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History of Association

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Peter Maezzi, Librarian, New Jersey. Legislative Services, Trenton, N.J.

Robert Shea, C.P.C.U., Retired General Accident Insurance Co.
    Secretary, Firemark Society of America,
    Board of Directors, Philadelphia Fire Department, Historical Corporation

Ernest J. Greenwald, Sr., President Emeritus
    New Jersey State Firemen’s Association

Anthony Carnival, Clerk, Burlington Township, N.J.

Philip Haines, County Clerk, Burlington County Court House, Mount Holly, N.J.

H. Leigh Peterson, President, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association,
    1700 Galloping Hill Road, Kenilworth, N.J.

George H. Heflich, Sr, Vice President, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association,
    1700 Galloping Hill Road, Kenilworth, N.J.

David Gsell, Assistant Fire Marshall, Burlington County, N.J.

Kenneth Orangers, Relief Fire Company, Mount Holly, N.J.

Joseph D. Stauffer, Jr., Past Secretary, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association,
    Secretary, Jersey City Firemen’s Relief Association,
    Executive Committeeman, Hudson County, N.J.

Konrad A. Mellert, Executive Committeeman, Warren County, N.J.

Patricia C. Williams, Manchester, N.J.

Executive Committeemen, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association



The history of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, (“State Association”) and the organization of the Local Relief Associations, (“local associations”) is unique in the history of the United States. It is an interesting review of the fire service in New Jersey. In order to fully understand this history it is necessary to go back to the 1600’s (17th Century) and examine the origin and organization of the state’s early municipalities, the fire service therein, the laws governing the same, their historical records and the legislative initiatives.

The State Association was created in 1885 pursuant to the Laws of 1885, Chapter CCXL (240), approved May 2, 1885. This Act legalized the local associations which were organized within a fire department under governmental control and allowed such local association to affiliate with and create the State Association. Separate Acts provided for the funding of the local relief associations and provided the benefits which the firefighters were originally given and which they received throughout the years including the present. The original funding was a tax or assessment on foreign insurance companies writing fire-related policies in the municipalities of this state. The initial legislation appears to have been enacted in 1826, Laws of 1826, dated December 26, 1826, entitled an “Act relative to Foreign Insurance Companies.” This Act provided for a five percent (5%) tax to be paid to the State for the use by the State. Information was received by representatives of the State Association that a tax or other monies were available for fire service prior to this date, but no record thereof could be found. We conducted a search of the records of some of our earliest municipalities, especially Mount Holly and Burlington City (Township), and the organization of their first fire companies, the Relief Fire Company No. 1, originally named “Brittania Fire Company”, and the Endeavor Fire Company. These records for both municipalities are extant to 1666 and/or 1677. The Relief Fire Company records, still preserved, are complete from 1752. Some of the Endeavor Fire Company records were lost or destroyed and the earliest are unavailable. Also reviewed were some of the records of the Philadelphia fire companies and insurers, especially the Union Fire Company, organized by Benjamin Franklin in 1736, and the Contributionship Companies of Philadelphia, also attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1752.

Our search also led us to examine State and various County records, including their respective budgets, revenues, tax records and receipts, recorded documents and filings, minutes, ordinances and resolutions, records of related meetings, newspapers of that time and historical records and artifacts as available.

  Barry T. Parker
New Jersey State Firemen’s Association


The early history of the fire service is fairly well documented. Early service seems to have originated in Boston, New York, ‘New Amsterdam’, and Philadelphia. The Boston area experienced a serious fire in November of 1623, (#1) and thereafter Governor Bradford issued regulations, adopted as “ordinances”, concerning the construction of houses and chimney’s. Likewise Peter Styvesant, Governor of New York, also had ordinances similar in nature passed for that city in 1645, and a year later established “fire wardens” to inspect houses and buildings and help or assist in organized fire fighting response.

