Monroe Townships first fire company was Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Company 1, which was founded in 1948 and incorporated in 1949. The first station was located at a gas station on Spotswood-Englishtown Road and Monmouth Road lead by Chief Van Applegate, Sr.. In 1967, the second fire company, Applegarth Volunteer Engine Company No 1. was created. Two years later in 1969, a third fire company, Central Monroe Volunteer Fire Company was founded. Their first chief was Robert Axelrod and they were located in a township garage on Schoolhouse Road.
Over 50 years ago some homes in the Applegarth District were destroyed due to delays in response time. Monroe’s first fire company was located on the other side of town by the Spotswood border and struggled to provide protection to our growing township. At this time in history, Monroe Township received help from our neighboring towns of Cranbury, Manalapan, Hightstown, Englishtown, and Jamesburg. Eventually, Spotswood and Helmetta would also come to our side of town to provide aid. Despite their help, many homes were burnt to the ground before fire crews could arrive on the scene.
Monroe Township paid these neighboring fire departments $500.00 each year for their services. Eventually these town objected to an annual sum of $500 which they considered inadequate and requested $2,000 per year. This information alarmed Monroe Township residents. Some decided it was time to start a fire company on their side of town. These residents went to the Mayor of Monroe Township but were unsuccessful. The Mayor stated there were limited funds to pay for required land, trucks, buildings,, and fire fighting equipment. When Monroe Township resident Oliver Jackson’s home on Wyckoff Mills Road was lost to fire, it became clear we needed a fire company immediately. Soon after, Vincent Ely, a long time resident of Monroe, called a meeting of neighbors to discuss the creation of a new fire company. These men sat at Vincent Ely’s kitchen table, took out their wallets, and each put $20 towards the creation of the fire company. They scheduled their first official meeting on February 14, 1967.
During the next few months, more meetings would be help and more potential volunteers stepped forward. Meetings were help at the old courthouse on Jamesburg/Englishtown Road and also at the Bhares Den (now the Lobster Shanty) and Applegarth Inn (now Domenico Restorante). These meetings tended to last for several hours – the longest recorded was over 4 hours. During one such meeting, it was decided that if anything should happened to the fire company and it was necessary to close its doors, the property, building and anything owned by the company will be given to the Boy Scouts of America. This was made possible by Martin Borsuk, who not only was a Charter member of the Fire Company but also very active as a Scout leader.
On June 6th, 1967, Applegarth Volunteer Engine Co. #1 was officially chartered by the State of New Jersey. There were 48 Charter Members in our first company: Chief Vincent L. Ely, George W. Allen, Lee R. Allen Sr, George Bradford, Martin Borsuk, Thomas H. Budny, Nicholas F. Canonico, Walter L. Chamberlain, Paul Chisney, Richard Clickner, Augustus Clark, John Czyzykowski, Joseph Davino, Louis Davino, Michael J. Dipierro, Roy E. Etsch, Robert Farr, Antonio Feberico, Dominick Glordano, Francis J. Hoffman, Oliver H. Jackson, Richard J. Joyce, Warren E. Katerba, Carl Kirkpatrick, George Kozlowski, John Kutch, Robert Larsen Jr., Anton Mayer, Robert G. Maltby, Frank Morgan, Clifford K. Perrine, Walter R. Pullen, John Rockafellow, Edward Schiremeyer, William B. Schlegel, Byron Seals, Henry B. Sears, Nathan Shulman, Harold R. Stillwell, S. Joseph Szczepanik, H. Leroy Tindall, Nathaniel Tischler, Edward J. Tucker, William A. Tungate, Gaywood Wagner, Julian Wondolowski, James Woodward, Eugene J. Wojciechowski.
Four days later, we purchased our first fire engine from Farmingdale Fire Company on June 10, 1967 for $500.00. Since we did not have the land…or a fire house, the fire truck was kept in Chief Vincent Ely’s barn. During the winter, a furnace had to be installed in Mr. Ely’s garage to keep the truck from freezing. Meanwhile, Vincent Ely, Nathaniel Tischler, Warren Katerba and George Bradford were assigned the project of finding property for the fire company. The committee soon obtained the property the firehouse currently sits on from Mr. & Mrs. Cooper.
As plans were drawn up for the firehouse, money was raised through fund raising thanks to the Ladies Auxiliary. The Ladies Auxiliary, which was incorporated 1967, set up monthly dances, coin tosses, cinder block sales, raffles, picnics, and bake sales provided income for the building materials. Despite all the fund raising, we still had to get a mortgage. Treasurer William Schlegel went to what was the Cranbury National Bank and working with them was able to obtain a $25,000.00 mortgage. In September of 1969 the following members signed personally to guarantee the loan: Vincent Ely, Oliver Jackson, Joseph Szczepanik and George Kozlowski. The mortgage was obtained and was later paid in full on December 26, 1989.
