In 1920, when the Borough of Little Ferry had a population on only 2,600, George Petrik sparked an idea and rallied support to form a Hook & Ladder fire company to further protect the citizens of this growing community from the dangers of fire.
As support for this idea grew, a group of civic-minded citizens, in Jan. 1921, visited with the firemen of the Little Ferry Hose Co. #1, established in 1907, to request cooperation and assistance in forming a ladder company. Following a vote of support, a caucus meeting was held in Tony’s Barber Shop on the corner of Garden Street and Lodi Avenue (present-day Main Street) to finalize plans.
On Feb. 28, 1921, during an official municipal meeting of the Borough of Little Ferry, held in the Marshall Ave. firehouse, a formal citizens’ petition was introduced. This written declaration respectfully petitioned the governing body to take the necessary actions to incorporate a new organization. The organization was to be known as the Little Ferry Hook & Ladder Co. #1 and be a part of the Little Ferry Volunteer Fire Department.
This action was taken in accordance with an 1876 U.S. legislative act, which provided the incorporation of fire companies. The Mayor and Council of 1921, unanimously, approved the petition, forming the volunteer Hook & Ladder company.
Charter members listed in the first minutes of the newly-formed company were:
John Gerber, Jr.
Henry Werneking, Jr.
All of these pioneers of the company have since answered their last alarms.
Upon the recommendation of Fire Chief Chester Schopp on December 7, 1922, the first ladder truck was purchased by the Borough of Little Ferry. This 1923 American La France featured a chain drive with hard-rubber tires and an array of ground ladders. When the new vehicle arrived, it was initially housed in the Hose Company firehouse after the removal of a wall partition, to allow the truck to fit inside the apparatus room. A short time later, the first ladder truck made its home in the Hook & Ladder firehouse on Main Street.
The company meetings of the Hook & Ladder were initially held in the Marshall Avenue Hose Company firehouse until new quarters were proudly opened in 1923. The original building at 124 Main Street remains the company’s home today. The physical structure of this firehouse was built from donated bricks manufactured in the Borough, which at that time was known as a leading manufacturing center of masonry bricks.
The Company met in its Main Street firehouse for the first time on September 18, 1923. On Flag Day, June 14, 1924, a Borough-wide celebration included the dedication of the Hook & Ladder Firehouse. William Zabransky Jr. was Chief of Department at the time. The celebration included a grand parade from the Sokol Hall and presentation of the Company’s first American flag by the Taxpayer’s Association.
The Hook & Ladder building is owned by its members, and over the years, with their permission, has been used for many purposes besides a firehouse. For years, the Little Ferry First Aid Corps., once solely operated by the Little Ferry Fire Department, housed an ambulance in a garage bay designated for this volunteer first aid service. The firehouse was also used as an official polling center for district citizens to cast their votes on election days. Today, only members are permitted to make personal use of the building for themselves and immediate family by renting the hall for a nominal fee.
The Hook & Ladder building has been maintained and improved based on public donations that the company solicits during its annual fund drive. Years ago, the door to door collections were known as “tag days”, when members would seek donations to collect operating funds.
In 1953, the original building was expanded to the rear with the addition of a single story meeting room. In 1970, a major modernization included paneling and tiling of the apparatus and meeting rooms, installation of a gas heating system, and addition of a storage room. A second apparatus room was added alongside the original in 1984, to accommodate the added height of newer fire trucks.
In 1988, the second floor meeting room was paneled and carpeted, later to be equipped with furniture and a console TV for members’ use. In 1989-90, the building’s Main Street exposure received a face-lift with the addition of a brick veneer, new insulated garage doors, and a customized wooden Hook & Ladder sign. Also within that timeline, remodeling was completed of a storage room and private Captain’s office. In 1992, the firehouse electrical system was upgraded, bathrooms remodeled and a floor to ceiling trophy case was added to the meeting room. Terrazzo type flooring replaced the traditional linoleum floor tiles and central air conditioning was installed in 1993.
In 1925, William Vasek was elected the first Chief of Department from the Hook & Ladder Company. Also during that same year, records reveal that members started to form organized committees to see that the firehouse was cleaned and maintained. The membership continues to keep the building clean with members performing monthly cleaning assignments, rotating turns based on an alphabetical listing of the active members’ roster.
The Hook & Ladder purchased it’s first computer for record keeping in 1990 and has continued to upgrade the unit as needs dictate based on the Computer Committee’s recommendations. The company hosted its first New Jersey and New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association Convention Parade in 1991, with many special committees to make this event a great success. The Christmas Committee added a sleigh and reindeers to the H & L Santa Route in 1994. Over the years, many standard operating and special committees have existed and continue today to carry out Company business.
After retirement of the Company’s first ladder truck, a 1923 American La France, the Company placed in service its second vehicle, a 1951 Mack. This quad was equipped with a 750 gallon-per-minute pump, ground ladders, and hose. The quad was replaced by the company’s third apparatus, a 1967 Howe 75-foot aerial ladder. This quint featured a 1,000 gallon-per-minute pump, booster to 3-inch hose and an array of firefighting equipment. A 1971 GMC Utility Truck was added to the department in 1972. Over the years, responsibility for this truck has been shared by the Hose Company and Hook & Ladder and functionally replaced with the Hook & Ladder’s E-One Fire Rescue Truck placed into service in 1994. The Hook & Ladder’s fourth apparatus was a 1987 LTI 85-foot rear mount tower ladder. This apparatus was equipped with a booster pump and an inventory of firefighting equipment.
In December 1993, the company received its newest in service apparatus, a Simon Duplex E-One Rescue Truck. This command center vehicle is equipped with a telescoping light tower to provide lighting of the emergency scene. Fire/Rescue equipment is maintained on this apparatus to handle fire scene communications and execute life saving rescues. In 1995, a rescue raft was added to provide readiness for water emergencies. In 2010, the Hook and Ladder purchased the fifth ladder truck in its history, an American La France/LTI 100′ Midmount.
Ladies Auxiliary and Junior Firefighters
Members recognized early on that the ladies in their lives would like to become involved in the activities of the Hook & Ladder Company. At the July 11, 1924 meeting, a motion was made by Bruno Boettcher and seconded by Stanley Kuss that a meeting be held on July 21st for the purpose of organizing a Ladies Auxiliary of Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1. The Hook & Ladder Ladies Auxiliary continues to serve and support this Company ongoing.
It was also decided in 2009 that the future of the company’s roster could be stronger with the inclusion of a Junior Firefighter program.
The Captain and Lieutenant, known many years ago as the Foreman and Assistant Foreman, lead fire command of the company. These line officers take their direction from the three chiefs of the department. The apparatus drivers of today were at one time called chauffeurs. Many years ago, regular firemen were known as privates.
The Hook & Ladder members of today continue to uphold many of the traditions established by their forefathers. Company Meetings are held at 8 P.M. on the second Friday of each month. This meeting is presided over by the Company President who runs the meeting based on the “Robert’s Rules of Order” with adherence to the Company’s By-laws. Other Company officers include Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Chief Driver and Assistant Chief Driver.
Committee chairmen continue to report on operating progress at each monthly meeting. Each meeting traditionally closes with a standing tribute, with the reading of a Firemen’s prayer, the naming of each departed member, and observance of a moment of silence.