"Protecting Rockleigh Borough since 1932"

ROCKLEIGH VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT

 

26 Rockleigh Road

Rockleigh, New Jersey 07647

 

Protecting Rockleigh Borough since 1932"

 

History of the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department
 

          As Rockleigh Borough developed on its own, the need for a Fire Department became evident. Between 1923 and 1931, Rockleigh had relied on the neighboring towns of Northvale and Norwood for fire assistance and paid an annual fee for their aid and cooperation. In 1932 the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department was organized and incorporated and requested they be recognized as the official Borough fire fighters. With the approval of all concerned they received financial assistance from the Borough to purchase a Mack truck and equipment from Ridgefield Park Fire Company for $200.00. Rockleigh had truly progressed!  But what would they do with the fire engine...there was no Fire House! Tallman's garage was "rededicated" as the official "Fire House". Over the next few years, they would disband and reorganize again in 1944. Within their early history, it is possible that they were the only fire company in Bergen County to boast having a "lady Fireman" in their ranks. Mrs. Paula Hinson Muzzio Willett was a full-fledged member of the department and even drove the engine!

"I lived there [at Rosehaven] from 1934 until I went away to college in 1952. I remember our first fire truck which we got after WWII..." Peter Van Strum, 2004

          

Towns  Here
Use Ex-Army
Fire Engines

———
(Special to the Bergen Evening Record)

     Newark, Apr, 21 -- Surplus fire trucks designed for military use have moved into peace-time fire-fighting organizations in 30 North Jersey communities. Director Robert W. Allan of the North Jersey District Office, War Assets Administration, said here yesterday. 
     "These fire trucks, for the most part, were used at airports where there were few if any hydrants." Allan said. "Each truck carries several hundred gallons of water and this is ideal for the suburban and rural community."
     Most of the engines were sold at less than $1,000 and many were
practically new, some with as few as 30 miles on the speedometer. Conversion to peace-time use seldom costs more than $500, Allan said. He added that for a maximum of $1,599 a community could get a fire truck valued near $10,000.

Bergen municipalities where volunteer fire departments have purchased War Assets Administration fire trucks are Moonachie, Allendale, River Vale, Franklin Lakes, Rockleigh, Wyckoff, and Upper Saddle River.

c. 1944 War Surplus Fire Truck  arrives in Rockleigh

 

Although the Day Brigade was not officially formed until 1964, it had long been recognized as a vital part of the Department. Today, its volunteers come from many firms that make up the Rockleigh-McBride Office an& Technical Park. The Day Brigade is the vital bridge that joins the commercial and residential communities in the daily life of the Borough.

 

 

Members of the 1973 R.V.F.D. Day Brigade, 
outside the new Fire House with old R-1,
an open-cab 1958 Mack pumper, in the left background.

 

           Recruitment for the Fire Department has always been a problem. Most Rockleigh men left each morning to work outside the Borough, leaving the town undermanned in the event of fire. A solution to the problem came in the 1950's when male employees of Astral Industries and Carlee Corporation volunteered their service for fire duty during the daylight hours. Hence, the "DAY BRIGADE" of the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department was born.

 Members of the R.V.F.D. lead by Chief George Kershaw line up for inspection at the 
Annual Fireman's Parade with old R-2, an open-cab 1954 Mack quad, in the background.  October 1973 

          Within the next dozen years, the R.V.F.D. would acquire a new 1978 Hamerleigh Mini-Pumper (R-1), a new 1979 Ford-Pirsch Maxi-Pumper (R-3) and a new 1984 Ford-Pirsch Maxi-Pumper (R-2), both equipped with state of the art 5" supply lines. In competent hands, these modern firefighting rigs would take the R.V.F.D. into the 21st century.

Rockleigh honors
Paula Willett

First Female Firefighter
also served on Council
———
By Chris Catania of The Suburbanite    August 30, 1995

 

 

 

Daniel Parretti, grandson of Paula Willett, and his wife Alisa of Northvale present present a photo and history article about the First Female Firefighter to Dr Ernie April, Rockleigh Borough Fire Chief.
(1995 Photo by Don Horsey)

 

ROCKLEIGH 30 August 1995 -- Several Valley town have marked the 75th anniversary of the woman's suffragette movement with ceremonies and even in a song. In Rockleigh, Paula Willett, one of the first local female officials, was recently remembered in a ceremony at the firehouse.

 Besides serving on the Borough Council in the 1920's and being Bergen County Republican Committeewoman, Willett, now 92, and a longtime resident of Corning, NY, was one of the first female firefighters, if not the first in the country. She appeared on the cover of several national magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post. 

Some of Willett's mementoes from those days, when the Miami Herald dubbed her America's Number One Good Neighbor, were donated to Rockleigh by Willett's grandson, Daniel Perretti, and his wife, Alisa, of Northvale.

"Why should we keep it," her grandson asked. "Let's give it to Rockleigh. They might really like to have it."    

Willett was surprised and pleased when told some of her photos were now on display at the Rockleigh Firehouse.

"That's something," she said. "I did a lot of work in town." Among her works was moving the borough hall to a better location and building a new firehouse alongside it.

While on the Council, the volunteer fire department started to dissolve, and there was talk of buying fire protection from another town, Willett thinks it was Norwood or Northvale, a move that would have cost considerably more.

Her reaction?  "I said nothing doing. Over my dead body." Willett then joined the department and learned how to drive the truck.

 "We had a lot of brush fires and many house fires," she recalled.

Besides the obvious differences with modern trucks, Willett said her truck had no siren, and employed a unique method of warning traffic. "It had very big wheels and you hit them with a hammer," she said. 

Besides working at the phone company in Closter, working in politics and fighting fires, as well as being chairwoman of the fund raising committee for Englewood Hospital, Willett found time in Rockleigh to be on the building committee, the postmistress, road commissioner and secretary of the board of health. 

 She hasn't been back to Rockleigh in almost a decade, but continues to be a good neighbor in New York and is still asked to be the grand marshal and ride in the fire truck at local parades.

Pauline Louise Muzzio Willett died in August, 1996, at the age of 93. 
Her funeral procession passed the Rockleigh Borough Hall and Firehouse as well as her former home on Willow Avenue.

 

EWA

AMERICA'S NO. 1
"GOOD NEIGHBOR"

Miami Herald / King Features Syndicate

Rockleigh, NJ, - 7 Nov 1951. If the nations of the world followed the personal "good neighbor" policy of Mrs. Pauline Louise Muzzio there never would be any wars. Attractive and red-haired Mrs. Muzzio believes that neighborliness should extend beyond the people "next door." That it should include everyone in town.

     In her town, Rockleigh, N.J., (pop. 130), she not only drives the fire truck—she's the only lady fireman in the country—but holds down six other non-paying jobs.

      Mrs. Muzzio is postmistress of the borough, road commissioner, secretary and registrar of the board of health, member of the building committee, Bergen County Republican committeewoman, and senior member of the town council.

     Mrs. Muzzio's only salary comes from being a telephone operator from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. During the day, she takes care of her house and grounds and conducts town business.

     Five years ago, Mrs. Muzzio and the town council decided it was time Rockleigh has its own fire department. State laws were checked to make sure that a woman could be a fireman. Nothing said she couldn't, so she took over.

     As registrar of the board of health, "Mrs. Rockleigh" issued a marriage licenses to both her daughters. Now she's waiting to fill out certificates for her new title" "grandmother."