Bellmawr Fire Department

History Of The
Bellmawr Fire & Rescue Squad No. 1
Volunteer Fire Company

By James Burleigh

Bellmawr is located within minutes of the City of Philadelphia, 35 minutes from the State Capitol of Trenton, 90 minutes from New York City, via the New Jersey Turnpike and within 60 minutes of the shore resorts. The Walt Whitman Bridge, gateway to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is within minutes reach from anywhere in the Borough of Bellmawr.

In 1831, a township was formed including Runnemede, Mount Ephraim and Bellmawr. It was called Union Township. In 1840, Bellmawr received its original name Hidden. The Hidden Methodist Episcopal Church, still situated on the Black Horse Pike, was built at this time. The houses that were built around the Church became known as the Hidden Community. The name was later changed to Hedding. In 1855, it was changed to Center Township and still later to the present name, Bellmawr.

The name Bellmawr started with the establishment of a post office. The name was associated with the Bell Family, who had purchased a large portion of the Hugg Estate. The huge Bell Farm was famous for breeding Percheron horses.

Agent Frederick Collitt of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey filed for incorporation on April 21, 1898. At which time Bellmawr Fire was started in the building on Walnut Avenue, then in 1940 became the VFW 7410 Hall, and in 1999 became a Walgreen's Pharmacy. The first piece of equipment on record was a horse-drawn hand pumper between the years of 1898-1912. The wagon was stationed on Walnut Avenue. Jake Smith, a farm hand for Mr. Horner on Summit Avenue, would ride a large white horse down to Walnut Avenue and hitch the horse to the pumper and drive to the fire; if Jake did not show, the firemen would push and pull the pumper to the fire.

Around 1920, Ted Bruning had a hupmobile (a form of an automobile), which he turned into a fire truck. He mounted a box on the rear of the truck containing eight (8) fire extinguishers. The next piece of equipment was a Packard made into a fire truck through the efforts of several of the firemen.

During the depression, the Borough Hall was built with W.P.A. funds and the Fire Company was moved into the Borough Hall with only limited space for equipment and recreation. The firemen built a recreation room on the east wing of the Borough Hall, and later they built a west wing, which more than doubled the original engine room. At that time our firefighting equipment consisted of a GMC hose and equipment truck and a Hahn pumper, which carried 600 gallons of water. The Fire Company remained in the Borough Hall until their new building was constructed. In 1956, the fire company purchased the baseball field that was next to the firehouse and town hall. Under the supervision of Jack Benigno (then Mayor), Neil Devenney, John Sullivan, then Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan, and then fire company President Ray Kelly, the members got together, along with the help of many civic-minded persons, and built the new fire station located at 29 Lewis and Chestnut Avenues. the Fire Company will be forever grateful to these kind and generous friends and neighbors.

We have traced the Bellmawr Fire Company No. 1 back to the year 1898. In 1919, they reorganized and renamed the station Bellmawr Fire Company No. 2, and in 1942 they decided to once again use Bellmawr Fire Company No. 1. In 1943, the company was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey as Bellmawr Volunteer Fire Company No. 1. Two years later in 1945, a Rescue Squad began and joined the existing Fire Company to become one unit. In July of 1953 our name was once again changed to its current name Bellmawr Fire and Rescue Squad No. 1.

For many years the members were summoned to a call by ringing a large steel hoop erected on the Southeast corner of the Black Horse Pike and Browning Road. In 1925 Tom Toomey and his daughter Anna dismantled an old tower in Haddon Heights and rebuilt it on Walnut Avenue behind the old firehouse. The members took up collections from motorists along the Black Horse Pike to buy a siren for the top of the tower. Records indicate that Gustav Bernhardt was the Fire Chief during this time. In 1999 the old siren that was located at the Rec Center on Creek and Bell Road was refurbished and reinstalled next to the current firehouse on Lewis and Chestnut Avenues. The siren currently is mounted on the new cell tower where it is actively working today.

The equipment that was used in the early 1900's was purchased by fund drives, fund raising activities and by periodic cash presentations by the Ladies Auxiliary. The Ladies Auxiliary worked very hard over the years raising money through rummage sales, cake sales, raffle drawings, hat sales and dinners held in our Ballroom. They also sold refreshments Monday nights to our Bingo players. The Ladies Auxiliary was always on hand to serve hot coffee and refreshments to the firemen during any lengthy fires or disasters. The firemen will always be indebted to the Ladies Auxiliary for the wonderful dinners they served to them while constructing the new firehouse and all their efforts and help in making the firehouse a success.

Our ambulance service began in 1945 with a 1933 Cadillac ambulance, purchased by monies advanced by six members of the Company: Arnold Higgins, Howard Bateman, William Lyons, John Bofinger, Joseph Anderson, and Henry Delano. Out first Ambulance Captain was Isadore Rothman. In 1980, the ambulance moved out of the Fire Company. Today the Bellmawr Volunteer Ambulance operates at a building that they worked hard to build located on the corner of W. Browning Road and Lowell Avenue.

This Fire Company organized a Junior Firemen Membership in 1952 for which the ages range from 15-18. They are instructed in every phase of fire fighting and rescue techniques by three counselors who are regular active firemen appointed to oversee their activities. They work right along with the regular firemen, but have limited duties during emergencies. After reaching the age of eighteen they are admitted to the Fire Company as regular firemen. A few Juniors have gone on to become Chief of the Fire Company.

