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Great Clinton Fire, October 1891 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 [PA], and Phillipsburg. Flemington, Easton, and Phillipsburg sent equipment by train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

First BylawsThe citizens of Clinton fought hard to save Main Street, but without fire equipment, and a high wind rising, the loss was great. In 1892, Clinton expressed gratitude and sent fifty dollars to be distributed among the six or eight Easton fireman who had come to assist.

The fire changed the appearance of Main Street forever, and 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 members, many of whom were local merchants who had sustained losses.

SteamerThe first act of the Company was to purchase a steam engine, 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 received no payment, purchased equipment, and paid dues to fund the company.

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.

Old FirehouseThroughout the years the fire department showed a steady growth. The department 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 the 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 $3,900 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 upon the actual minutes of the first three meetings. Of course, 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.

At the time of the fiftieth anniversary, four charter members were living: John Rowland, Oscar Rittenhouse, John Reed, and Frank Van Syckle.

During this period, the firemen also took first aid courses, and a rescue squad was organized. Uniforms were still purchased by the individual members, and dues and fines were collected to support the Department.

Many of the fires covered in the 1940's 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 barns.

A great deal of social activity in Clinton also centered around the fire company. Holiday dinners and socials were held in the "Old Fire House," a few doors down from the 1898 building. The socializing also became a source of raising money as the Clinton Fire Department became quite famous for its annual minstrel show, staged at the Music Hall. In later years, pancake breakfasts were well received by the public.

In 1949, the Ladies Auxiliary was organized, and has been an integral part of the Department ever since, constantly working to assist the firemen.

In the 1960's two notable fires occurred in the town, the Fox Lumber Yard fire and the Municipal Building fire.

As the Clinton area became less agricultural, less rural, the nature of firefighting changed. When Acme Grocery Store closed in 1975, the Fire Department purchased and restored the building to accommodate its increasingly technical and safety equipment. The members attended fire schools and seminars. State regulations concerning fire gear and equipment are ever changing, making retraining and upkeep a major time factor.

Costs are high. Today, the Fire Department makes most of its necessary funds by hosting banquets and wedding receptions. The Town of Clinton and neighboring municipalities, along with individuals through the annual fund drive, contribute funds.

The Clinton Fire Department is a progressive organization. The commitment of its members, some of them third generation, is essential to the well-being of the citizens of the town. The men and women of the Clinton Fire Department continue their dedicated service.

Modified from the Hundredth Anniversary Book, by Allie McGaheran, Town Historian.

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