Although South Boonton Hose & Engine Company # 3 was among the last of the fire Companies to be introduced into the Boonton Fire Department, it could still claim its share of firsts in the History of the Fire Department.
Prior to the Department's organization on July 10, 1891, fire protection in Boonton was sporadic, mostly unorganized service at best. As early as 1835, the Boonton Iron Mill Company purchased a used hand pumper from the City of Paterson. There is, however, evidence that it and the mill fire brigade were forbidden to be used to fight fire elsewhere in town other than the Iron Mill. The rest of the town relied upon the impromptu bucket brigades and individual heroics to protect their structures. The Mill Company sold the hand pumper back to Paterson in 1881.
Among the leaders of these impromptu firefighting efforts was Mr. Simeon VanDuyne, a machinist by trade, who owned his shop on Homes Street. It was here that VanDuyne built a hand pumper similar in design to the Paterson machine, in the late 1880's. He and a group of a dozen or so men from the South end of Boonton took great pride in dousing fires that began in their area. So, when in 1891, the town of Boonton chose to organize its fire Department, the first Companies formed were located "on the Hill" within the more densely settled business district. Van Duyne's group, although they existed informally for several years before this date, had no participation in the Boonton Fire Department organization. But the maverick group had the only pumping apparatus in town!
On August 20, 1892, barely a year after the organization of the Fire Department, a fire of major proportions gutted the U.S. Hotel, the Worman Building, and adjoining properties on Main Street. Newspaper articles proclaimed the value of Van Duyne's men and machine in fighting this fire, and within several months, the successful group organized itself as the independent South Boonton Volunteer Fire Company. Curiously, several weeks later, they petitioned the Town Council to be recognized as part of the Boonton Fire Department, then immediately withdrew their request.
Within six months of legally organizing themselves, South Boonton demonstrated its strength of commitment; the wealthy James Holmes, upon which they immediately built a firehouse, donated a plot of land to them. By June of 1893, they were fully operational, with the original hand pumper, a suction engine, ladders, buckets, hose carriages, and several hundred feet of hose. The Boonton Fire Department, meanwhile, had chosen as its first piece of apparatus, a hook and ladder truck, and housed it in a barn on the hill section of town.
Several months later, the men of South Boonton impressed their fellow citizens again. A serious fire erupted in a house near the corner of Main Street and Myrtle Avenue, adjacent to the Morris Canal. By using the Canal as a water source, the South Boonton men applied water to the fire, according to the newspaper reports, within six minutes of the sounding of the alarm Van Duyne's hand pumper had proven itself again, and within several days, the Town Council authorized purchase of a new modified hand pumper from Van Duyne, as well as another pumper and hose reel, for the Maxfield Fire Company, from Gleason and Bailey Manufacturing. The Department took possession of their first hand-drawn fire engine on October 19, 1893. It remained in service until the more sophisticated horse drawn steamer replaced it, in 1915. In September 1894, the Harmony Hose and Engine Company organized, and took possession of the newer hand pumper produced by Van Duyne's machine shop.
Fifteen years after its organization, the Fire Department faced one of its biggest challenges to date. On October 15, 1906, a huge fire, also signaling the end of an era for the Town of Boonton, destroyed the bulk of the Iron Mill Works. The men of South Boonton, as well as a full compliment from the Boonton Fire Department, and the citizenry in general, could do little to stop the destruction of the idle complex.
At the same time, a change in attitude was taking place for the members of South Boonton. Although they were proud of their independent, self-supporting, thoroughly equipped Fire Company, they decided to consolidate with the Boonton Fire Department. This consolidation was driven by two Key factors. Although they had enjoyed the lack of accountability to the B.F.D., they lacked representation in the Fire Department, and in the Town Government. The other factor was that the maintenance expenses for their firehouse and their apparatus were becoming "cause for concern and discussion".
The Town of Boonton accepted South Boonton Hose Company #3 and the South Boonton Hook and Ladder Company # 2 on July 1, 1907. Four years later, the South Boonton companies deeded the land, the firehouse and the apparatus to the town, with the understanding that a new firehouse would be built for them on that property. The new firehouse, which cost less than $4000 dollars to build, was built and accepted by the Town in January of 1913, and stood until the 1960's, when it was demolished to make way for the new town hall, which houses the Fire Company today.
In the many intervening years, the time between calls to duty were kept filled with countless drills, ensuring the men's preparedness and education. The social calendar was also full with activities such as parades, dinners and the big fund-raiser, the Labor Day Celebration, which began as a Department Picnic. It is hard to believe that way back in 1916, the South Boonton members took their new motorized apparatus to participate in a parade in Asbury Park. That must have been a major undertaking!
Throughout the one hundred or so years of its existence, the South Boonton Fire Company has retained its traditions of pride and pioneering spirit. From generation to generation, each new member has been instilled with appreciation and dedication for their Fire Company, The Fire Department, and their Community, thus reaffirming the commitment to service first made by the founding fathers.