Flanders Fire & Rescue History
Flanders Fire Company No. 1 and Rescue Squad
Entering the Flanders Firehouse through the front door, the visitor must decide whether to go left or right. To the right is the ambulance/ rescue bay. There you’ll find two modern, fully equipped rigs, both carrying the most advanced diagnostic and first aid electronics available. In addition to this bay, our jack-of-all-trades, a rescue vehicle that is equipped with the Jaws of Life and other rescue essentials tools. To the left you will find the fire bay. A brush truck, one pumper, a 95' tower truck and a utility van. Along both walls, running the length of the entire fire bay, is the turnout gear worn by the members of the Flanders Fire Company Number 1 and Rescue Squad. All in all, more then a million dollars worth of state of the art fire and first aid equipment operated and maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers. As we enter the new millennium, it’s worth remembering that it all began with seven men in a chicken coup.
Since December 17, 1760, when Jazeb Heaton of Roxbury purchased the land for what was to become Flanders from one William Allen of Philadelphia, many significant milestones have marked he history of our community. By 1810, Flanders was connected by Pike Road to Morristown, Easton and cities as distant as Boston. A post Office was established as far back as 1822. For the period of 1827 to 1859, the agricultural economy was augmented by logging, mines, and mills and at some point the railroad that was put through the town. The first bank was established in nearby Netcong on February 3, 1903. In 1921, Mount Olive hired its first constable. Flanders was, by this point, a prosperous and growing community with churches, stores, mills, and businesses. To go along with the houses clustered along Main Street, there were also between 70 and 100 farms in the area.
By 1922 the post office had become a popular local meeting place. Residents would gather here to await the daily mail delivery and to talk over things in general, as well as catch up on town gossip. It was during one of these sessions that the subject of a fire company was raised. Up to this point if you had a fire, the best you could hope for would be a "bucket brigade" made up of your neighbors. But on June 8, 1923, seven residents officially established Flanders Fire Company Number 1. They were Howard and Ed McLaughlin, William Marvin, E.C. Ted Ashley, George Ericson, Watson McPeek, and Augustus Stark. Ed McLaughlin was named Chief and meetings were, at one point, held by the light of oil lamps in Ed’s chicken coup. Eventually Ed’s barn was used to store the company’s meager equipment and his house served as headquarters. Please bear in mind that electricity in Flanders was still two years away.
1923 saw the first firetruck brought to town. It was a "Brockway Torpedo" converted from a chemical car into a water carrier. It went into Ed McLaughlin’s barn. By now a fire alarm of sorts had been installed. The rim of a steam engine’s wheel was hung up on Main Street and a sledgehammer was used to strike it when help was needed. You can still see it today, right in front of the present Flanders Firehouse. In the late 20’s, with the coming of electricity, a siren replaced this rather basic alarm. By 1968 each volunteer had a radio receiver for home use, and these have been supplemented over the last decade with belt-worn pagers.
By 1928 the Fire Company was expanding, but still without a firehouse. Luckily, with the completion of the "new" Flanders School on Main Street, the old one-room schoolhouse opposite became vacant and was made available to the Company. Originally built in 1855, the firemen remodeled the entire structure, created an engine bay, and added a garage door in front. Flanders Firehouse was dedicated in 1931. An expansion was carried out in 1961 and in late 1969 two engine bays were constructed, as an addition to the existing structure.
In 1996 the house and property adjacent to the firehouse were acquired. The existing home was razed and site preparation had begun. An ambitious addition was planned to begin construction in 2000 that would desperately add needed space for equipment and offices. A classroom of sorts was part of the long-range plan for the interior, and we hope that after an absence of 70 years, the old Flanders Schoolhouse will once again be holding classes. Although there have been many changes over the years, this venerable one hundred year old school is still visible as the centerpiece of the Flanders Firehouse and will remain so in the future.
In 1936, the township bought a Dodge pumper to replace the old "Torpedo." Interestingly, the new vehicle was scheduled to be delivered on June 6th, which happened to be a Sunday. Local church groups wrote a resolution forbidding the firemen to inspect the truck on the Sabbath. But can you really keep firemen away from a shinny new firetruck? They took delivery and, we suppose, did their penance. The dodge was replaced in 1952.
In 1938 a group of nine women decided that the time had come for a Ladies Auxiliary to be formed in order to aid the firemen. They elected Hazel Tinc as Chairwomen, with Mrs. Erickson as her assistant. Ruth Gray served as Secretary and Ruth Clawson was the first Treasurer. Their first official act was to solicit food donations from the local farms in order to prepare and serve chicken dinner to the members of the Fire Company. During the Second World War the Ladies Auxiliary went to bat for the men with a local Rationing Board to petition for extra sugar for use at the firehouse.
The Ladies are a welcome sight when performing their most important function – providing drinks and, hot and cold, and food at fire scenes. They are an important part of the emergency services of Flanders, and we are grateful for their support.
Through the pre-war years the town of Flanders grew in size and the Fire Company grew apace. New equipment was added at regular intervals and old pieces retired. It was decided in the early 40’s that a rescue squad should also be added to the Fire Company. By 1942 the company operated two engines and a rescue truck. In 1950 the rescue duties were officially recognized and Rescue Squad was added to the company’s name. Randolph Township donated an ambulance, known as a "cheesebox" due to its shape, to Flanders. This was replaced in 1951 by a 1949 Studebaker, which in turn was replaced by a blue Cadillac in 1958.
Fundraising has always been a big part of the life of both the Fire Company and the Ladies Auxiliary. The firemen used to hold ham shoots, went door to door, and for many years, ran a highway fund drive on Route 206. A mail solicitation is now the most important source of funds for the firehouse. The Ladies have held dinners, craft shows, and tricky trays to generate income. Ultimately, we depend on the people we serve to help us meet our expenses, and in this way we haven’t been disappointed over the years. The Fire Company lends its financial support to other charitable organizations and the Ladies Auxiliary has established a scholarship for graduates of Mount Olive High School as well as making annual contributions to the Ronald McDonald House.
Our present company of approximately 50 members now includes female firefighters and rescue personnel, as well as junior member under the 18 years old. Everyone is either a trained firefighter by virtue of attendance at the Morris County Fire Academy, or is an Emergency Medical Technician or First Responder.
Our basic fire fighting duties have been expanded to include public education, hazardous materials, motor vehicle accidents, extrication, and carbon monoxide alarms. The First Aid Squad must cope with an ever expanding, changeable, and potentially dangerous medical environment. Equipment has kept up a steady pace of increasing specialization, sophistication, maintenance, and expense. Training is done year round.
How all this would sound to the original seven members of our company as they gathered in the glow of an oil lamp is anyone guess. But beyond the mechanics of the job, there are some things that remain constant. The desire to help people – the dedication and commitment required to serve as a volunteer firefighter and first-aider, the adrenaline rush as the alarm sounds and the big engines roar from the bays, these things our founders would recognize today. And whether you are climbing on the back step of the Brockway Torpedo in a leather helmet or strapping on a self-contained breathing apparatus in the air-conditioned box of a state of the art rescue truck, the purpose is constant, the resolve is timeless, and the imperative to save lives and property while keeping yourselves and your partners safe is the same as it ever was.