One of the main reasons the Possumtown Fire Company was formed was because in 1948 the Possumtown area was an isolated section of the township and the response time to this side of town was approximately 20 minutes for other fire companies.
After several small fires and two larges fires in particular that destroyed homes on Normandy Drive and Second Ave. before firemen could arrive, the neighbors knew it was time to protect themselves from the ravages of fire. The wives in the neighborhood though that if they placed large barrels of water throughout the neighborhood, it would help the firemen when they arrived. The discussed this with their husbands, who also agreed. In March of 1948, the men and women of the Possumtown section banded together at a meeting held in the garage of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Seiz Sr. on Third Ave., and decided they really needed their own fire company.
With the support and donations from each of the 44 families in the neighborhood, the Possumtown Volunteer Fire Company was formed in April 1948. In December 1948, the alarm sounded for the first house fire. A faulty wire for Christmas decorations caused a fire in the living room in a house on Stratton Street. The fire was put out and the house was saved. Sixty five years later, we are proof of what a few neighbors can do with a little determination and working together.
The Founding Members
The fire company is structured for two different purposes. The first organization is made up of the Line Officers, which include the Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, and Lieutenants. This is the command organization on all fire scenes, alarms, and training activity. The second organization consists of the Chair Officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer), which help administer the fire company. The Chair Officers are responsible for the firehouse itself, the maintenance and the funds to pay for the heating, electricity, telephone bills, water, insurance, etc. Monthly business meetings are held to review and approve the bills and discuss any developments with the fire company regarding training, drill, meetings, and fire department issues.
Many members have held Line and Chair positions over the last sixty five years. The record for holding a position the longest belongs to Frank Lee, who was elected president for over 35 years. Frank was elected to this position year after year whether he wanted it or not. It earned him the nickname, “Mr. Possumtown”.
The Line Officers
|James Mosier Sr.
The Company Officers
|James Mosier Jr.
|Robert Gorr Jr.
|James Mosier Sr.
The Possumtown Volunteer Fire Company is part of Fire District 2, which also includes the Holmes Marshall Fire Company and the River Road Fire Company. He dispatching protocol set up by the Fire Commissioners and the Chiefs has all three companies to be called during weekdays and the closest two companies to be called during the remaining time. A spirit of cooperation and respect has evolved so that we operate as one fire department.
The Fire Commissioners are elected public officials responsible for fire suppression and prevention. To achieve their goals, funds are raised with fire taxes that are voted upon during the annual commissioners election, the third Saturday in February. The Commissioners administer the budget by approving all expenses, purchasing trucks, and equipment.
Three members of Possumtown have been elected to the Board of Fire Commissioners for Fire District 2. Andy Ledonne was the first member elected to the Board and served for 6 terms with 18 years. Bill Kerwin was the second member and served 2 terms for 6 years. Paul Snyder has served 2 terms for 6 years and in February 1998, was elected for his third term.
The Type of Fires
The Piscataway Police Dispatcher activates the fire whistle and announces over the radio to our pagers that we need to respond to many different circumstances. There are alarm activations in either businesses or homes, house fires, smoke conditions, smell of smoke, field fires, brush fires, searches for missing persons, hazardous materials incidents, motor vehicle accidents and extrications, and lately CO2 alarms. There are also stand-by calls requested by other fire companies to “stand-by” their firehouse in case they need us. We have worked closely with the Middlesex Fire Department and the North Stelton Fire Department on a number of stand-by situations. We have also had “stand-bys” in our own firehouse for severe weather conditions such as blizzards, snow storms, hurricanes, and flooding.
What did it take to be firemen in 1948?
A lot of early fire department training consisted of live burn scenarios. Houses, barns, and chicken coops to be demolished were burned down intentionally to provide training for the firemen. When the area was still rural, there were many fields and open areas that caught fire.
What does it take to be a firefighter today?
To be a certified firefighter, a probationary firefighter must complete an accredited fire school of approximately 120 hours of classroom and practical drills. The classes are held on such topics as fire behavior, forcible entry, ventilation, overhaul, hazardous materials, fire prevention, search and rescues. After the school sessions, the student must pass a written test given by the Department of Community Affairs. New members are considered to be on probation for their first year.
We not only do fire, we can rescue too. In 1990, the Fire Commissioners commissioned the Extrication Team. This special team is usually called to motor vehicle accidents to “extricate” victims from car accidents. Extra training, beyond the normal fire department training, is necessary to be proficient with the “Jaws of Life”.
