OCEAN COUNTY – Former Ridgeway Fire Chief Frank Copeland of Manchester, and former Manitou Park Chief Garland “Griff” Griffin of Berkeley were part of an exhibit honoring Black fire chiefs at the New Jersey Fire Museum & Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Copeland, along with being a life member and fire chief of Ridgeway from 1978 to 1990, was also a District 7 forest fire warden.
He was drafted into the Army in 1963 serving active duty for two years and in the National Guard for 18 years. Copeland was employed by Toms River Chemical (Ciba Geigy Corp.) and is retired and living in the Carolinas.
Griffin, who died in 1994, served as Manitou fire chief from 1959 to 1976. He was also a talented artist. He created many hand-painted signs and did the lettering on many fire trucks in the area.
According to the website of the Manitou Park Volunteer Fire Company, “with only seven firefighters remaining in 1967, township officials suggested Chief Griffin disband the fire company and the township would use the firehouse to store road department equipment.”
Instead of giving in to the township, Chief Griffin went out to recruit new members anywhere they could be found. “A man doesn’t care what color a fireman is when his house is burning” was the slogan Griffin used to recruit new members.
The membership grew as men were joining from the surrounding areas. This proved to be the turning point in the history of the Manitou Park Volunteer Fire Company. At a time where most fire companies were resisting state directives to integrate, blacks and whites were working together fighting fires for the Fire Company.
The New Jersey Fire Museum & Fallen Firefighter Memorial Museum is located at 4 Polhemustown Road in Allentown. It opened this new exhibit in honor of Black History Month recognizing the accomplishments and honoring the service of several Black fire chiefs throughout New Jersey.
Dave W. Horsnall, the president of the New Jersey Fire Museum & Fallen Firefighters Memorial said, “we are hopeful this will be just the start as we intend to build and grow this exhibit so that it may become an example of the museum’s commitment and dedication to honor all those that wear the uniform and serve as the chief of their department.”
Manchester Councilman Joseph Hankins, also a firefighter, attended the event and stated, “I had a great time at the New Jersey Fire Museum. Many chiefs, departments, and most importantly family came together to recognize some of the Black fire chiefs of New Jersey exhibit.”
There Hankins met State Trooper RJ Frank Copeland, the grandson of the former Ridgeway Fire Chief who is currently living out of state and could not be present at the exhibit.