In 1847, due to a lightning storm that destroyed many homes and business properties, the Hoboken Village Volunteer Fire Department was organized. Fire Company One was the first unit. On February 28, 1849, an act to incorporate the department was approved. The act said that all male residents of the township between the ages of 21 and 55 were eligible to serve.

Applicants filled the ranks of two volunteer companies: Hoboken Fire Company No. 1, also known as Oceana No. 1, and Excelsior No. 2. Both companies had their headquarters side by side on the corner of Washington and Sixth streets. Later, the Washington Hook and Ladder Company occupied a building on the corner of Washington and First streets before the construction of City Hall. Soon, Fire Company No. 3, "Meadow," was formed to cover the western section of the city.


In 1854, the Hoboken city charter provided for the forming of as many fire companies as necessary to protect life and property, but not more than one fire engine company for every 3,000 inhabitants. It also decreed that each company be comprised of not more than 50 men. Additionally, it allowed for one hook and ladder company or hose company of not more than 25 men for every 6,000 inhabitants.

Early fire equipment was hand-pumpers which could pump up to 300 gallons per minute with about 50 men on the handles. A riveted leather hose was the first type used to carry the water from the pump to the fire. In the late 1800's, rubber lined cotton hose became available.

IN THE 1860's, a public water system was used and this provided firefighters with a handy source of water. The wooden mains could be tapped by boring a hole in them. Each pumper carried a short pipe that could be pushed into the hole to deliver water to the pump. Around the same time, the steam fire engine pumper was developed. These steam pumpers, splendid creations with large, spoked wheels and shiny metal work, were horsedrawn, in a three-abreast hitch, creating a spectacular sight as they raced to the fire.

On July 18, 1889, the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company donated the land for a firehouse on the east side of Washington Street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. In June, 1891, the paid fire department was started. In 1892, there were six companies. In the early 1900's, the motor-driven fire apparatus was introduced to the department. These piston-type pumpers could pump from 250 to 750 gallons per minute. Instead of hand ladders with hooks, motor-driven wood aerial ladders, which were spring activated, were put into service and could reach up to 75 feet.

IN THE 1950's, the centrifugal pump was available and Hoboken had pumpers which could pump 1,000 gallons per minute. The new 100-foot aerial ladders were now made of steel and were lifted by a hydraulic system. Equipment of similar design is in use today.

FROM 1973 TO 1982, a rash of fires - several of which were determined to have been arson fires - claimed the lives of 55 people including children. Near the end of that period, the city passed a smoke detector ordinance which several members of the department helped formulate and which became the model for the subsequent state law. There is no doubt that many have been saved due to this law.


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