Our firemen used to be trained in first aid and rescue techniques by the West Jersey Hospital and Heavy Rescue classes by the NJ State Troopers in Hammonton. Today our members attend the Camden County Fire Academy on a regular basis in order to stay on top of the latest techniques. Some members members have also taken classes at Camden County College to help broaden their own horizon. In addition to the training sessions at the Academy we also drill every Tuesday night.

The Bellmawr Fire and Rescue Squad No. 1 is always working to improve their skills and techniques to better serve the residents in the town of Bellmawr.

Bellmawr Park Volunteer Fire Company
Protecting Lives And Property Since 1942
63 years of Dedicated Service

Bellmawr Park was built during the Second World War by the Federal Government to house workers that were employed in the defense industry, New York ship, etc. The Federal Government managed the house project until it was purchased by the tenants and became the Bellmawr Park Mutual House Corporation. Because of the times, this community, like others had a strong civil defense organization. Eleven of the civil defense fire wardens became charter members of what we know as Station 33.

In the spring of 1942, there was a fire in a coal box that was attached to what is now known as 772 Carter Avenue (then Edgemont Avenue). This fire was extinguished by the Civil Defense Fire Warden with a garden hose. After the Carter Avenue fire, the warden felt the need for a Fire Department on the west side of town to assist the existing Bellmawr Fire Department that was, and is now, on the east side of town. They met with the Mayor and expressed their feelings. The Mayor stated that if they could supply the facilities to house a new department, he would supply a truck.

The Civil Defense Fire Warden met with the administrators of the government housing project and described their purpose and needs. The administrators, realizing the need, and provided two W.P.A. shacks, necessary land, and utilities that would be required. The “shack” were assembled and a 1920’s Vintage Reno fire truck was delivered. The Bellmawr Park Volunteer Fire Company was organized by the eleven fire wardens in November of 1942 and became a corporation on November 4, 1943. Our f
irst President was John J. Sipple, and our first Fire Chief was Mike Bruno. The Bellmawr Park Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary was incorporated in 1945. The First President of the Auxiliary was
Sue Sipple.

The years that followed were a lot of work and a lot of fun. The firemen and ladies worked well together. In 1946 a new Ward LaFrance Pumper was purchased. The Ladies Auxiliary supplied the rear lights for this truck. Looking forward, the members started a scrap drive to fund operations and expansion. On Saturdays mornings, members used a Ford Model A truck and Ford Model B truck to collect newspapers and other items that could be sold.

In the 1950’s, construction began on a new firehouse that was to replace the original building. This continued with constant improvements, additions, sweat, blood, and many tears. The 1950’s also brought bingo, a 1948 American LaFrance Pumper, a new 1958 Oren Pumper, and a new 1959 Ford/Great Eastern Utility truck. In the 1960’s a new 1963 Oren pumper and a used 1947 American Lafrance Ladder truck were purchased. In the 1970’s a new 1971 Imperial pumper and a new 1978 Pierce Mini Pumper were purchased.

On June 13, 1979, disaster struck, fire consumed our station. The members saved the apparatus and
a few momentous. A bronze plaque of the firemen’s prayer that was presented to the members by the Ladies Auxiliary in 1973 was twisted and discolored by the intense heat of the fire. Most of the discoloration has been removed from this plaque and it is now part of the memorial that was dedicated
in memory of our deceased members in 1990. The members elected not to straighten it, but to have its distorted form be a reminder of our heritage. Another thing that survived the fire is an antique safe that is still in use. It probably dates from the late 1800’s. One thing that surely was not lost in the fire was the Bellmawr Park Volunteer Fire Company “SPIRIT”. The new building was erected and dedicated in
just one year. This is a tribute to the Officers and Members that served at that time. Dedication was on
June 14, 1980.

The 1980’s brought new challenges that were met. A new 1982 Grumman/Fire Spire 106 foot aerial ladder truck was purchased, a new 1988 18’ Starcraft boat, a new 1988 Hahn 1500 GPM pumper,
and a new 1988 Crown Victory Duty Vehicle.

In 1990’s the fire company celebrated its 50th anniversary on October 3, 1992. We added a few apparatus: a new 1992 Utility vehicle, a new 1994 E-One 100’ aerial ladder truck, a 1999 new 3D/Spartan 2000 GPM pumper, and a 1999 Ford 15 passenger van. The 1982 ladder truck, 1992 utility vehicle, and the 1971 Imperial were sold. In 1991, the Fire Explorers program was formed. This has been a great addition to the fire company. The Explorers work and train with the firefighters, but have limited duties and learn about the fire company business.

The new century has brought many chances to the fire service. In the 80’s the number of incidents averaged around 100 to 200. The 90’s averaged around 250 to 350. The number of incidents that we responded to in 2004 was 535 incidents. Other chances that we have seen in the fire service are terrorism, mandatory training, thermal imaging cameras, and less volunteers members. Our organization still operate with 100% Volunteers and is funded by renting our social hall and with the support of the generous residents on our fund drives. In January 2004, after 64 years we stopped hosting bingo. As we look back into our history, we can only say one thing to our past and retired members thank you.