In 1910, the first volunteer fire company, Union Volunteer Fire Company #1, was organized in the Twp. of Union.
Members included John Buchanan-President, Hohn Mulford-Secretary Robert Henshaw-Treasurer & Otto
Boschen,Ernest Mink & Henry Karg as Trustees.
Elected to office were Conrad Hartenstein-Chief, Robert Bond-Asst. Chief, Otto Boschen-Foreman, Walter
Bond-Asst. Foreman & George Salzmann, Charles Burroughs, George Burroughs, Theodore Lefler & George
Bashford as Fireman.
In May of that same year, Conrad Hartenstein resigned as Chief and Robert
Bond was elected as the second Chief only to be succeeded by Walter Bond
in October of that year.
The first piece of equipment the volunteers had was an old paint wagon owned by Joseph Bonnel. It had to be
pulled by hand to the fire by the members of the company and was equipped only with folding buckets, a ladder,
axes, oil lanterns and ropes. Alarms were received by telephone to the water works pumping station on Morris Ave. The man on duty at the
water works would then blow the steam whistle to alert the members.
The Fire Company bought some locomotive wheels from the New Jersey Central Railroad Company and placed them throughout the Township
so in case of fire, anyone living near where the wheels were hung could ring them like a bell by hitting the wheel with a pipe or hammer. When
the Fire Company arrived at the fire, they would draw water from wells or nearby brooks with the buckets. In 1911, The Company had acquired
a hand pulled ladder truck built and equipped with different size ladders, pike poles, axes, extinguishers and folding buckets.
In 1912, a fire station was
built on Stuyvesant Ave.
between Town Hall and
1913 brought the organization of Union's second fire company, the Vauxhall Fire Company #1, by members John Schaible, Robert Bratigainin,
William Riley, Jr. & Sr., Gustave Hummel, Gustave Bohenberger and a few others. Their first apparatus was obtained in 1915 and was a 2
wheeled hand drawn hose cart with 500 feet of 2 ½ hose, 2 fire extinguishers and axes. They built their own fire house at Vauxhall Rd. &
Farrington St. That same year, the Union Volunteer Fire Company received a horse drawn hose and ladder truck built by Rudolf Lang, one of
Fire companies would raise money to operate by running, fairs, dances
and suppers. Each member would pay dues of 25 cents per month. If
anyone had a horse capable of pulling the truck to a fire, they would
receive $3 for a horse or $5 for a team, paid by the Company's treasury.
In 1919, each Company bought a 350 gallon per minute motor driven
Waterous Ford Fire Apparatus equipped with a motor pump, booster tank
and various size hoses.
In 1921, five Fire Commissioners were elected for each fire district. Their first move was to have fire hydrants installed and extend the fire
districts. They then had a fire alarm system installed. District 1 installed the Gamewell Fire Alarm System and District 2 installed the Federal
Fire Alarm System.
1926 saw the organization of Union's third volunteer fire company. The Townley Volunteer Fire Company #3
was organized by Ferdinand Rekemeier, Edward Hugo, John Kolbe, B. Emmeric, Victor Hugo, John Hones,
Howard Pier, Daniel New & James Savarese. A fire house was built on Arnet Ave. in 1927 and a 350 gallon
per minute motor driven Waterous Ford Fire Apparatus was bought from the City of Linden.
Commissioners of Districts 1 & 2 also each purchased a 1000 gallon per minute American LaFrance triple combination pumper. The
commissioners also appointed 2 firemen in each District to take charge of the apparatus and fire houses. District 1 appointed Walter Bond as
a part-paid Chief and George Salzmann as a part-paid Asst. Chief. In 1928, Walter Bond was elected by the people of District 1 as a full-time
In the fall of 1930, Civil Service was approved by the voters of the Township and on January
1, 1931, the Township Committee took over all three Companies under Civil Service ruling.
Walter Bond was named Chief of Department, Harold Denk was appointed Deputy Chief,
Edward Zehner was appointed Captain and John Knorr, Walter Bonnel & Leo Romano were
appointed firemen. The Gamewell Fire Alarm system was extended from Fire Headquarters
to Station 3. In 1932, the total budget for the Fire Department was $44,500. Because of the
Great Depression, all firemen had their salaries reduced by 20%.
The 1940's brought a lot of changes to the
Department. A new Fire Headquarters
was built on Bond Dr. at a cost of $35,000.
In 1941, the Department consisted of 3
stations, 4 pumping engines, 1 ladder
truck, 3 auxiliary trucks and a Chief's car.
Personnel consisted of 19 paid firemen
and 58 Callmen. In 1946, the salary of the
Chief of Department was $4,400, firemen
were earning $2,772 and the total budget
of the Fire Department was $86,221. A
new Gamewell Dispatcher Alarm system
had been installed and the new call
numbers were arranged to insure
adequate coverage and greatest efficiency
in responding to calls. In 1948, Chief
Walter Bond passed away and Harold
Denk was appointed Chief of Department.
The compliment of men was increased to
In 1948, George Saltzmann was elected as
President of the New Jersey State FMBA.
In 1950, Fire Station #3 was built at 1223 Morris Av. By
1951, the Department added personnel to bring the total
compliment of firemen to 41. They had purchase a new
1000 gallon per minute triple combination pumper for
Engine 1 and had acquired its own radio
communication system. Union became the first
municipality in Union county to have radio equipment.
Not all Department vehicles were equipped with radios
until 1953. Engine 2 was replaced in 1953; and in 1954,
Engine 3 and a 4 wheel drive Squad were purchased.