The Fire Trucks
In 1948, money was donated by the families in the area to go towards the establishment of the fire company. With this donated money, a used 1937 International truck was purchased for $500.00. This first truck was a “Rack body truck”, which was just a frame. Issac (Ike) Knight and others started to build the first fire truck by welding steel plates on to the frame and then mounting a 1,000 gallon tank for water. The tank, which was purchased from Buffalo Tank for $300.00, had built in baffles to help keep the water from sloshing around and help stabilize the truck. A used fire pump and tires were also added for $350.00, making the total cost of the truck approximately $1,150.00. It may not have been the prettiest truck, but with 400 feet of 2 inch hose, they were ready for business. That truck served our community until 1952, when a Tasc fire truck replaced it.
With the construction of the Wynwood section during 1956 and 1957, the territory of the Possumtown Fire Company continued to grow. The third truck was a 1955 BMC truck (it was the very first truck off of the assembly line). We kept that truck for 20 years, but as our section of town continued to grow, so did the fire company and we outgrew it. The next truck was a 1975 Mack pumper that had open jump seats, a rear running board (back then it was still legal to stand on the rear step), and a 1,000 GPM (gallons per minute) pump. The fire engine carried 1,200 feet of 3 inch hose and had the distinction of being the first diesel engine in the town.
The town also adopted a numbering scheme for the fire service, with the Possumtown firehouse being designated 630 and the 1975 Mach was engine 631.
As the years went on and more homes were being built, we needed to increase our firefighting capability to transport firefighters. In 1984, a second truck was purchased to fill that need. This brush truck was a GMC, identified as unit 634, but we used to affectionately call it the “Pizza wagon”. This truck had a 350 gallon tank, with what was called a pony pump. It had the unique capability of being able to move and drive around and pump water at the same time. This has a distinct advantage in fighting field fires, and having fun at wet downs. Wet downs are the celebrations that are held by a fire company when they get a new truck and it is “Christened” or “Wet down”.
The fire company membership grew to a point that during a file call Engine 631 would be carrying 12 to 15 men instead of the 5 that it was designed to carry. In 1989 and 1990, it was time for a larger truck. The Fire Commissioners agreed to move 634 to the River Road Fire Company to replace it with a larger truck. A truck committee was formed to decide what the new truck should look like, and what equipment it should have. The new truck was a 1992 FMC Pumper that was designated Engine 632. It has a 1500 GPM pump, 750 gallon tank, 10 man cab, and carries 1,000 feet of 5 inch hose.
In 1995, it was time to retire 631 and replace it. Another truck committee was formed, the specifications were written and the Commissioners purchased a 1995 Smeal Pumper with a 55 footladder. This truck was named 637.
The first fire truck was built and housed in a barn behind Chief John April’s house on Bristol Road, until the winter of 1949. The membership bought several lots of land from the township for 1 dollar, with the provision that only a firehouse could be built on it. With the help of Mr. Gene Jaeger, the fire company received a donation of an Army surplus Quonset hut from Rutgers University. The building was delivered in a box with hundreds of pieces, and it was assembled on Normandy Drive (where our back parking lot is now). A cement floor was installed, with copper tubing embedded into it for radiant heat, and an oil furnace to generate the heat.
The fire siren was mounted on a tower next to the firehouse. Mr. Cullen lived next to the firehouse and had a button in his living room, which activated the siren. When there was a fire, people called Mr. Cullen, and he pushed the button that set off the siren. A big different from the 911 system in place today.
After 11 years, it was time to replace the Quonset hut. The first part of the preset firehouse was built on Stratton Street in 1960, where we now have the two truck bays, the office and the kitchen. In 1972, the member’s room was built as an addition which for many years was referred to as “The new room”. In 1988, we decided to add on the hall and put a new truss roof over the entire building. The new room has been unofficially called “Snyder Hall”. The parking lot was expanded, and vinyl siding was added to the firehouse, giving it a whole new look.
Milestones Along the Way:
On February 1, 1953, the Possumtown Volunteer Fire Company was accepted into the New Jersey State Volunteer Fireman’s Association.
On January 1, 1953, the Possumtown Volunteer Fire Company was accepted into the New Jersey Fireman’s Relief Association.
In the late 70's, we were called to a fully involved house fire on Baekeland Avenue. One of the Chiefs radioed to us and asked that we hit the hydrant first and set up a 2 inch (this was a surround and drown master steam operation). Our Chief at the time, Bill Romanowsky, thought he wanted a 2 inch from the hydrant, and that is what the young Paul Snyder did. Now, the fire was on a very cold night in the winter, and the road, the trucks, and the men were covered with a thin, slippery sheet of ice. As the fire continued, the snorkel from River road arrived, and we were ordered to set up a 2 inch supply to the snorkel. We had a 2 inch from the hydrant, feeding a 2 inch master stream, and River Road needed water. What to do? Paul shut down the master stream, and over the noise of fire and the engines, this famous quote could be heard on the radio, “What happened to my ----- ----- water?
