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Clinton Fire Department

In October, 1891, Main Street, Clinton suffered a fire which raged for several days, destroying much of the business district as well as the dwellings of many merchants and townspeople. Because Clinton had no fire department, Mayor Johnson telegraphed for help from the existing companies in Flemington, Somerville, Easton and Phillipsburg. Flemington, Easton and Phillipsburg sent equipment by train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

The citizens of Clinton fought hard to save Main Street, but without fire equipment, the loss was great. Shortly after the fire, the merchants and citizens began planning a local fire department. On March 14, 1892, the Clinton Steam Engine Company No. 1 was formed. There were forty original active members, many of whom were local merchants who had sustained losses.

The first act of the Company was to purchase a steam engine, to be pulled by hand to local fires, and by horses to outlying districts. The August 1892 tax map notes: "one Amoskeag Steamer, 1500' new rubber hose, and three ladders purchased. Water supply: nearby river and cisterns." The members of the fire company purchased the equipment and paid dues to fund the company, and received no payment for their services. On April 1, 1894, the New Jersey State Firemen's Association authorized the organization of the Clinton Firemen's Relief Association for the protection and relief of injured firemen and their families. In 1898, the Company moved its equipment, previously stored in a shed, to the new firehouse - a section added to the western side of the Grandin Library Building on East Main Street. To the rear of the building stood a narrow tower in which hose was draped to dry.

Throughout the years, the Fire Company showed steady growth. It became mechanized in 1925, when the town purchased a modern fire truck. In 1938, an American LaFrance body on an International chassis was purchased to render service to the eight or ten mile radius outside of town. The truck was sent by freight car from Elmira, New York, and was greeted by two hundred invited guests, most of whom had contributed or solicited funds over a three year period to pay for the $3900 machine. George R. Hanks, a major contributor, gave a speech, and a bottle of water was broken over the engine, christening it the "Nancy Hanks". On August 15, 1938, the membership voted to incorporate "as an association not for pecuniary profit." registered its selected name with the New Jersey Secretary of State, and became the Clinton Fire Department.

The Clinton Fire Department marked its fiftieth anniversary on March 14, 1942. On April 6 of that year, a program was presented to a full house in the Music Hall on West Main Street. The organization presented a play, written by Lester Oliver, Sr., based on the actual minutes of the first three fire company meetings. America was at war, so the play was followed by a speech by Leo A. Smith, of the State Defense Council, whose topic was "Firemen and Bomb Attacks. Mr. Smith's talk was followed by a demonstration by local firemen on how to handle incendiary bombs. The demonstration was held in the railroad freight yard adjacent to the Music Hall. At the time of the fiftieth anniversary, four charter members were living: John Rowland, Oscar Rittenhouse, John Reed and Frank Van Syckle.

Many of the fires covered in the 1940s were farm fires, and very often securing enough water to save buildings and livestock was a problem. In one 1941 fire, snow was packed against the burning wood, confining the blaze and saving several nearby buildings. In 1949, the ladies auxiliary was organized, and has been an integral part of the Department ever since. As the Clinton area became less agricultural and less rural, the nature of firefighting changed. When the Acme Grocery Store closed in 1975, the Fire Department purchased and renovated the building to accommodate its increasingly technical fire and safety equipment.

The Clinton Fire Department is an active, progressive organization, dedicated to serving the community. The Clinton Fire Department handles all the fire department duties -- extinguishing building fires, resetting fire alarms, supplying water at car accidents, and other miscellaneous jobs -- for the town of Clinton. Besides covering Clinton, it also cover parts of our neighboring towns, Franklin and Union Townships. The Clinton Fire Department web site provides more information about the organization.

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