Samuel W. Johnson Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1, Inc.
By John Long
S.W.J. Company Historian
History reveals that in 1875, Garnerville had experienced a rather severe fire, and the management of the Garner Print Works, realizing the need to protect it’s property, encouraged the founding of the Samuel W. Johnson Fire Company.
On June 6, 1876, a meeting was held in Garnerville at 7.30pm for the purpose of organizing a fire company. Twenty eight charter members were present all of whom were employees of the print works; since only employees would be eligible for membership.
So as the invention of the steam fire engine came out of the desperation for fire suppression, also was the founding Samuel W. Johnson S.F.E. Co. No. 1.
Samuel W. Johnson whose name was adapted by the company was an associate in the Print Works and Brother-in-Law of William T. Garner. Mr. Garner was very influential in providing the funds necessary for the purchase of the 1869 American LaFrance Button Steam Fire Engine.
The American LaFrance Button Steam Fire Engine was at the seen January 8, 1906 aiding the Haverstraw Fire Department in combating the land slide fires. The first decade of the 20th century was the beginning of the end for horse drawn fire engines. We were witnessing the passing of true “horse power”. Electricity came into the firehouse in 1912 and the need for motorized equipment was becoming more apparent. In June 1914, a 1910 Sterns Chemical Chain Driven Auto/Truck was added to the companies equipment. After 38 years, since its inception, the company acquired their first automobile fire apparatus. This complimented the fire fighting power of the steamer and moved the company into the 20th century. Also with the purchase of the Sterns came the transfer of the company from the Garner Print Works to the village of West Haverstraw, thus the company was now was supported by tax dollars not industry. In 1915, Garnerville become part of the incorporated Village of West Haverstraw Fire District.
homas Hester, Sr., was the last surviving charter member, dies on February 20, 1920. Our 1920 American LaFrance type 75 combination chemical and hose car was purchased for a cost of $9000.00, to which the Samuel W. Johnson Fire Company contributed $3000.00. 1930 sees the retirement of the “Steamer”. It will be used for exhibition purposes only.
The Samuel W. Johnson Ladies Auxiliary was formed when 26 of the members’ wives asked, and were subsequently granted, permission to do so in 1936. Ruth Thiell was one of the charter members and is to this day still active in the auxiliary. Thank you Ruth for over 65 years of dedicated service.
The first “Quad” was purchased in 1940. It was our first engine and cost $11,000.00. The engine was paid for over time and was owned outright by 1943. The company had contributed over $3000.00 towards the purchase. Twenty years later this truck would be replaced.
In 1960, a “Howe” Quad was purchased to replace the original quad at a cost of $27,000.00. This truck is stillin service today over 41 years later. Seems like it was a good investment. In 1966 a 1949 Mack 500 gpm pumper was add to the S.W. Johnson fleet.
Member Doug Mackey saw a need for an equipment truck and rather than burden the village with the expense of such a vehicle, designed and built 23-EQ from parts of numerous vehicles. He turned over ownership to the village in 1967.
1970 would see the replacement of the Mack 500 with the “Howe” 1250 gpm pumper. a unique feature of this truck was the two-stage pump. It could act as both a normal pump, flowing high volume or it could engage a high pressure pump for use on smaller fires. The 1250 was retired on July 11, 1999, another truck kept in service for nearly thirty years.
In 1976 Americal celebrated 200 years. S.W. Johnson also celebrates its 100th Anniversary with the opening of our current headquarters on Bridge Street.
Our first Aerial Quint/Tower arrives in 1988. Manufactured by Sutphen Corporation, the tower was purchased at a cost of $375,000.00. The Quint can act as the initial attack rig on structure fires, while providing the company with the capability to begin rescue from upper floors.
The second Sutphen truck was purchased in 1999. It is a 2000 gpm pumper with a ten person enclosed cab. The vehicle was over $40,000.00.
In July of 1999, Lisa Castaldo-Green became the first female firefighter in the 124 year history of Samuel W. Johnson S.F.E. #1.
The old Chevy (23-EQ) was replaced in 2001. A surplus ambulance is acquired from the Haverstraw Ambulance Corp. and is retooled for the fire service.
The surplus ambulance was then replaced by a new 2014 sutphen crew cab pickup with utility body on back that had the capablities of towing a decon trailer which was donated by Dept. 26 the thiells fire district.
The business of a fire company is saving lives and preserving property – in that order. As you can see by the history you have read, the Samuel W. Johnson S.F.E. Co. No. 1 of Garnerville has been a group of men and women dedicated to the citizens of Garnerville and the Village of West Haverstraw. Our rapidly changing life style has burdened our volunteer’s. Many people commute great distances to work and no longer have the time to devote to the volunteer service. They no longer have the time to devote to such a noble cause. The youth of today is the volunteer fire service of the future. Increased requirements and commitment for training, safety awareness and technology advancements have put a tremendous strain of the volunteer The members of our company have taken the attitude that this is “just part of the job”. Rest assured that we will always be evaluating our community’s needs and our company’s readiness. Those twenty eight charter members, although foregotten until today, had pride in doing good, working side-by-side, knowing that as volunteers, they were making sacrifices for their community. That pride still lives today, 125 years later! In Samuel W. Johnson Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1, We still have the memories and we still have the heritage of our company.