In the 1670’s some cities were plagued with firebugs, especially Boston, and the city adopted more stringent ordinances, planning ordinances, including street design, ban on thatched roofs and wooden plastered chimney’s. Boston officials also envisioned the need for fire fighting equipment and apparatus and they apparently purchased a fire engine from London and engaged people to take care of the equipment and ‘managing the engine’. This group managing the engine may have been the first fire company with any organized response because Boston suffered from eight (8) major conflagrations, the worst of which was the “great fire of 1711”. (#2) & (#3)

Definitive fire fighting and organized response was the concern of many, especially Benjamin Franklin, who as a young man lived in Boston and experienced the problems there and later experienced the “Fishbourn Wharf area fire of Philadelphia in April 1730”. Several years later on December 7, 1736, he and twenty-five other citizens of Philadelphia organized and signed the Charter or Articles of Association of the “Union Fire Company of Philadelphia”. (#4) The Charter called for the “better preserving our goods and effects from fire”, and the members mutually agreed to provide “two leather buckets and stout bags” to collect precious belongings and make them safe from fire. To assure attendance and response to fire and to require proper maintenance of the equipment, a system of fines was established for violations of these rules and regulations. These fines were levied against the members of the Company who were derelict or violated the same and were paid to the Company to be used for operating revenues. Each member was to respond " . . . upon hearing of fire breaking out and immediately report to the same with all their buckets and bags and employ our best endeavor to preserve the goods and effects of such of us as shall be in danger . . .” The charter or articles of association set forth the duties of the officers, the meeting dates and other provisions necessary for operating the fire company. (#5)

The charter or articles of Association of the Relief Fire Company No. 1, formerly the “Britannia Fire Company”, Mount Holly, New Jersey, the oldest volunteer fire company in continuous service in the United States, are strikingly similar to those of the Union Fire Company, of Philadelphia. The Relief was created on July 11, 1752. It’s Articles of Association provide for the contribution of a specific number of “buckets”, but required a minimum of two thereof. These original leather “buckets”, with individual and company name are preserved and located at the Relief today. The company, itself provided “four ladders and four fire hooks in common at the expense of the company.” (#6) The Relief also created a system of fines for attendance and maintenance of the equipment. In addition, the Relief required lanterns to be displayed in homes to assist in locating a fire, and the articles provided for this unique system, “ . . . two or more lights be set against our windows and such of our company whose houses may be thought to be in danger shall likewise place lights in every room to prevent confusion . . .” (#7)

The Charter and Articles of Association of both the Union and the Relief, in original condition, still exist, and are available to be examined. (#8) Franklin, continually expressed concern about fire in Philadelphia and as a young man growing up was impacted by fires in Boston. He was also affected by the Fishbourn Wharf Fire in the city in April of 1730 and this led to Franklin’s efforts to create the Union. (#9) Fires also caused financial hardship and disruption in the city and was costly to life and property. Therefore the citizens were looking for ways to improve their response and provide the necessary equipment and apparatus. Solicitations and donations, along with the monies for fines within the companies provided these resources.

The equipment utilized by the firemen in colonial times consisted of the leather (‘leathern’) buckets, ladders, ropes and hooks, to pull down burning buildings, axes, lanterns, trumpets to holler instructions, claxons and bells, to sound the alarm, and ultimately fire engines, if the company could afford the same. (#10) Subscriptions or solicitations among the citizens was the method utilized by the Relief in Mount Holly, then “Bridgetown” to acquire its first fire engine. (#11)

The fire engines used in the early 18th and 19th century were generally direct pressure pumps, which contained a wooden box as reservoir where the water buckets were dumped by a bucket brigade. The firemen would then stand on either side of the engine and operate the pump by alternately applying pressure up and down on the pump handles on each side. The water was thus forced from the chamber through the nozzle attached. Most of these engines were drawn or pushed to the fire, however some were carried because they lacked wheels. (#12) Many of these fire engines were made in England and later in Philadelphia.

The firefighters usually were required to hang the buckets on their houses and keep them filled with water at all times. (#13) Alarms were given by voice, claxon, bell or other noise-making device, and members upon hearing the alarm were required to respond to the scene of the fire with the bucket or other assigned equipment. At the scene of the fire, members of the company were assigned various jobs, mostly to extinguish the flames, but others included salvage of a persons goods and effects, such as the Union’s “stout bags of good oznabrigs or wicker linen” in which to put the same. (#14) Others might be assigned to the application of the hooks and ladders and axes to pull down burning buildings or destroy other buildings to keep the fire from spreading throughout the area. (#15)

As fire companies continued to emerge throughout the country the need for firemen and new and better equipment escalated. Methods for payment also escalated, but the two prevalent methods utilized at that time were the subscription and municipal contribution. (#16) Along with the need to acquire equipment was the desire or need of the victims of the fire to obtain recompense for the losses suffered as a result thereof. In colonial times beds, cookingware, clothes and weapons were essential for existence. Insurance was therefore the answer for the individual homeowners to protect these interests.

