Auxiliary Fire Department. The Auxiliary Department’s purpose was to allow people under 18 or a student in college who could not meet the requirements for membership the opportunity to take part in the Department’s functions. They could not take part in direct firefighting operations, but assisted the firefighters when need be. The Department is still active and has been one of the best providers of future firefighters.
In 2004, with Pat McEvoy chief, a Pierce Lance, a 2000 gallon pumper was put in service for Company 1 as Engine 11. This engine was a twin of the 1999 Lance, with very similar features. The 1981 Pierce Arrow replaced the Ford Young as Reserve Status.
On July 19th 2006, Verona was hit with a very severe storm, which was later confirmed as a microburst. The Verona Fire Department received and answered over twenty calls for service in the hour, and an additional twenty the next day, ranging from downed power lines, to trees in houses and possible house fires, testing nearly all “what ifs” set up with the Office of Emergency Management. The Verona Fire Department and OEM proved that night that the VFD is well prepared to protect the town and its residents, even with the new challenges at hand.
In August 2007, a 2008 Diesel Ford F550 was put in service for Company 2 to replace the 1990 Suburban which was put out of service in 2006. In March 2008, the Fire Department took delivery of a 2008 Diesel Ford F450 brush truck, which was paid for out of Hilltop Funds. This vehicle was given the name Brush 19 and put in service for Company 1. On June 12, 2008, the Verona Fire Department took delivery of a 2008 Ford Escape command vehicle, donated by an anonymous township family. All of these vehicles were put in service under the command of Chief Larry Burdett.
On October 10, 2009, The Verona Fire Department will be celebrating 100 years of volunteer service to the township. A Parade will be taking place, and a Wet Down and celebration party will follow at the Verona Community Center.
Over 320 firefighters have served Verona since 1909. Every new member since 1909 has been provided with equipment, training and leadership. After serving a few months as a “Probie”, the Probie gains the experience and knowledge to become a regular firefighter.
Beginning with Theodore Farrand, the first chief, Over 40 regular Verona Firefighters have earned the respect of the members and elected to chief for two-year terms. An Assistant Chief supports every chief of the department. The original three companies of ten firefighters each was reduced, in 1917 during World War I, to just two companies and remains the same to this day: Engine Company 1 and Hose Company 2 each with about 30 firefighters. The companies were lead by a foreman, now called Captains and an Assistant Foreman, now called Lieutenants, who were elected by their fellow company members.
The first alarm system was a steel rim from a locomotive wheel and a sledgehammer. The second alarm system, also located near the Old Methodist Church, was a large bell in a tower. The third and current alarm system, installed in 1923, is the air horn in the clock tower on top of the municipal building. A fire alarm directory with street number locations and a Gamewell fire alarm ticker tape was installed in the firehouses. When the fire alarm sounds, the location number would be punched out in tape. Arriving firemen who responded after hearing the horn counted the punches, looked up the number, and responded to the call. As Verona grew, and with the difficulty in hearing the horn in inclement weather, a four inch Edwards single stroke bell which was tied into the alarm system was installed in every firemen’s home. For each time the horn sounded, the bell would sound. With a fire alarm directory, which was given to all members, unless he wasn’t a driver, the member could look up the location and respond to the scene. In 1948, the relay and switch panels were replaced by Chief Art Schmick and he served as Alarm System Superintendent for 20 years. In 1968, Jay Aloia became Alarm System Superintendent as served until 2008. Buildings and Grounds, headed by Lenny Waterman, maintains currently maintains the air horn.
In the 1980’s, Plectrons were given to every member. These were crystal controlled alert and monitor receivers on the fire band radio frequency, which was activated by the police department. A loud tone would sound and a message would follow. This system gradually became more portable by replacing the Plectron with Motorola Minitors, which operated the same way as the Plectrons did. In 2000, the Minitors were replaced by hand-held two-way radios on the current EDACS (Enhanced Digital Access Communications System) trunking system. This current system allows for easy response and communication with the police desk, other agencies (both in and out of Verona) and firefighting duties. In January of 2008, The Jeff Hayes implemented a system to send SMS messages for fire calls to members’ cell phones. Each text is generated from the creation of a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) entry, and it indicates whether the call is a fire or EMS call, and indicates the address of the call. The horn and tickertape still serve as a backup system for those who are unable to carry a radio or cell phone.
The Bell, a rare and unique apparatus bell, has served continuously on Verona Fire Trucks since 1915, starting with the 1915 Brockway pumper, the 1936 American La France hook and ladder, the 1964 Ford pumper, and now on the front bumper of the 1991 Beck pumper.
Traditions abound in the Verona Fire Department. Proud of its long service, the department has hosted anniversary parades, the 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th, and 75th, inviting the people of Verona and fire departments from New Jersey, to celebrate its birthdays. Proud of its apparatus, the department hosts “Wet Downs” for each new apparatus as it is put in service, inviting the citizens and neighboring fire departments, to inspect and initiate the new machine. Proud of its accomplishments, awards, trophies and honors of all types are saved and displayed for all to see.
Some numbers are considered lucky, but number thirteen is not. Badge numbers 13, 113, or 213 have never been issued to a firefighter. Badge 113 was issued to Company 2 mascot; “Sarge” a Dalmatian, rode to fires in the front seat of the hook and ladder truck and then guarded the equipment at the fire but knew and recognized all the members of the Verona Fire Department. Engine 13 was the number for the reserve engines. The last engine to be called “Engine 13” was the 1973 American LaFrance. 16 is now used to number the reserve engines.
Michael Inglesino (123), in 1984
David Brooks (119)
Steve Giblin (289)