A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEPARTMENT
The first recorded fire in Tenafly took place during the American Revolution in 1779. A Hackensack Tory led British troops to River Vale in a surprise night attack on Mrs. Washington's Light Horse Regiment, the Baylor Dragoons, causing many casualties. It was found that the Tory had furniture stored in a Tenafly barn and local Patriots burned the barn down, destroying his furniture. In 1872, the Highwood Hotel located on the North side of Highwood Avenue, East of County Road was destroyed by fire. There was a large conflagration that started in a rubber company at the Southwest comer of Riveredge Road and West Railroad Avenue in 1888. A horse drawn steam fire engine from the Nyack, New York Fire Department was loaded on a railroad flat car and dispatched to the Tenafly fire. About this time the Hackensack Water Company started laying water mains in Tenafly. The above two items probably did a lot to bring about the formation of the Tenafly Volunteer Fire Department. It wasn't until three years later though, that a group met at the Tenafly Public School to discuss its formation.
"A meeting was called on July 7, 1891, for the purpose of organizing a fire company for the village of Tenafly and that the organization would be known as the "Tenafly Volunteer Fire Department' ". The above quotation was taken directly from he original minute books still in the possession of the Department.
Within two months seven hundred dollars was raised by subscriptions, one hundred dollars of which was spent for the purchase of an ornate hand-drawn, four wheel hose carriage from the City of Hoboken. In the fall of the year 1891 George Vossler, local blacksmith, built a horse drawn ladder truck and both apparatus were stored in the Atwood Building on West Railroad Avenue.
Early on it was found that the Hoboken hose carriage was too heavy to draw through the dirt roads and up the hills of Tenafly. A local blacksmith built a hand drawn two wheel hose reel which is still in possession of the Fire Department. Should a horse drawn wagon be near the firehouse when the fire alarm sounded, two men would jump on the rear of the wagon, hold onto the tongue of the hose reel and away to the fire! The Hoboken hose carriage came to a terrible end. It was stored in an old saw mill on County Road and in the 1930's the building burned to the ground destroying the carriage.
In September of 1892, the Department purchased its own firehouse at the Southwest corner of West Clinton Avenue and Franklin Street. This building was torn down about 1970. Fire alarms were sounded on huge iron rings hung in four sections of town and a large bell at the firehouse. One of the old rings is going to be mounted in front off the present firehouse. The second bell purchased by the department was mounted on a large tower next to the Washington Street firehouse. This bell is now the focal point off the present Firemen's Memorial. During 1892 there were two fire alarms, one being a false alarm.
At the turn of the century the Firemen who were now using horses to pull the apparatus, decided to sell their three pieces of apparatus, hose, ladders and drop harness to the Borough for one dollar. Since 1902 the town has bought all the necessary firefighting equipment.
In 1903, the Department moved into new headquarters in Tenafly Hall at the corner of Highwood Avenue and Jay Street, which was also used for town offices. This building was put up in he 1800's, the building was renovated, doors for the fire apparatus were put on the Highwood Avenue side, ramp built to the street and the fire bell hung in the tower. This building is still there today.
About this time there was a fire call for Andrew Knox's store at the corner of Washington Street and Railroad Avenue. Local young boys used to help pull the two wheeled hose cart which they did for this fire. Smoke was pouring out of the front door of the store. They hooked the hose to the hydrant and poured water through the front door, the only problem was that a shed behind the store was on fire and the smoke was going in the back door of the store and out the front!!!
On March 16, 1907 a fire occurred at Schenkel's Hotel which was burned to the ground and one life was lost. Other early fires were Watson's barn on Highwood Avenue in 1912 and Demarest's Hardware on Highwood Avenue in 1914, which was believed to be started by an arsonist.
A new firehouse was built at Washington Street and Tenafly Road in 1913 and was used until the present town center was opened in 1961. In 1920 Tenafly bought its first motorized pumping engine, which is still in the possession of the Fire Department. This engine did much to prove itself at the Camp Merritt fires during the early 1920's, especially one on June 21, 1921, in which 130 buildings were destroyed. Apparatus from most of the towns in Bergen County responded to this fire, as well as three engines from New York City via the Dyckman Street Ferry. At one point during the fire, Tenafly's engine was sent to pick up dynamite which a used unsuccessfully to create a firebreak.
The town purchased a motorized hook and ladder truck in 1923. This purchase completely motorized the Department and all horse-drawn apparatus was sold.
On December 15, 1924, Tenafly's largest fire occurred when the old Tavenier and Johnson livery Stable and several adjacent buildings were destroyed on Washington Street. Help was summoned from Englewood, Cresskill, Closter, Demarest, and Rio-Vista (now Alpine). The Alpine Department was sent up on the East Hill to protect the homes as embers were carried over a mile by the high winds.
Sunday, April 5, 1925, the Department assisted in extinguishing a fire in !he top floor and roof of the West Wing of the Englewood Hospital. Tenafly's engine pumped from the large pond in the Southwest side of Brookside Cemetery.
On March 27, 1938 Fireman Henry J. Forcier gave his life in the line of duty. At this time the Fire Department was getting ready to purchase a new engine. They decided to make the engine as visible to the public and as safe as possible for the Firemen to ride. So in 1938 Tenafly purchased a Seagrave pumper with a full cab and seats behind the cab for Firemen to sit, instead of riding on the running boards and it was painted white instead of red.
During the war years in the 1940's, the Firemen set up crews that stayed every night at the firehouse, so the fire siren, used also as an air raid siren would only have to be blown for major fires.
Tenafly's first aerial ladder truck was delivered in 1950 and in 1966 to further modernize the Department an elevating platform truck was purchased.
At the same location of the fire of 1924 - 43 years, 9 days later, on December 24, 1967 at 11:15 P.M., five stores burned down on Washington Street. This fire was fought by many towns during a bitter cold Christmas Eve night. Men and apparatus were covered with ice, hose lines could not be rolled up as they were full of ice and had to be thawed out at the Firehouse. Exhausted Firemen were finally able to go home on Christmas day at three in the afternoon.
Tenafly's current Firehouse was used as a satellite classroom for the Bergen County Fire Academy in Mahwah, making it easier for the local Firemen to attend school. Officers from the New York City Fire Department have given classes at our Firehouse for the Department members. State Police have given Haz-Mat schooling, keeping members up to date on modern techniques.
The present day Department, under the leadership of Chief Richard Philpott consists of 46 Volunteers who operate two Engines, one Aerial Ladder, one Tower Ladder, one Squad, one Rescue, one Brush and Foam Unit, two antique trucks and several staff vehicles. The department responds to between 600 and 700 call a year.