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Department History, Part 1

Written by Lee Ryan

In 1895, fire service for what would become the Borough of Oaklyn was provided by the Defender Fire Co. No. 1 of Orston (later Audubon). Several Defender members were from Oaklyn, a section of Haddon Township. Minutes from the Defender Fire Co. No. 1 dated April 22, 1902 note that a motion was made for $43.26 to be drawn in favor of the Oaklyn apparatus fund. That is the first mention of what would become Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1. On the first page of the beginning minutes book for Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1, dated April 25, 1902, it is stated that “at a meeting of the Oaklyn branch of Defender Fire Co. No. 1, held at the station (Defender’s fire house), to raise funds to finish Fire Apparatus, also to procure a Charter for a Fire Co. to be known as Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1, the following Officers were elected for one year.” Officers were elected and it was agreed that membership would be limited to twenty (20). David E. Oakes was elected President and Conrad Bart was elected Chief. The next meeting was to be held at Mr. Oakes’ house on April 30th. At a meeting at Montgomery Hall (present day location of Dunkin Donuts on the White Horse Pike) on June 7, 1902, the name of Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1 was adopted and the new company officially organized.

Membership was increased to twenty-five active members at a meeting held on June 30, 1902. The company’s first apparatus was a two-wheel cart with a large wooden barrel and reel of hose. An 1867 two man W.C. Douglas hand pump was mounted on another two-wheel cart. This pump is on permanent loan to the fire department courtesy of the McCarthy family whose ancestor had purchased it from the fire company so long ago.

Locomotive tires were obtained from the railroad and housed in wooden frames about twenty feet high. A sledge hammer attached to a pulley and rope was used to sound the alarm of fire. These frames were located throughout the town.

Fundraisers were held to raise monies for a fire house and a fire wagon. Members built a temporary wooden fire house between September 5 and 7, 1903 on a parcel of ground being purchased from Joseph C. Hollingshead. This lot was located on Newton Ave. at the foot of W. Greenwood Ave. and was paid off in February, 1904.

On February 13, 1905, a new fire wagon was ordered from Procejus & Knauf in Camden City. The cost was $330. The apparatus was delivered in late May and housed on June 3, 1905. The company now had a horse drawn apparatus. That same year, the Borough of Oaklyn was incorporated.

On July 3, 1906, Borough Council voted to move their meetings from Montgomery Hall to the fire hall (Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1) that evening. The rental fee was $4.00 per month.

In April 1906, citizens who could not join Oaklyn Fire Co. No. 1 due to its closed charter held meetings to form a second fire company. After months of planning Welcome Volunteer Fire Co. was chartered on November 19, 1906 and incorporated November 21, 1906. The first meeting was held in the cellar of Albert Traunecker’s home located on the northwest corner of W. Beechwood and Newton Aves. The members chose “Welcome” because the newly formed company had an open charter. Anyone who desired to help protect life and property from fire was welcome to join their ranks. Herman Heiligman was elected as President and Chief.

A short time after organizing, the company relocated to the barn of member William Traumbauer on W. Collingswood Ave. A forty foot wooden ladder and several buckets were purchased and utilized by the members. The ladder and buckets were hand carried to the fire scene by the members who formed a bucket brigade to shuttle water to the fire. Welcome’s first apparatus was a fire wagon built in 1908 by one of the company’s members who was a wagon builder. It was drawn by a single horse and a pump mounted atop the wagon was added in 1909. Ed Bartels’ barn housed the horse to pull the apparatus. Unfortunately, more often than not the members pulled the wagon to the fire. On one occasion, Welcome was called to assist Audubon on a fire and the members hand pulled the fire wagon to the scene. Upon arriving, they fell in the street exhausted from their efforts. Audubon’s firemen were able to use Welcome’s equipment to good advantage.

Continued in Part 2.