History of the Jersey City Fire Department

Jersey City Fire Department Captain John O'Toole
Captain John O’Toole, circa 1925

Organized 1829 / Paid 1871
In the spring of 1829, there were several fires in Jersey City (pop. 1,025) and public opinion demanded protection against fire. The Board of Selectmen listened to the demand but the city treasury did not have enough money for fire protection. There was also no way of raising the needed funds through a tax .

An ordinance was passed which prohibited public auctions unless the auctioneer was licensed. A total of $839.50 was collected from the licenses. This money was used to pay for the needed fire protection.

A committee was appointed to find out how much a fire engine would cost. The committee decided to order a new engine from Henry Ludlum of N.Y. for $800.00. It was delivered on August 28, 1829, along with 100 feet of hose purchased for $87.50. The next problem for the Selectmen was to organize and form a fire company. Any citizen could sign up and become one of the first firemen in Jersey City. Thirty citizens signed on. On September 21, 1829, Liberty Engine Company No. 1 was organized and the engine was placed in the stable of Hugh McCutcheon’s “Farmers Hotel” at 42 York Street.

The first Chief Engineer (Chief) of the fire department was Samuel Bridgart. He was appointed by resolution on February 5, 1835.

In 1870, the fire departments of Jersey City, Bergen, and Hudson City consolidated under Chief Coyle. A volunteer force at the time was not adequate for such a large area. Because of this, the decision was made to organize a paid fire department. The working force for each company was uniformed, paid, and required to remain in the engine-house. A supplemental force known as “Buffaloes” was organized for each company . They were semi-volunteer and paid a small salary. Their duty was to respond to every alarm and perform the same fire duties as the full paid force.

From these small beginnings the Fire Department of Jersey City has grown into a professional fire department of the highest quality.

More on the history of the Jersey City Fire Department

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19 Responses to History of the Jersey City Fire Department

  1. Tamora Papas says:

    My father was a firefighter Engine Co 20 Jersey City Fire Department 1941. I am looking for the address of that firehouse. My son is an Engineer Firefighter in Polk County FL and wants to connect with his grandfather’s history in Jersey City.

  2. Bill Cook says:

    I have a photograph of my great great grandfather William H Cook, in his firefighter “uniform with helmet” It appears to have been taken around the 1870s. He lived in Jersey City on the census, however the photographer was from New Brunswick. I am not sure if he was with the Jersey City FD or the New Brunswick FD. He was with (I believe) engine company #4, he is listed as “engineer” on the census. Are there any rosters of the department members dating back that far?

    • FF says:

      I am a firefighter in New Brunswick. Our Union Hall, which also serves as NBFD’s fire museum is Engine Co. 4’s former firehouse. E-4 was disbanded around 1980. It is located on Remsen Ave and Suydam St. The building was built in 1886. I suppose your great great grandfather may not have served in that firehouse, but the company, E-4, has been around since 1803. There are many old photographs with names dating back to the turn of the century and older.

      My recommendation to you is to contact the Jersey City Fire Gong club. They are just off of Newark Ave near the police station on Erie St. in downtown JC. If your relative did not serve JC, swing by New Brunswick Fire Headquarter at Joyce Kilmer Ave and Handy St. Several guys have the keys to the museum.

      Best of luck!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Looking for any photos of John T Denmead, 1881 Asst Chief.Thank you.
    Paula Moen

  4. Graham Adams says:

    Does anyone know anything about John J. Cone, who I believe was a high ranking official of the JCFD in the late 1800’s.

  5. Robert Dillon says:

    My 2x great grandfather,Michael Dillon was a member of 4 hose and 7 engine company of Jersey city,New Jersey from 1861-1868.His obit also mentions
    Passaic hose company no 4.I would like to find out more about this company and also maybe get his photo.

  6. James York says:

    My grandfather John York was a fireman in Jersey City in 1887. Could you find out more details about him. My son is a fireman in Hartford, CT.

  7. James York says:

    My grandfather, John York, was a fireman in Jersey City in 1887. DO you have an information about him. My son is a fireman in Hartford, CT

  8. Kathy Flynn says:

    I am looking for history and anecdotes about my grand uncle, James A. Flynn who was active in the Jersey City Fire Dept. In the middle of last century.

  9. My wife’s great great grandfather, Theodore Leander Leonard, served as a member of the Jersey City Fire Department mid-nineteenth century. His membership certificate can be viewed here – http://www.millspaughfamily.net/images/theo-leonard-1848-fire-department-membership.jpg My understanding from your article is that firefighters were all volunteers until 1871. Thanks for your article.

  10. Carmel Bridgart says:

    Was the first Fire Chief, Samuel Bridgart the same Samuel Bridgart who was a Post Master? I am researching the Bridgart Family who I am related to.
    Is there a photograph of Samuel Bridgart?

  11. Elena M Durant says:

    My great grandfather on my grandmothers side was the pictured Captain John O’Toole. It is said he passed in 1934.

  12. Judith says:

    Does anyone know of a Kiernan who was stationed at the Liberty Station in the late 1800s?

  13. kathleen a mahoney says:

    I am the granddaughter of Peter J. Mahoney who was assigned, I believe, to the Greenville fire house. I know that at one time there was a room dedicated to him which is no longer in existence. My brothers and I are interested in making a trip to NJ to see what history there is pertaining to our grandfather’s service. Could you please direct us to where such information might be found. Kathleen A. Mahoney
    James V. Mahoney
    Peter J. Mahoney

  14. Joseph Ehmann says:

    I am the grandson of Joseph F Ehmann who is the fire chief of the Hudson County fire department based at Meadowview in Secaucus New Jersey during the 1940s 1950s 60s and early 70s but cannot find out anything about him anywhere is there anything out there to research his employment with the fire department

  15. Mary McNamara says:

    My uncle Charles Hagan (O’Hagan) was a fireman in Hudson County/ Jersey City in the early part of the century. Do you have any information on him. Thank you ☘️

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