Monday, March 4, 2024

Fun and Fire Trucks at Frelinghuysen Founder’s Day

Eager participants waited for their chance to “Dunk Mayor Ramos” as part of a fundraiser for the new tanker truck. Photo by C. O’Chang, 5/2023

After a few spatters of rain, the sun broke out in glorious sunshine over the Recreation Center at Frelinghuysen Forest Preserve, the site of Frelinghuysen’s annual Founder’s Day on June 3rd.

There was the steady pulse of beats spun by DJ Dave. There was the thud of bean bags hitting the cornhole boards, the smell of popcorn, and the bright colors of freshly made snow cones.

Frelinghuysen’s Founder’s Day, traditionally scheduled for the first Saturday of June, is a long-time effort of the Recreation Committee.

“It’s a time for the neighbors to get to know each other that maybe don’t get a chance to get out and meet each other all the time. For some of the newer people, welcoming them to the community,” said Frelinghuysen Mayor Keith Ramos. “It’s a community day.”

The community had come out despite the threat of rain clouds. Ramos wasn’t surprised. To
hear him say it, that’s just how Frelinghuysen is.

“I’ve been here for 15 years,” he said. “I think that this community is a little unique. I’ve seen it through the worst of times, when the pandemic hit, or when Irene and Sandy hit. I mean, this community comes together like none other.”

At the event, the most eye-catching sight of all was a 1,000-gallon capacity fire truck, property of the newly formed Frelinghuysen Volunteer Fire Company Station #84.

Frelinghuysen’s new 1,000-gallon fire truck was on display. Photo by C. O’Chang, 5/2023

“See that?” Mayor Ramos said, nodding toward the truck. “That’s progress right there.”

It’s the only volunteer fire department to be founded in New Jersey within the past twenty years, Ramos said. This year’s Founder’s Day included fundraising activities for the new fire
department, including the chance to throw a ball at a target that, if hit, would dunk the mayor into a vat of water the color of chocolate milk. Attendees of all ages gleefully accepted the challenge.

For most of its existence, Frelinghuysen called on fire departments from other towns to meet its needs: Blairstown Hose Company No. 1, the Green Township Fire & Rescue and the Hope Volunteer Fire Department.

Last year, the Frelinghuysen Township Committee passed an ordinance that amended the town code and allowed for the creation of a fire department for the town.

Fundraising efforts for the new fire department began with a GoFundMe, first organized by
Ramos in April. So far, it has raised $3,325 of its $150,000 goal.

The fire department’s appointed chief, John R Shoemaker, Jr., was in attendance at Founder’s Day. A firefighter of over thirty years, he knows his fire equipment, and he’s a big fan of the fire company’s new truck.

“Yes, it’s used, but it’s in super shape,” he said. “It looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. So it’s a very good piece for us.”

At the same time, he also knows the costs of all the other necessities that go with the
dangerous and highly technical task of fighting fires. “People don’t understand or comprehend all the minutiae of what has to be [there]. All those tools on that truck probably cost nearly as much as the truck does,” he said.

He described other equipment costs, according to his experience:
–air masks (new) for ten people: $97,000
–spare cylinder: $1,000
–portable radio: between $700 and $1,000
–outfitting each member with fireproof coat, pants, and boots: almost $2,000
–fireproof gloves, one pair: $150
–helmet: $300

Luckily, as an all-volunteer department, the fire company won’t need to worry about salaries and benefits. But the next piece of equipment that Shoemaker hopes to get comes with a mind-boggling price tag: a tanker, also called a tender, a vehicle that resembles an oil delivery truck.

Shoemaker estimates that a new tanker would cost around a million dollars. The fire department has applied for state and federal grants to help cover the eye-watering costs of new equipment.

If all goes well with their fundraising efforts and sending at least eight new members to the Warren County Fire Academy for New Jersey State Firefighter Certification, the new department hopes to open in May 2024.

Chip O'Chang
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.