Insurance was generally available in England to members who joined an association organized to fight fire. (#17) The association provided fire “marks” which were placed on the outside of the house and identified the homeowner as a member. Fire marks and fire associations became prevalent in England, usually under the auspices of the same which operated insurance companies and which also organized and operated the fire company. (#18) Insurance companies or fire associations incorporated somewhat differently in the colonies and in Philadelphia. Members paid into the association or the insurance company to protect their own property and usually they received a fire mark representing that company or association which was placed on the house to signify the property was insured. They did not own the fire company or direct response in a particular fashion as was usual in England.

The first insurance association or company in the colonies was also the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin and this was the Contributionship Companies of Philadelphia. (#19) This company was founded by Franklin in 1752 and many of the signatories of the Union were also signatories of the original charter for the Contributionship. The members of the Contributionship put up a one time financial payment which was essentially the premium. The member was then covered against fire and was given a plaque or mark for the house, which is the famous four hands clasped at the wrist. Other insurance companies were organized in Charleston, South Carolina, and in New Jersey but they are no longer active, in fact the Charleston company did not survive it’s first fire shortly after organizing. (#20) The Contributionship is still in business and is actively covering members. (#21)

These insurance companies and the fire companies like the Union and Relief contributed to the safety and well being of our early communities. Most, if not all, were composed of volunteer members and civic-minded citizens of the municipality. Initially they contributed their own time and money. It was not until the 19th Century that municipalities started to assist financially and this was either by creating a paid fire department or by financial contribution to the fire companies. The firemen themselves, volunteers, received no compensation or remuneration, and if injured, hurt, or killed they were on their own or on the mercy of the people in the community. Not until 1879 was there some recognition that financial assistance should be provided and New Jersey adopted a two percent tax on foreign insurance companies writing fire insurance in New Jersey and this was soon allocated to relief, disabled, benevolent or like organizations for the benefit of the firemen and their families. (#22)


The first legislative initiative resulting essentially for the benefit of firefighters or their families was the Act of 1826, “The Act Relative to Insurance Companies.” This Act imposed a five percent (5%) tax on the “gross amount . . . received in monies or securities for money for premiums or insurance effected or contracted . . . for the six months last proceeding such accounting . . .” (#1) Some information or documentation and rumors gave the impression to certain firefighters that such a tax was imposed or enacted for firemen during the Revolutionary War, or immediately thereafter. A search through the archives of New Jersey, the Laws of this State and the Law of our predecessor the Colony of New Jersey, the records of two of the oldest municipalities of this State, Burlington 1666, and Mount Holly (‘Bridgeton and Northampton Township’) 1677, reveal no evidence of payments to or for firemen for services or benefits. (#2) Newark also was apparently incorporated in 1666 and inquiry was made for early records pertaining to their fire department at both the Newark Library and the Newark Museum. Although we were advised some existed we have been unable to obtain them. There were persons assigned to create a Newark Fire Museum, but again inquiry revealed no documentation or records. We also sought records pertaining to the Newark Relief Association prior to 1879.

The Act of 1826 provided for “ ‘an agent’ acting . . . for any individuals or associations of individuals, not incorporated in their state . . . for the purpose of effecting insurance . . . against losses by fire, or otherwise must post a bond and securities in the penal sum of one thousand ($1,000) dollars with the clerk of the county.” (#3) Such tax although collected by an agent in the county was for the use of the state. (#4) The Act does not designate the use of any of the funds received from the tax and it appears all receipts went into the general treasury of the State of New Jersey. A search of several of the state’s County Clerks’ offices revealed no bonds filed by any collector of the tax, and no certificates issued by the County Clerks to that effect, as required by that law. (#5) Also a check of the state budgets after 1826 did not reveal the receipt of any tax revenues received from this tax until 1868. (#6) The 1826 Act was amended several times (#7) but there was no mention of firefighters or their families until March 1850 when reference was made to “The collector of the county of Essex . . . account with the treasurer for the time being of the fire department of the city of Newark for all sums of money received by him under the provisions of this act . . . and pay over the same to the treasurer to be applied and appropriated for the use of the charitable fund of said department under the direction of such fire department.” This Act also provided these same procedures for Passaic County and stated it be paid to the “Paterson Fire Association, in said county, specifically monies received from within the townships of Paterson and Manchester, in said county.” (#8) A catchall was added in sections two (2) and three (3) of the act and stated those provisions were applicable to and included all “. . . the cities, boroughs, townships and districts in this state, wherein a fire department, fire association or fire company shall be organized.” Such department, however, was required to have a fund otherwise the department did not receive the tax proceeds. Finally the Act established the tax to be two percent (2%), because prior to this Act the tax fluctuated from five percent (5%) down to two and one half percentr (2-1/2%) from 1826 to 1847. (#9)