Construction of Applegarth:
The building was started with the help of members who also worked as contractors. They provided bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks and saved us hours of backbreaking work. Several volunteer laborers poured the footing. The river bed running next to and behind the firehouse was dragged for fill. It was dredged so deep that the well of a neighbor went dry. 36 inch wide walls of over size blocks went into place. The extra wide footing and the extra sized block were in place to provide strength for a 2nd floor addition in the future e when we would afford the materials and labor. Material for our building such as bricks, cinder blocks, and lumber was bought at auctions. Labor by volunteer firefighters raised the building, completed the plumbing, electrical, roofing, and building maintenance all while still attending drills to get the proficiency of firefighting.
To keep everyone updated on the progress of the firehouse, a month newsletter was sent out to members and a quarterly edition was sent to homes within our fire district. The newsletter was called “The Blaze.” This edition ran for many months until it was no longer needed.
The doors to the firehouse finally opened in 1971. Chief Vincent Ely was thrilled to have his long dream of providing fire protection come true… while also equally excited to have his wooden barn back to himself.
When we started our company, many people donated to our cause. Along with our first fire engine, we received a former army truck – a duce and half converted to fight brush fires. Volunteers welded a 1,000 gallon water tank to the back to fight brush fires. As time went on we began replacing, purchasing, and receiving other apparatus. We soon bought a used Mack Fire Truck from Hightstown to replace our outdated Dodge Engine. Hess Oil Company donated 2 tankers. A Ward LaFrance Engine… which we still have today was donated by the Coopers. An ambulance was donated and used for several years by our volunteer fire/ems.
Right from the beginning, Applegarth was used almost immediately. We responded to brush fires in Jamesburg to forest fire calls all over the state for days at a time. We brought water to the owners of Capital Hills Farm after the tragic fire and loss of two lives and many horses and spent two days at The Mack Lumber Yard. We went to Trenton to pump cellars during flooding in the city and then to Jamesburg and Hightstown to help fight major house fires. One member even pulled a child from a burning home saving the child’s life.
In the late 70s, we started a Junior firefighter program for high school students. We had our first female firefighter – Tish O’Connor, and ironically a fire at the fire house that cause a decent amount of damage.
In 1977, the Monroe Township Fire Company No. 1 and the Applegarth Volunteer Engine Company No. 1 filed a petition asking for fire districts to be established in the township. Prior to that time the fire companies were functioning under a state statute requiring that each of the three fire companies equally divide an annual appropriation of $36,000. This arrangement was the basis of significant discontent. Litigation ensued ultimately resulting in the establishment of the current fire districts.
**NOTE: CURRENT FIRE DISTRICT INFORMATION (Last updated 12/2016)
- District 1 (Fully Volunteer): Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Company # 1 was the first company in Monroe. Therefor they were assigned as District 1. They are currently located on the east-side of town bordering Helmetta, Jamesburg, Spotswood, and Oldbridge.
- District 2 (Paid and Volunteer): Applegarth Volunteer and newer sister station (built in 2010) down the street – Station 57 were assigned as District 2. We are located on the west-side of town bordering Cranbury, East Windsor, and Millstone.
- District 3 (Fully Paid): Located in Central Monroe, this district is protected by two paid stations: Station 23A and the newly designed Station 23B. District 3 borders South Brunswick, Jamesburg, Manalapan, and Old Bridge.
Like other volunteer companies in the surrounding area, Applegarth was suffering the townships “growing pains” throughout the 1980s. Sprouting industrial and retirement complexes, nursing homes and single family developments brought more fire protection responsibilities during the daytime when volunteers weren’t around. For a short time, the decision to hire part time paid firefighters was suggested but this idea was fought fiercely against by residence and the volunteers. However after a series of fires, a decision was finally made to hire a paid staff to protect the township. On November 16th, 1987 the township hired three men – Van Applegate Jr., Lenny LeBrun and James Hoffman. These men became the first paid firemen in the township’s history. The three firefighters worked out of the Applegarth firehouse on a five-day, eight hour basis, from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Volunteers would fill the night and weekend shifts.
In the 90s, our township continued to grow even more. Warehouses, additional schools, and more 55+ and single family communities caused the need for additional paid firefighters and additional fire stations. Central Monroe Volunteer Fire Company on Schoolhouse Road eventually turned to an all paid staff with volunteers firefighters for support. However, over time many volunteers moved to Applegarth or Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Company 1. Meanwhile, career and volunteer firefighters worked side by side operating out of Applegarth Station. In 2010 with the opening of our sister paid station down the street, Applegarth returned to being 100% volunteer.
The following year, Hurricane Irene struck and caused severe damage to the station. Water levels were so high that gear and equipment practically flowed out of windows. Some equipment had to be fished out of the river bed behind the station…even more was discovered around the station, woods, and the river bed for weeks and months to come. As a result, 2012 carries the record for the lowest number of volunteers in the history of our company.
The next few years were a struggle for the company but gradually our number of volunteers began to increase. In 2016, our station purchased a desperately needed replacement for our outdated 1985 engine. Our new but used Engine 57 – a 2008 Toyne became the pride and joy of our company. Today, we answer an average of 550 calls per year. We are steadily rebuilding our supply of volunteer firefighters. We are Applegarth Volunteer Engine Company #1, proudly serving Monroe Township for 50 years. We thank you and our community for the constant support!