Liberty Corner Fire Co. Celebrates its First 100 Years
Morning parade, followed by daylong fair, mark event held at firehouse.
A century of volunteer service was reason enough for the Liberty Corner Fire Co., to arrange Saturday's parade and a full-day birthday bash afterward at the firehouse on Church Street.
It also was a good reason for Allen "Red" Stewart, who served as company chief in the mid-1950s, to come home from South Carolina and ride in the parade that began at 11 a.m.
"I rode on a truck that I was on the purchasing committee to buy in 1957," said Stewart, who said he traveled 750 miles to be part of the 100th anniversary celebration. Stewart, 87, joined the company in 1949. The current chief, Peter Aprahamian, mentioned Stewart among the 43 ex-chiefs he thanked for past service during a ceremony following the parade.
Aprahamian said about 20 neighboring fire departments and about 25 civic organizations joined the parade, which stepped off from the flagpole on one end of Church Street and proceeded to the firehouse at 95 Church St., the other end of the downtown.
The Ridge High School marching band, the Bonnie Brae drum corps and several Scottish bagpipe bands, including The Guard, which represented Liberty Corner's fire company, set the pace to music.
"We thought it was great—there were so many trucks from so many towns," said Cheryl Kowitski from The Hills section, who brought her first-grade daughter Crista to see the parade.
Crista said she loved getting the candy thrown to the crowd by some of the firemen. She also managed to grasp the message of mutual aid among the volunteer firefighters. "Do they help each other?" she asked of the many fire departments to join the parade, including firefighters from the Basking Ridge company, Bernardsville, Martinsville, Pottersville, Far Hills-Bedminster and others.
With the speeches and parade over, the Family Fun Fair organized by the fire company is scheduled to continue through Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The fair, with music, food and rides for children, is being held on the property surrounding the firehouse.
The day's agenda included fresh picnic fare provided by Ronnie's All American Bar-B-Que Co., of Morris Plains, and amusement rides from Seashore Amusements, the same company which provides rides for the township's Charter Day, according to the Liberty Corner 100th anniversary committee. The Liberty Corner Rescue Squad also joined the parade and assisted at the fair.
A commemorative booklet recalling the company's history and marking the anniversary celebration was being distributed free to local families at the same tent selling t-shirts and commemorative mugs to be refilled all day with beer or birch beer for an $8 purchase.
Waiting in the day's sunshine for one of the amusement rides, Kevin Kingree of the northern part of Basking Ridge said he and his family had made a last-minute decision to show up at the fair. He said he brought his two children and some of their friends.
Some of the marchers stayed around later to eat or enjoy the day's attractions. Linda Tomaru of Basking Ridge waited in a line for food after marching that morning with a group of ten Daisy Girl Scouts from Troop 947, based at the private Albrook School, nearby in the township.
"We made a banner together and we had fun," Tomaru said of the first and second graders who on Saturday marched in their first parade.
Officials from the fire department and township and U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, (R-11) also joined the parade and following celebration. The crowd paused for brief speeches shortly after noon.
"This is 100 years for you and 250 years for Bernards Township," Frelinghuysen said, in noting the two major anniversaries being celebrated during 2010 in the township.
During the past century, members of the all-volunteer fire company have offered "priceless" devotion to the community, Mayor Scott Spitzer said. "You are our heros."
Aprahamian and the company's president, Ken White, both thanked the many members who had served throughout the years and their families who supported the time spent with the fire company. The company now has about 50 active members, according to the chief.
"I can't think of a better group of people to watch my back while I am running into a house while others are running out," White said.
"Being a firefighter is not something you do—it's something you are," Aprahamian said before the crowd.
Among the commemorative gifts were a watercolor of the company's previous firehouse at 15 Church St., painted by Linda Arnold, an artist who lives a few doors down on Church Street.
Arnold said beforehand she had seen the firefighters and supporters hard at work in polishing their trucks and otherwise preparing for Saturday's event. "I give them a lot of credit," she said of the fire company members.
According to the Bernards Township 250th Anniversary Magazine, the company's first firehouse was built on a lot at 15 Church St. The company reportedly acquired its first apparatus in 1915, a hook and ladder wagon, donated by the nearby Bernardsville Fire Co.
The fire company agreed to purchase nine acres of property at the other end of Church Street in the 1920s, according to fire company members. "It's amazing the foresight those fireman had years ago to purchase the land for a firehouse," said John Borchert, former chief and chairman of the 100th anniversary committee for Saturday's event.
The new firehouse opened around 1990 on that long-held piece of property, said Marc Friedman, the company's first assistant chief. The department moved in with far more advanced apparatuses than when it began its history.
Liberty Corner Fire Co. acquired in 2009 a ladder truck with a ladder that extends to 100 feet in height to provide greater capabilities in fighting fires in multistory buildings.
The organizers of the Liberty Corner anniversary celebration about four years ago began planning the event, Borchert said.
Photo gallery to come of Liberty Corner Fire Co. parade and family fun fair.