STAFFORD – The names of local volunteers willing to run into burning buildings to save lives may have changed over the last century. However, they’re all worthy of celebration.
At least a dozen other area fire companies joined the Stafford Township Fire Department for the parade opening its 100th anniversary ceremony last Saturday. They came from as far north as Lanoka Harbor and as far south as Absecon – with occasional siren blasts, bells ringing and flashing lights.
Meanwhile, the Stafford Township Fire Department wasn’t the only one recognized for years of volunteer service. The Stafford Township Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary celebrated its 75th anniversary of providing aid to firefighters.
According to TJ Norman, Committee Chairperson for the 100th Anniversary Celebration, approximately 100 men and women are listed as either active or life members of the local fire department. The youngest just graduated high school last year.
“Tom Samler is 89 and our oldest member,” said Norman. “He joined the department in 1959.”
With more than 60 years dedicated to the local fire service, Samler’s not out fighting fires anymore. However, he had a spot in one of Stafford’s old-time pieces of fire equipment at the head of the parade.
The Stafford Fire Department boasts an impressive lineup of fire apparatus acquired over the last century. They have two ladder trucks, as well as six fire engines. One of the engines is a rescue, and another is a tanker. The newest piece of equipment is a 2021 Pierce Enforcer, a 107-foot Ascendant Heavy-Duty Aerial Ladder truck.
While they weren’t part of the parade, the local fire department also has two boats. There’s also a high-water truck that resembles an old army high-water rescue truck. The latter is sometimes referred to by its “Deuce and a Half” nickname.
In addition to a couple of chiefs cars and pickups, the Stafford Fire Department also has two antiques, including a 1924 Reo. The Ladies Auxiliary has its own vehicles to use when it provides aid to the volunteers.
The township has two fire stations, with one on Nautilus and the main station on Stafford Avenue. Volunteers are alerted by pagers when they’re needed on calls and respond to their respective stations depending on the proximity to their homes.
Many of the fire calls are for structural fires, where saving people and property are primary concerns. The local department is also involved in extrications, meaning that someone trapped in a motor vehicle or industrial equipment needs to be rescued. The Stafford Fire Department also puts out brush fires, although the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is better equipped for wildfires.
While most of the time, the local fire company provides mutual aid to surrounding communities, there have been occasions they’ve responded to calls outside Ocean County.
“We’ve gone and been called as far north as Newark,” said Norman. “We were just called there recently and didn’t end up going because they fixed their problem. We’ve gone as far north as Sussex County and as far south as Cape May County.”
The 100-year anniversary celebration ended with a four-hour party at the Nautilus Station. Approximately 500 people attended and enjoyed live music, good food and drinks together.
Norman has been a firefighter with the department for the last ten years. He says the fire company is always looking for volunteers, as is the ladies auxiliary. Norman offered his personal reason for dedicating a decade of his life to a job that comes with no monetary rewards.
“I just basically wanted to help my community in some way,” Norman shared. “I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people around me.”
In the meantime, Norman said he recognized the local government’s role in making it possible for all of the department members to get their job done.
“I think it’s important to thank the mayor, the council and the administrator for their support over the years,” said Norman. “Without them, we wouldn’t have the equipment and things we need to do our job.”