“Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down.”
Ninety years since the company was founded, Fire Company No. 1 Chief Ken Graulich said the focus for firefighters nowadays is all about training.
Duty crews train on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, checking the trucks and running tools.
The firefighters also train once a week in simulated exercises such as getting dressed during a fire alarm, crawling around on the floor with their masks covered, building props, going through entanglement drills, using thermal imaging cameras and practicing hose line advancement. That is in addition to the 197 hours of initial training through the Middlesex County Fire Academy.
“I don’t think there is enough training out there. … It’s good to get back to the basics. We critique after each scenario.”
Of the approximately 60 total members at the oldest fire company in town, 25 are active. After 15 years of service — or 13 years if there is service as a line officer or business line officer — a member achieves life member status.
“We have some really good younger guys who I think will bring a lot to the firehouse,” Graulich said.
Yet the newbies have a long history of tradition to stand upon. Fire Company No. 1 dates back to 1925. James Joseph Gourley had opened his home for fire calls, but the 40 charter members decided the town needed some organized protection, and the men began meeting at the Berdine’s Corner Chapel, which used to be near the cemetery on Georges Road.
In 1931, the firefighters put up the money to build a firehouse on Maple Avenue, and in 1932 a new firehouse was constructed. Charlie Formica, who also worked as a mason in New York, asked some of his guys to volunteer their time on the weekends to build the firehouse.
Then, in 1990, the fire company moved to its current location off Cranbury Cross Road, a former county poor farm that housed county trucks, along with a barn with horses and a picnic grove.
The volunteers have been involved with some very serious fires over the past nine decades, such as when a tractor-trailer hit the back of a bus carrying Trenton State College students and professors in October 1959, killing 11 people; when a deep-fryer control malfunctioned in the restaurant part of W.T. Grant and caused a grease fire in 1969, resulting in all of the neighboring stores being damaged; and in September 1972, when the A&P supermarket on Milltown Road ignited, resulting in 16 outside fire companies being called in for assistance.
The circumstances of fires are different today, according to Graulich.
Because of newer construction with residential and commercial structures, the majority of buildings have sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, so there are not as many fires. Also, firefighters are given the opportunity to do a preconstruction walk-through to make sure everything is up to code.
Although smoking used to be the No. 1 cause of fires, most alarms today are for electrical fires, overloaded power strips and kitchen fires.
Car fires are more serious in the 21st century because of the electricity of hybrids, batteries that are located in any given part of a vehicle, and airbags that can deploy from any angle.
Solar panels present a new hindrance, as well; if a firefighter is looking to ventilate a fire through the roof, it is impossible. In addition, the composite of furniture makes fires burn hotter than they did decades ago, according to the chief.
“Modern technology tends to sometimes be our enemy,” Graulich said. “Sometimes you have to get creative on how you’re going to perform the same job at hand — you have to modify it.”
The 44th chief of Fire Company No. 1 said the instantaneous nature of a call to alert the department is also different now, as most people have a phone close by. In days gone by, a resident would have to run to a neighbor’s house to call 911, someone would drive by and see smoke and call dispatch, or even have to pull the handle of a fire alarm call box that would be located on the street.
“We went a long way from fire boxes on the side of the road to cellphones in our pockets,” Graulich said.
However, “a fire is a fire,” Graulich said, making the volunteerism aspect of fighting fires all the more impressive.
“These guys give up nights, holidays, weekends,” he said. “[On Thanksgiving], when the tones go off for a kitchen fire or smoky condition, these guys are leaving their families to go and help someone else.”
Or, since the firefighters have responsibilities outside of the firehouse, if they are on a call until the early morning hours, they still must get up for work.
“It’s very easy to turn over for a carbon dioxide monitor going off, but they don’t … even knowing they have a full-time job and families,” Graulich said.
Yet the volunteers continue to volunteer for the simple fact of wanting to give back to the community.
“It’s great to come here. It’s great to get on a firetruck and go to a call. You have the sense that you helped someone out,” Graulich said.
The mindset of giving back to the community dates back generations. Graulich said almost a dozen families at the firehouse have sons, fathers and grandfathers who have all served. The oldest living member, Ernest “Buzz” Boll, 93, still comes to monthly meetings, driven there by former Chief Pete Micale.
“It’s become part of their heritage, that this is what they did. I think the tradition has continued over the past 90 years here,” he said. “I’d like to see new generations of older firefighters continue.”
For the 90th anniversary, the fire company held a service in conjunction with Memorial Day, prior to receiving a proclamation from the Township Council on June 1.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.