Prior to 1875, Gloucester City had no Fire Department. The only fire protection came from the mills such as The Bleachery, Washington Mills and Ancona Printing Works to name a few. On April 13th of that year a fire broke out after the explosion of a coal oil lamp in a framed dwelling occupied by a family named Dyer located on Middlesex Street and Willow Street. Two adjoining houses and the Washington House were entirely consumed. The estimated loss was $15,000 or what would be $355,000 in today’s money. It would have been even more disastrous if it were not for the steam-power and hoses of the Washington Mills and Ancona Works. This aroused the people to action.
On October 7th, 1875, city officials purchased a hook & ladder truck at a cost of $1,636.00. They approved construction of a one story wood building to house the hook & ladder truck which was to be known as the hose house. It would be constructed on the rear of the City Hall building which was located on the 300 block of Monmouth St, the same area of the current City Hall & Police Station today. The cost for the construction of the new hose house was approved on October 30th, 1875 for $689.84. On January 6th, 1876 the Hose House was reported as completed and the equipment was insured.
On December 2nd, 1875 the first Gloucester City Fire Company was organized by an ordinance of City Council. The committee which was appointed to organize the company was Philip H. Fowler, Aaron Fortiner and Captain Bowen. They requested to have a Foreman, 2 assistants and 10 able-bodied men to complete the company.
The original fire company of Gloucester City was as follows:
Foreman: Patrick Mealey
First Assistant Foreman: John Graham Sr.
Second Assistant Foreman: John J. Lafferty
Privates: Henry Gilmore, Andrew Mosser, James Foster, Joseph McAdams, Lawrence Conlohan, James McMahon, Sr., James McMahon, Jr., Joseph Berry, Herman Klosterman and William Shimp.
Nearly every one of the 13 men were old fire fighters from Philadelphia who were appointed given their past records. Applications were received for the position of Foreman, and at the recommendation of Captain Terrence McCusker of the Philadelphia Fire Patrol, Patrick Mealey, who was a member of the old Moyamensing Hose Company, was made Foreman. John Graham Sr., who was a member of the Good Intent Hose Company was made first assistant. John Lafferty, a member of the Niagara Hose Company was made second assistant.
The firemen received no pay, but they were exempt from assessment on private property to the amount of five hundred dollars and were beneficiaries of the Firemen’s Relief Fund, the growth of a state tax upon insurance companies.
The early GCFD Fire Apparatus consisted of one hook & ladder truck, three extinguishers and a fire dog.
The apparatus provided comprised one hook-and-ladder truck, fire-ladders, six fire extinguishers, six hooks,, thirty-six buckets, axles, rope, grappling irons, etc. There were no water-works outside the mills, and no means of procuring water save from wells, passed from hand to hand in buckets. One thousand feet of hose was procured, and on September 13, 1878, a carriage was purchased of the Union Hose Company of Lancaster, Pa.
The department was then re-organized as follows: Chief Engineer, Patrick Mealey; First Assistant Engineer, John P. Booth; Second Assistant Engineer, Henry J. West; Members, John Graham, James Foster, James McMahon, Sr., Andrew Mosser, Henry Gilmore, Joseph McAdams, John B. Farquhar, Edward Byers, James Truax, William Keown, Edward Shingle, Jacob Carter, Lawrence Conlohan, Michael Noon, Patrick Gilmour, John Lafferty, James McMahon, William Byers, Isaac Edwards, Theodore Hoffman.
In 1879, Assistants John P. Booth and Henry J. West resigned, and James McMahon and Jas. Foster were appointed to fill their places.
The department was placed under the control of five commissioners appointed by the Council, - three of them members of that body and two selacted from the citizens. In 1884 the commissioners increased the force to thirty-four, when these were appointed, - Edward Hutchinson, William A. Guy, Isaac Budd, Adin Owens, Ralph McDermott, John McElhone, Stansford Foster, Robert Walsh, William Shaw, William Stiles, and these, with those before-named, constitute the department.
The commissioners are, - Citizens: Philip H. Fowler (president) and Hugh Mullin; Council-men, William A. Guy, G.M. Barnard and Charles Rencorn. President Fowler is superintendent of the Gingham Mills, and was one of the first and most active promoters of the organization of the Fire Department, and has been president of the commissioners from the start.
The house occupied is the one first built, of wood, on the rear of the city hall lot. The firemen receive no pay, but are exempt from assessment on private property to the amount of five hundred dollars and are beneficiaries of the Firemen’s Relief Fund, the growth of a State tax upon insurance companies. In constructing the water-works, in 1883, fire matters were duly considered, and the necessity for fire-engines obviated by a direct pressure being brought to bear from the pumping engines upon the street hydrants insufficient to force the water over the highest buildings in the city.