With this newer Act the tax monies were specifically being earmarked for some kind of charitable, benevolent, or disability fund providing for or operated by firemen. The Act did not specify or refer to the type of fund, how it operated, or to whom the proceeds or receipts were to be delivered or applied. Apparently the various municipalities operated differently and one, the City of Paterson, was being more aggressive than the others and in 1857 an act was passed removing the county collector. It provided the county collector, “. . . was removed from any duties and the mayor and aldermen of the City of Paterson . . .” were specifically designated as the recipients of the monies. (#10) To date we have been unable to identify or trace these funds to any charitable associations. None were apparently recorded or found in the Secretary of State records for corporations or in the County Clerks office where not-for-profit corporations are filed. Newark had one such benevolent association because they advertised in the newspapers in 1874 for contributions. (#11) Thus most of the charitable, relief, disability or benevolent funds were haphazard and spread throughout the state and fire departments, with little or no oversight.

At least some oversight was being exercised by the State Treasurer or Secretary of State over the insurance companies because a new Act adopted in 1860 imposed more stringent capital and filing requirements. It also required the insurance companies to file periodic accountings and annual statements with the Secretary of State. (#12) Also it required the county collector to turn over the two percent (2%) tax to those so directed. This regulatory oversight continued in order to protect the tax revenues, and in 1867 the legislature specifically recognized, “that when there shall exist in any city, borough or township of this state, an organized fire department, and a charitable association or organization, the accumulation and disbursement of a fund for the benefit of disabled or incapacitated firemen or their families, the monies received by the Secretary of State . . . shall be received for the benefit of and appropriated and applied to the use of the charitable fund of said department . . .” (#13) Clearly, monies received after 1876 by any source, local, county or state, had to be delivered to the municipal fire department which maintained a charitable or benevolent association.

Generally, taxes on a state’s foreign insurance companies, especially fire insurance companies, are reciprocal, and other states apparently adopted similar laws; however, New Jersey now earmarked their tax for the benefit of the fireman, specifically the disabled or incapacitated fireman and his family. From the inception of the tax in 1826 until 1871 the Secretary of State, exercised supervision over the foreign insurance companies, but in 1871 the state Department of Insurance was created and most of the supervision was assumed by it. Other states then and now apply the tax receipts toward fire protection in the state or municipality, (#14) or to the Firemen’s Home. (#15)

Obviously many of the older and larger cities or municipalities were formulating more sophisticated fire departments and charitable associations, and also procedures for collecting and disbursing the tax receipts. Unfortunately the regulation and laws pertaining thereto were still somewhat haphazard and disjointed. Many private and municipal corporations were created by special acts of the legislature and many not-for-profit corporations were unincorporated or not filed in the County Clerks or Secretary of State’s office. Some cities, like Newark, Paterson and Trenton, must have been operating and dispensing some form of benefits. Trenton appears to have the best records and incorporated its Relief Association on November 12, 1855, entitled “The Fire Association for the Relief of Disabled Firemen of the City of Trenton.” (#16) The records indicate they elected officers, collected the two percent (2%) tax, and requested donations from domestic insurance companies and agents. They made disbursements toward the funeral expenses for “Henry Nice, March 12, 1856, in the amount of fifteen dollars.” (#17) They also apparently provided for other beneficiaries. A “Newark Relief Association” also must have been organized because a newspaper advertisement was run in the Newark Daily News requesting donations and making appeals for funds in February of 1874. (#18) Later references were made that an Assemblyman Macknett, Essex County, conducted some type of legislative hearings in 1877, but there is no record thereof in the New Jersey Legislative Library in Trenton. Legislative action was, however, initiated to provide more structure and authority to the fire department relief funds and to direct the local insurance agents to make payment to “the treasurer of the benevolent fund of the fire department . . .” (#19) During this time the Jersey City Fire Department created “The Exempt Firemen’s Association of Old Jersey City”, which was active in January of 1878 and the records thereof show relief and death benefits paid from then to 1892, at which time they joined or merged with the Jersey City Relief Association. (#20)

All of the activity in these cities stimulated the firemen of Newark to initiate some type of central organization to protect all the interests of the firemen and the charitable associations. A notice was sent out by the Newark Fire Department calling for a meeting in Newark on May 22, 1879. Nineteen (19) fire departments and fifty-five (55) firefighters responded. It was at this initial meeting that the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association was organized and became a reality.



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