One of the biggest fires in the 80's was called the Buffalo Tank Fire.. "The big one" (all large industrial fires are called, "The big one"). The Buffalo Tank fire happened in December 1988. We had a crew at the scene for almost two days. Men were rotated home for a rest, and then were called back to work again. The night this alarm came in, the glow in the sky could be seen from the Possumtown Firehouse. Flames leaped into the sky, as a series of warehouses and a trucking yard burned. There were so many fires, and fire trucks pumping water, that there wasn’t enough water to effectively fight the fire. At one point, Michael Mosier was on the top of a ladder truck aiming a water stream into the fire, when his picture was taken. The next day, his picture was on the front page of the Home News. There were over 100 fire companies and rescue squads called into service. A special commemorative shirt was printed up with the names of all the organizations that responded..
Biggest Fire in the 90's... The Durham Wood natural gas pipeline explosion in Edison was a major fire. There was also the Shell oil tank fire.
Fire Scene Cuisine
One of the lesser known benefits of being a volunteer firefighter are the many unusual meals and snacks that are served on fire scenes, drills and classes. If a fire is serious, and it is expected to take a long time, the Ladies Auxiliary may be called out to help serve refreshments or food. A simple snack of doughnuts (powdered or chocolate covered) and coffee or hot chocolate is a welcome break, even at 3 in the morning. After a Tuesday evening drill, a couple of pizza pies can be mighty tasty. It was after one of these drills that the “Pizza wagon” picked up its nickname. In the spring of 1997, we were called to help search for a missing elderly gentleman. On this particular call, the North Stelton Fire Company served a nice spread from McDonalds. North Stelton is partial to serving McDonalds due to the close proximity of the restaurant.
The Middlesex Fire Department has a tradition of serving fried pork roll and egg on a hard roll during their Saturday drills. Union Carbide was famous for serving a full breakfast buffet after their Saturday morning drills. In the last few years, the annual drills have been switched to weekday evenings with a switch of menu to soda, pizza, and cookies, still a nice treat. Now on fire scenes where the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is called, the standard fare is pizza. Mr. Dick Prosuk was known to set up a serving area in the back of a pickup truck, with paper plates, napkins and cold soda, and the always welcome pizza.
In November 1988, when we were building the addition to the firehouse on weekends, Marge Dellabadia would come down to the firehouse and serve ham and cheese, roast beef, and meatball sandwiches for lunch. Looking back now, the lunch was not the important thing, but knowing that Marge cared enough to help us out is what counted.
The Ladies Auxiliary
Saving the best for last, we have to give thanks to the Ladies Auxiliary. This group of women has helped us, encouraged and supported us since the beginning. The Ladies Auxiliary has held garage and craft sales for fundraisers. They’ve hosted spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts. They’ve helped decorate our firehouse and hosted Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts. Julie Palko served as "Mrs. Santa Claus", buying and wrapping presents for Santa when he gets ready to ride through the neighborhood visiting all the boys and girls.
The following is a partial list of the ladies that have helped us through the years:
Lois Applegate, Kim Bennett, Lois Bertha, Mary Buratti, Dawn Crowley, Marge Dellabadia, Rene Dellabadia, Kelly Dellabadia, Ann Fortunato, Helene Hussain, Sindy Klenzmann, Rose Ledonne, Theresa Lee, Ma Marrapodi, Martha Maurer, Sue Medinets, Karen Mosier, Dotty Nahrebne, Julie Palko, Angela Pellerano, Blanche Perna, Mary Petrik, Hope Raymond, Lynn Reedman, Peg Rivers, Elsie Ruddiman, Cheryl Bayuk-Silva, Sharon Slover, Julie Sohm, Sue Tighe, Agnes Treschok, Bobbie Winowitch, Mary Winowitch.
The Fire Chiefs
|1948 & 1949
|1950 - 1952
|1957 & 1958
|1959 & 1960
|1961 - 1967
|1968 - 1976
|1977 - 1983
|1984 - 1989
|1990 & 1991
|1992 - 2014
|Now we don't want you to think Paul Snyder was slacking off during 1989, 1990 and 1991.
He was just a little busy being District 2 Chief.
We all know that the fire service is known for its traditions, a family tradition. The Possumtown Fire Company has had this tradition, and still does today, with such family names as:
Bertucci, DellaBadia, Downey, Galle, Link, Marrapodi, Mosier, Reedman, and Ussia.