2003-06-18 / Front Page
Police and fire celebrate 75th anniversary
By elaine van develde
Middletown’s police and fire departments both celebrated 75 years on the beat Saturday. While the beat was as expansive then as it is now, neither department was anywhere near their present size.
Three-quarters of a century later, the township’s fire department is boasted as the largest all-volunteer department in the world. The police department is one of the largest in the state.
When both officially became departments in 1928, there was one police chief/patrolman in the police department, and 180 members in the then nine companies that comprised the fire department.
The fire department’s establishment, rolling all of its companies into one unit, became a reality in August 1928.
Until then, fire companies operated independently and peppered the 41-square-mile township’s separate villages.
The first of those modest, yet effective, fire companies was Navesink Hook and Ladder Fire Company No. 1, formed in 1886.
When it got to be a bit much of a burden for the men of Navesink to tote around buckets and makeshift hoses on horse-drawn carriages throughout the entire township, another company was formed in 1903.
That company was the Brevent Park and Leonardo Fire Company.
From that point on, seven more companies were formed: Belford Engine Company No. 1 in 1916; Community Fire Company of Leonardo in 1922; East Keansburg Fire Company No. 1 in 1922; Port Monmouth Fire Company No. 1 in 1924; and River Plaza Hose Company No. 1 in 1927.
After a meeting at the Community Fire Company’s firehouse in the summer of 1928, the decision was made to bring all the companies together under one department. The vision became a reality in August of that year.
After all the companies were recognized as one department, the Lincroft Fire Company was created in May 1932 and the Old Village Fire Company formed in September 1955.
The first fire chief of the department, now served by nearly 800 volunteers, was Henry Pulsch of Port Monmouth.
Pulsch Street in Port Monmouth, where the new township skate park sits, was named after the former chief.
Current Fire Department Chief William Gilmartin is also from Port Monmouth.
In addition to its massive staff of active firefighters, reservists, life and social members, the department also has an air unit and special services such as fire police, air support and field communications units. In addition, the department has a hazardous materials team, a confined space team, and a children’s fire safety trailer.
There is also a Middletown Township Fire Academy next to the township’s pistol range on Normandy Road which provides a training ground for volunteers as well as outside paid departments.
While the fire department was formed in August 1928, the police department took a slightly earlier turn in May 1928 toward the official formation of its one-man department.
Now, the Police Department has 110 officers and several divisions. In its first days, though, it had one full-time officer/chief whose hiring marked the formation of a department.
"The 75th anniversary celebration is a wonderful way to earmark 75 years of professional service provided by the men and women of the Middletown Township police and fire departments," Police Chief John Pollinger said. "It honors not only the current members of each department, but acknowledges the significant contributions made by past members as well as those who are now deceased."
The police department "was formed on May 15, 1928, with the hiring of full-time police officer Earl N. Hoyer," according to a department history compiled by township police Detective 1st Class Adam Finck.
Hoyer was hired by the township at an annual salary of $125, according to the history.
Despite having no police headquarters, Hoyer patrolled the township on a motorcycle donated by a group of residents. He started and ended his daily beat rounds from his home off Navesink River Road.
Three years after Hoyer was appointed, the first police station was built at Campbell’s Junction in Belford. There was another officer, William Fix, and other special officers who helped out.
By the time Hoyer retired, there were 30 police officers plus volunteers on the force. Raymond "Red" Walling became chief of police in 1965 and served until 1967, when Joseph McCarthy became chief.
Under McCarthy’s leadership, the department became known as a "no nonsense" aggressive force with no tolerance for law breakers.
McCarthy didn’t ride a motorcycle in the 75th anniversary parade, as Hoyer did in his first days on the beat, but he rode in an antique automobile as grand marshal representing the police.
Jack C. Fowler, who has been a member of the Lincroft Fire Company for more than 50 years, served as grand marshal for the fire department.
Fowler was chief of the department in 1963. His father, John, was chief in 1953, and son Dennis in 1996.
The passing of the police and fire service torches from one generation to the next has become a mainstay in the township and one its officials are proud of.