WLFD History

A story of the early Fire Department. The following briefly covers early events and history and the story of persons whose efforts had a great deal to do with an important part of your municipal life.

In 1930 the Borough of Park Ridge furnished fire services to this Borough for which it received about $1,000 annually. Park Ridge failed to realize that Woodcliff Lake’s 200 families and 871 people were acutely jealous of their tax dollars and when services did not measure up to the standards expected, there was talk, soon to be translated into action, of forming a volunteer fire department. In 1932, on August 14, a group of 11 residents met to discuss plans for a volunteer company. The group consisted of John Doyno, Robert Doyno, George Donges, Andrew Grabinski, John Grabinski, Christian Hulgus, Arthur M. Karsch, Walter Klein, John E. Lyons, Martin Verbeyst and August Zicker. With the exception of Martin Verbeyst, all of this group later became the incorporators and the Company’s charter members.

It is noteworthy that of this group, Messrs. John Doyno, Andrew Grabinski and John E. Lyons still continue, after 25 years, as active members.

On September 2, 1932, the group organized the “Woodcliff Lake Volunteer Fire Company”. A resolution specified that the Company’s purpose was “to combat brush and grass fires”, that it join the New Jersey and New York Volunteer Fireman’s Association, that the proposal be presented to the Mayor and Council for sanction, and that Secretary Karsch prepare and file incorporation papers. Upon incorporation, the purpose of the Company was broadened to “the protection of life and property from fire”.

By January 2, 1933, Secretary Karsch could report that the Mayor and Council had agreed and informally approved. This approval, limited as it was, was enough to precipitate action, and Arthur Karsch was elected Chief, Chris Hulgus, Captain of Company Number 1, and Andrew Grabinski, Treasurer. Martin Verbeyst, who had handled the legal matters, and N. B. Ackerman, who was then Borough Clerk and had strongly supported the move, both exempt firemen, was elected Honorary Members. Mayor Fish and the Council were enthusiastically behind it as may be judged from later developments.
The Borough now, in 1933, had a fire company, limited in scope, but enthusiastic. The Company had started this venture at the height of the depression and faced a serious problem in its finances. A. Grabinski chaired the first entertainment committee and in February reported $70.45 had been cleared from a card party. Eighteen fire brooms and five galvanized Indian Tanks were purchased. Chris Hulgus donated another tank. Twenty five badges were purchased.

By March, the Fire Department was organized, equipped and badged, but transportation, except by personal car, was non existent. Early in March the first By Laws were adopted and it was resolved that a truck be purchased for $35, with $10 down and “$25 in a month or so”. The first truck, a Dodge, carried a 50 gallon barrel of water, two Indian Tanks and five brooms. Arrangements had been made in February to purchase a Reo pumper and a Reo chemical truck from the Excelsior Engine Company of Pearl River for $800. There were 22 members present at a late March meeting. The idea had caught fire and formal organization took place. Karsch continued as Chief, and among the others elected who are still associated with the Company were John Doyno, First Assistant Chief; Andy Grabinski, Trustee; Nick Caivano, John Grabinski and John E. Lyons, delegates to the New Jersey and New York Volunteer Fireman’s Association.

Card parties, Monte Carlo’s and dances were the chief source of funds. A ball club was organized. By February of 1934 the Company had purchased three trucks. The first truck had been practically built from spare parts. Notes were issued to purchase the Reo pumper and the chemical truck. Arrangements were made for a loan of $800 from the First National Bank of Westwood and a contract was made to furnish the Borough with fire service for three years.

Thus in the course of two years, an idea had become reality. The Borough had its own and better fire protection. It is remarkable that the group could overcome the handicap of the depression and accomplish a well-equipped and manned essential community service in so short a period of time and under such difficulties. A great deal of credit is owed to Edward J. Sisley, who endorsed the notes of the Company making financing possible. The Company’s equipment was later mortgaged. By April of 1934 the Department had acquired 900 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose.

Other developments over the next few years were the starting of a newspaper, the acquisition of a firedog and of a doghouse, a brass-sliding pole in the firehouse, the acquisition of a 24 foot ladder. No one could deny the activity of the department or the enthusiasm of the men. In the spring of 1935 there were 39 fires in two months.

By December of 1936 the Company had become stabilized and reorganization for better administration was considered. New Bylaws were adopted, creating an administrative group of officers as distinguished from the firemantics group. The first slate of officers of the “Association” were A. Karsch, President; J. Doyno, Vice President; A. Franzetti, Secretary; J. Lein, Treasurer, and A. Grabinski, Trustee.

At this same meeting the firemantics group reorganized and John E. Lyons was elected Chief, a job he held until 1957 when he refused renomination and resumed the role of active fireman. Joseph Barboni, present Chief, became Second Assistant Chief.
Lyons advent as chief was accompanied by new rules, new disciplinary measures, penalties for delinquencies and strict enforcement of rules. Many of these rules and measures are still in force today.

In 1938 the number of trucks was reduced to two. The old brush truck had served its time. Perhaps progress rather than old age was responsible for its demise for the Borough was then thinking of a new municipal building and fire house to be built with W. P. A. help. Andy Grabinski’s barn had housed the Company all through these years. The men had made it into a real firehouse with gas heat, and sealing and insulation to protect against cold weather. It served well as a center for the men’s social activity, chiefly poker for those who had jobs, and a meeting place for those not so fortunate.

The highlight of the formative years of the Company was reached in 1939 when the Mayor and Council offered either a contract for fire service or the creation of a Fire Department to take over the fire equipment. The Company chose the latter. On May 22, 1939, an the system could not be left unattended. Few realize what personal sacrifices these two people made for the Company and the Community. Andrew Grabinski’s barn served as the firehouse for more than 10 years and was rented by him to the Company for $1.00 per year. It is impossible to detail all of the things that helped, but one can, from these outstanding examples, conclude that the Department was built with a combination of work, cooperation and a high sense of civic responsibility.

This story would not be complete without mentioning that the generosity of people who helped the Fire Department grow still persists, and that the Fire Department is greatly indebted to Wilfred Shaw of this Borough.