Piscataway Township, the fifth oldest municipality in New Jersey, is currently home to six fire companies spread across four fire districts. But, it was not always so. In the first decade of the twentieth century a group of dedicated citizens resolved “for the purpose of considering the advisability of organizing a fire department for the Village of New Market.” That meeting was a major landmark for the history of the town; it was the first fire department of present Piscataway Township.
"Piscataway Township was founded by John Martin, Charles Gilman, Hugh Dunn and Hopewell Hull by buying the land from Daniel Pierce on December 18, 1666 for 30 pounds sterling." At that time, Piscataway consisted of some 300 square miles extending across much of present Middlesex County and most of present Somerset County, which was previously inhabited by the Lenni Lenape Indians. From Piscataway's original town center at Piscatawaytown, in present day Edison, it fanned out and included many small villages, some of which became their own municipalities.
New Market, originally called Quibbletown because of a dispute over which day the Sabbath should be held on, developed on the Bound Brook as a stopover on the Old York Road between New York and Philadelphia. By 1804, the name permanently became New Market. Piscataway, and New Market, saw little change from its founding to the 20th century. The land remained mostly farmland until the completion of Interstate 287, and the old families who inhabited the town from its beginnings remained prominent for hundreds of years.
The effects of the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century were delayed in the small farming community of New Market. Many revolutions missed the town, such as the construction of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in the early 1830s just outside Piscataway’s borders and countless railroads thereafter. But, by the beginning of the twentieth century, it became clear to the residents of New Market that it was their civic duty to create an organization dedicated to the protection of people and property from fire and other causes.
These men were not newcomers to the power that fire had. Some old-time residents could recall many fires in New Market over the decades. One of the most destructive of these was a fire on April 5, 1885 which burned the tailor establishment of Henry Dunham and the grocery store of C. T. Rogers. The fire was controlled by a line of men passing pails of water from the nearby pond.
On December 18, 1908, a meeting “of the citizens of New Market, called for the purpose of considering the availability of organizing a fire department for the Village of New Market “convened to establish the New Market Fire Company. From the beginning, this hardy group of New Market residents dedicated not only their time but also their money to the fire company. The first fire house, built on Lakeview Avenue, resembled a simple garage and consisted of a single bay with a hand-pulled wagon in it. The wagon, New Market Fire Company’s first firefighting apparatus, was bought from Scotch Plains for $90 in February of 1909. Both the wagon and the firehouse were paid for by the members of the department themselves.
In the first few years, firemen were summoned by the striking of a large hoop with a hammer. This system was replaced, in 1912, with a bell tower overlooking New Market Pond. Later, this bell would be moved to New Market’s Washington Avenue location, where the bell still stands today. Fortunately, for the residents of modern New Market, today’s method of summoning firefighters via pager is much more advanced.
New Market surely saw its fair share of fires. The Hotel Nelson burned in January of 1912, when the temperature was reportedly 22 degrees below zero. In August of 1919, the National Cooperage Products Company fell to fire as well. A massive fire destroyed the Middlesex Milling Company in February of 1924, which was located just before the falls of New Market Pond. Extensive mutual aide was used for the fire, including firefighters from Dunellen, South Plainfield, and Bound Brook. In November of 1928, the Five Acres Restaurant was destroyed and was shortly followed by the fire of the New Market School in January of the following year.
In the mid 1920s, the firefighters of New Market opted to create a larger fire house. Located on Lakeview Avenue, this fire house had multiple engine bays and a second story. The 1920s also saw the acquisition of New Market Fire’s first motorized fire apparatus, a 1921 Ford affectionately called “Old #1”. New Market Fire continued to upgrade as the years pasted; in August of 1929, several months after the New Market School fire, it bought a 600 gallon per minute Pirsch Fire Engine and 1000 feet of hose to go with it. For the next several decades, New Market Fire operated a variety of different fire apparatus in their new Lakeview Avenue location. It continually protected people of New Market from fire and other dangers.
One day, in 1934, the firefighters of New Market were summoned for a most extraordinary call. An airplane had crashed on the New Market Speedway, a racetrack located behind present day Quibbletown Middle School. The Speedway itself saw quite a number of fatal accidents, during its time as a spectator event, in which New Market Fire responded to.
By the 1960s, it was time for change. With the completion of Interstate 287, Piscataway had changed from a rural farming community to a suburban township. The grass and fields of New Market began to be mowed down and houses began to be built. The population of the town began to skyrocket. From 1790 to 1900, Piscataway’s population didn’t even double; it went from 2,261 to about 3,500. The first half of the twentieth century saw Piscataway’s population rise significantly; by 1940 the town had 7,243 residents. The second half of the twentieth century, however, saw the most rapid growth. In 1950, the population was 10,180 and by 1970, it was 36,418. Piscataway was expanding like never before.
The 1960s were a time for change for the fire company as well. New Market Fire had outgrown its old fire house and moved into a new one. In 1963, New Market Fire moved to its present location on Washington Avenue. By this time, the department had a 750 gallon per minute Ahrens-Fox, a 500 gallon per minute Oren, and a Ford Emergency Truck equipped with oxygen, gas masks, and the like. All of these new additions to the fire company were necessary to combat the growing risk for fire with the substantial growth in population.
In 1987, the New Market Fire Company bought its first ladder truck, a 1987 E-1, at the same time as it bought an E-1 engine. The engine replaced the previous pumper, a 1972 Mack. These apparatus served the town extraordinarily well in the largest fire the township has ever seen. On December 14, 1989, a massive industrial fire ripped through Piscataway. Before the fire was quenched, fifty different fire departments, rescue squads, and other emergency service agencies aided in the battle. The fire literally took days to finally be defeated, and was so remarkable that the New Jersey’s State Assembly issued citations to each department involved.
The New Market Fire Company entered the 21st century ready to combat the fires of a new millennium. By 2000, Piscataway’s population had reached 50,482 and this meant an increase in call volume and fire suppression responsibility for New Market Fire. Doubtlessly, the firefighters of New Market looked forward to the new century with excitement for the coming 100th anniversary of New Market Fire, and had no idea of the trials ahead.
Shortly after the turn of the century, on September 11, 2001, this great nation was suddenly and deliberately attacked by terrorists from abroad. Commercial jet-liners were flown into The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and into the World Trade Center in New York City, and a third was brought down in a Pennsylvania field by some courageous passengers. The Fire Department of the City of New York lost 343 of its firefighters on that day and New Market Fire sent some of its own to aid. Because FDNY was so hurt by the event, outside fire companies, such as New Market, were sent in to help keep New York City safe.
Since that time, New Market Fire has advanced in a multitude of ways. After the storm of 2006 and subsequent flooding, New Market starting a swift water rescue team to give aid to those in danger of being washed away by any of the various water bodies that pass through the town. New Market also purchased a new ladder truck, to replace its veteran 1987 E-1. The ladder truck, called Truck 6, is currently the pride and joy of many New Market firefighters.
The fire company has always adapted to the constantly changing environment of Piscataway and the nation at large and will doubtlessly continue to do so. New Market Fire will continue to protect its residents from fire and many other dangers and wear its badge of more than one hundred years of service proudly. No obstacle is too insurmountable for the dedicated and devoted volunteers of the New Market Fire Company.