“From the very beginning of the Stone Harbor community, fire was a widespread fear. The wooden homes and strong winds of the island proved a dangerous combination; one spark is all that would have been needed to set an entire block ablaze and, with the frequency of marsh and brush fires, one spark wasn’t hard to come by. In fact, it was common practice for families to keep a bucket of water on hand and, for the very careful, a bucket or two of beach sand.”
The aforementioned introductory statement is a quote that served as a lead-in to the chapter on the “Fire Department” contained in the 2014 edition of the book entitled STONE HARBOR: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF THE SEASHORE AT ITS BEST. In addition, it should be noted that the introductory photo image shown above is also derived from the same Stone Harbor Centennial book cited here and can be found on page 183.
This brief article will focus on the fire department of Stone Harbor by incorporating 4 picture post cards and 1 very classic photographic image accompanied by some basic background information along with descriptions about each image.
Given the increasing number of homes and businesses being built in Stone Harbor from 1912 onward, there was a strong need to provide fire protection. In December of 1912, The Stone Harbor Volunteer Fire Company Number 1 was created and organized consisting of 20 men. These volunteers were men who were local and were directly tied to the many actual early ongoing construction projects going on at Stone Harbor. These men represented some of the various building trades and thereby were readily available and agreed to serve as volunteer firemen. Land for the first fire station was donated by well-known Mrs. Reese Risley and construction began in earnest. In May of 1913, the official dedication occurred at the new fire station located at 85th Street and Second Avenue. This special occasion was much heralded and there were parades and much cause for celebration. The main speaker at this noteworthy event was none other than Howard Risley, then president of the South Jersey Realty Company. R.C. Hill became the first fire chief and Harry Simpson was the first President of the Stone Harbor Fire Company.
The vintage post card and the busy photo image with 7 firemen with pumper and various forms of apparatus illustrated above features two different views of Stone Harbor’s “first” fire station. It was a two-story fire station with an upper deck above the second floor roof designed specifically for observation or lookout and there was ample room to house a horse-drawn water pumper in the bay behind the large double wooden doors. It should be noted that in front of the fire station was a large circular piece of iron which when hit with a mallet served as a means of sounding the alarm for an emergency. The volunteer firemen who were generally working on construction projects in the vicinity would upon hearing the alarm report immediately to the fire station and respond to the situation that required their services. It is my understanding that as of 1965 the building that housed the first fire department was still standing and had some years earlier been converted to a residential cottage. Perhaps some of you may even know if that cottage, formerly the first fire station, is still in existence or if an entirely new structure was built on that property sometime after 1965? Finally, before moving on, look carefully again at the post card version for the distinctive water tower that was located at 96th Street in the distant background to the right of this image.
Twelve years later and in 1924 a need was determined to replace the first fire station and build another new and larger firehouse, only this time to be located at the corner of 96th Street and Second Avenue. No longer was the 85th Street firehouse location along with its outdated equipment serving the best interests and needs of the growing community. At a cost of $15,000, this new facility housed newer pieces of fire equipment as well along with an ambulance to be used for other emergencies. The firemen now found themselves performing two important roles: that of fighting fires as well as that of responding to medical emergencies.
The post card just shown above reveals the “second”Stone Harbor fire department building. As you can readily see this building is considerably larger, and in fact, the second floor served not only as a meeting place for local civic groups but also as a sort of community center for special occasions. Please bear in mind that this was still an all-volunteer organization and the firemen did not yet have accommodations to sleep on the premises. Mounted atop the roof in the front of this building was a powerful siren that was used for summoning the volunteer firemen to duty. A small group of 3 firefighters can be seen in this image, one seated behind the steering wheel and two standing by a new piece of fire equipment. Proper training along with the new equipment were becoming very important for all who lived and worked in Stone Harbor.
This particular post card image bearing the caption “2nd Ave. Boulevard, looking South” shows the second fire house now sporting a two-story addition attached to the rear of the station and with a flat roof. This aerial view was obviously captured from the water tower just across the street and this linen post card was available in the late 1930s. In the far distant background to the south there is one rather solitary, large building which was the Villa Maria By-The-Sea retreat house that was built in 1937. This image clearly demonstrates Stone Harbor is continuing to grow and develop with more new houses and cottages.
The time would come 40 years later when in 1974, yet another fire house was needed and this time the building shown in the lower portion of this double-view 1980s-era post card shows the “third” fire station which is and continues to be the current fire station at the same location as its predecessor. As you can see, this new facility is considerably larger and houses far more updated pieces of fire and emergency/EMS equipment. This facility was formally dedicated at the time that Stone Harbor was celebrating its 60th Anniversary.
Since the year 1912 the Stone Harbor Fire Department continues to serve as a volunteer company. But it is very interesting to recognize that more recently and especially over the last 20 years or so, with appreciating property values combined with a lack of affordable year-round rentals for many, the result has become that fewer year-round volunteers are currently residing in Stone Harbor. It was reported in 2020 that only 8 of the 58 firefighters were actually living in Stone Harbor. Therefore, a serious staffing challenge was presented since the majority of the volunteer firefighters were living outside the Borough of Stone Harbor and this certainly impacted the critical response times for all emergencies. To rectify this growing and serious situation, the borough provided funds to have up to 4 firefighters actually stay at the fire station every night from 7pm to 7am. Apparently this change in personnel availability actually filled the gaps in coverage which often occurred on weekends and on holidays. In addition as of 2021, monies had been provided for hiring 9 paid firefighters who also were trained and certified as Emergency Medical Technicians or otherwise known as EMTs who are licensed by the state. In this manner every shift would have at least 3 firefighter/EMTs scheduled so that there was the essential and much desired 24 hour coverage every day. Emergency medical conditions and situations seem to be more common than fires on an everyday basis and EMTs have provided out of hospital emergency medical care and transportation for critical and emergent patients who access the emergency medical services (EMS) system. But as the Stone Harbor Fire Department still remains primarily a volunteer department, the Borough’s Office of Public Information has indicated, “The new, full time personnel will supplement the volunteer fire department so that adequate Fire and EMS coverage is in place 24 hours per day in Stone Harbor.”