In 1960, Fire Station #2 was built at 2493 Vauxhall Rd. The building also housed a volunteer ambulance service and Baby Keep Well station. By
1961, personnel began working a 42 hours per week schedule. A 4 wheel drive 750 gallon per minute high pressure fire engine was purchased in
1964 and designated as Engine 4. It was placed in service in Fire Headquarters.
Sadly, on September 3, 1967, Captain Dominic Ritorto suffered a fatal heart attack while operating at a building fire on Green Ln. He would be the
first Union firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty. In 1968, Harold Denk retired as Chief of Department and Deputy Chief Hugh Cameron was
appointed as Chief. During the summer of that year, a fire caused major damage at Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor on Morris Av. The business survived
but suffers another devastating fire loss in the 1970's. Jahn's reopened on the corner of Stuyvesant Av. & Rosemont Av. finally closing its doors
for good in 1998.
In 1970, two Hahn 1250 gallon per minute fire engines were acquired and designated Engines 5 & 6. Chief Cameron retired in
1971 and Deputy Chief Vincent Dupre was promoted to Chief of Department. Manpower was eventually increased to a total of
132 firefighters and officers. In 1976, Engines 1, 2 & Squad 1 were replaced.
In 1979, a formal mutual aid resolution was adopted by the Township Committee. This required Union to help any other Union
County municipality and also required other municipalities to help Union in the event of a major fire or disaster.
In 1980, Engine 3 was replaced with a Hahn 1250 gallon per minute engine. Fire Chief Vincent Dupre retired
in1981 and Deputy Chief Edward Bachefski was appointed Chief where he remained until retiring in 1990.
A Mack Baker Aerialscope was place in service in 1983 to replace Truck 2. It was designated as Tower 1. In
1984, fire erupted in a retail clothing in Union Center on Stuyvesant Av. The fire engulfed two-thirds of the
building requiring the assistance of several area departments. The record high temperatures resulted in the
hospitalization of several firefighters.
Then in 1985, the Township Committee accepted the results of a controversial study that stated that the
manpower should be reduced to a total of 68 firefighters, 7 lieutenants, 13 captains, 6 Battalion Chiefs, 2
Deputy Chiefs, and a Chief for a total compliment of 99 sworn personnel.
On New Year 's Eve of 1986, a fire erupted at Reisen Lumber requiring the help of several neighboring fire departments. The fire was
extinguished after four days in sub-freezing temperatures.
In 1990, the Township Committee appointed a civilian Public Safety Director. The position of Fire Chief was removed from the table
of organization and a Deputy Chief became the highest ranking officer in the Department. Deputy Chief Thomas Rekemeier
commanded the Department until his retirement in 1991. Battalion Chief Fred Fretz was promoted to Deputy Chief and took over
command of the Fire Department. The Township Committee eventually did away with the Public Safety Director's position and
Deputy Chief Fretz was appointed as the Chief of Department.
On August 14, 1996, a fire at the Burger King on Route 22 sent
Deputy Chief Leslie Hendricks to the hospital.
Deputy Chief Hendricks succumbed to his injuries
10 days later being the second Union firefighter to
lose his life in the line of duty.
In 1997, FMBA Local 46 President Robert Brower was elected as
Executive Vice-President of the New Jersey State FMBA where
he served until 2013.
The new millennium brought many changes and challenges for the Union Fire Department. On September 11, 2001, the Union Fire Department
responded along with other Union County Fire depatments to assist the FDNY after terrorist flew 2 planes into the World Trade Center.
Companies were moved into Brooklyn & Staten Island to cover fire houses. Some personnel went to assist in the rescue & recovery efforts At
"The Pit" in Manhattan.
In 2005, members set out to New Orleans to assist after Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast. In 2011, Hurricane Irene struck the north/east
coast causing catastrophic flooding to New Jersey. Many residents needed to be rescued from their homes. Again in October 2012 the Union
Fire Department was challenged by Super Storm Sandy that devastated all of New Jersey. The UFD chalked up 1100 nonstop-alarms and
thousands of man hours to protect the Township of Union.
In 2013, FMBA Local 46 President Edwin Donnelly was elected President of the New Jersey State FMBA and became the second Union
firefighter to serve in that position.
On August 1, 2014, Chief Fred Fretz retired from the Union Fire Department after 43 years of dedicated service. Battalion Chief Thom Byrne was
appointed Chief of the Department, ushering in a new era for the Union Fire Department
The Township of Union, NJ is now a municipality covering 9 square miles with a population of 56,000 residents and 20,000 households. The
Municipality is located in north-central Union County and is traversed by local and regional highways. It is home to a State university, freight and
passenger rail systems and major commercial, industrial and manufacturing businesses.
The Fire Department responds to over 5000 calls per year including structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, hazardous material incidents,
confined space/technical rescue and EMS calls. They are part of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) for the NY/NJ metro area.
All firefighters are certified Emergency Medical Technicians.
The Fire Prevention Bureau provides fire inspection, code enforcement and arson investigation for the Township as well as community fire
The Department now consists of 112 sworn & civilian personnel working a 4 platoon system. In addition to support and administrative
personnel, the Department's in service companies consist of 3 engine companies, 1 truck company, 1 squad company, 1 Battalion Chief and 1
BLS ambulance. A fleet of recall & reserve apparatus is also maintained and include staff & maintenance vehicles, 2 ladder trucks, 3 engines, 2
ambulances, 1 Squad, 2 Tactical/Special Services units and a Mobile Decon Shower.
COMPOSED AND REVISED BY:
D/C CHARLES HOFFMAN (RET.);
CAPTAIN STEVE SPURR; 2014