In the era before 1915, when a fire broke out in Whippany you telephoned the Morristown Police Department, murmured a brief prayer and scurried for the broom and the bucket. You hoped the Morristown firemen would make it in time; the odds were heavily against it, especially in the spring when rains turned the road from Morristown to Whippany into a quagmire.
In 1909, historic Whippanong Hall burned to the ground before the Morristown apparatus could reach the scene. Many valuable books and records were destroyed in the blaze. It was the memory of this fire as well as other smaller ones that had to be fought by neighborhood bucket brigades, which led to the establishment of the first fire company in 1915.
The company was organized by Rev, Joseph E.Walsch, minister of the Presbyterian Church, and eight of his neighbors. After a number of meetings in Polhemus Hall (above what is now NU Radio), the unit was finally chartered in 1915. The first equipment consisted of pails, shovels, brooms, and a few short pieces of hose. When an alarm sounded, this primitive gear was tossed aboard Charles Mill’s ice truck, the volunteers climbed aboard and headed for the fire under the direction of Chief John J. Mahoney and assistant Chief Walter Adamson.
The first significant piece of equipment was an old Studebaker purchased in 1918 and converted to a fire truck by the ingenious Mr. Adamson. This was put to use in 1920 in an effort to fight the great fire at the Caledonian Mill, which was destroyed in a spectacular $350,000 conflagration. The fire, one of the worst in town’s history, would have spread to the houses on Thomas Street except for the efforts of the Washington Engine Company from Morristown which responded quickly to the call from Chief Adamson.
A fire District was formed in 1921, and in the following year a new 300 gallon-per-minute Reo pumper was purchased. The old Studebaker was mounted on a second Reo chassis that was obtained and the two vehicles were stored in Mauretius Jensen’s barn. The fire company raised $6,500 for the purpose. This left a $2,500 deficit, which the firemen raised through various activities, including the selling of bricks to residents and transient motorists for a dollar apiece.
The firehouse was built in 1923 at the corner of Route 10 and School Street on property purchased from the late John E. Ford, one of the early members of the department. The second floor has served as a meeting place for the township committee and other groups, an emergency schoolroom, and it used to house the Whippanong Library.
One of the first large fires after the completion of the firehouse occurred on the “Irish Lott” on March 8, 1924, a disaster that leveled the dilapidated mansion of Capt. Michael Kearny. It had been one of the few physical reminders of Whippany’s colonial past.
Like the police department, the fire company grew with the community. Additional and more modern equipment was acquired for the department through the years, including a Rescue Boat purchased in 1939 by Chief James Tighe, to aid in drowning operations. This 16 foot metal craft mounted on a trailer has traveled as far as White Meadow Lake to assist in rescues.
On December 27, 1943, the department was called to fight a fire, which partially destroyed Our Lady of Mercy Church. Interestingly enough, during the church’s restoration period, masses were celebrated in the Whippany firehouse. In August of 1947, the men were summoned to the Atlas Cork Company on Jefferson Road, where a $65,000 blaze destroyed the plant. In December of the same year, the department fought a 7-hour blaze in the warehouse of Eden Mill.
With the industrial and population explosions of the 1950’s, much new apparatus was added to the department. The most recent acquisition was a Mack 1,000 gallon-per-minute pumper bought in 1964 and described as the ultimate in fire fighting equipment. With this, Chief Edward A. Guerin believes, the Whippany Fire Department can handle a fire of almost any size in the community.
Over the years, the Whippany Fire Department has reached agreements with surrounding fire departments to aid them when an emergency arises. In 1963, the Whippany and Cedar Knolls fire companies agreed to respond to any and all industrial emergencies in the township. In the late 1970’s, the Whippany Fire Department also became part of the newly formed Black Meadows Association, which includes, Whippany, Cedar Knolls, Florham Park, Madison, Morris Township, Morristown, Morris Plains, Chatham Boro, Green Village, and New Vernon. In addition to these agreements, the Whippany Fire Department also specializes in Hazardous Materials Operations and Swift Water Operations which will respond to where ever they are needed.