Firemen, nearly all of them volunteers, from over 40 Monmouth County, New Jersey, fire departments converged on the town of Red Bank, N. J., in response to appeals for aid in controlling the worst fire in the community’s history, on November 1, 1950.

The fire, which destroyed two lumber yards, part of a television plant, and other property, with losses conservatively estimated at $400,000, raged for over three hours before fire fighters got the upper hand.

The property chiefly involved, located in the business district, included the Satter Lumber Company, Blaisdell Lumber Company and the Video Products Corporation. The two lumber yards are located side by side between Burrows place and railroad siding bordering on an extension of North Riverside avenue. The offices of the Blaisdell Company, which front on North Bridge avenue and are separated from the yard by Burrows place, were saved. The offices of the Satter Company, on West Front street, were leveled with the remainder of the plant. The two lumber yards cover about two acres each.

The main building of the Video Corporation, at 42 West street, was partially destroyed. The fire first communicated to this structure in the rear across the railroad tracks and was prevented from spreading throughout by sprinkler heads which let go when the fire reached the building. An adjacent structure, containing 4,000 square feet, leased by the firm and used as an assembly plant, suffered heavy loss. Two other buildings on West street used by the firm were undamaged.

Other properties on West street and West Front street suffered fire damage. A garage housing 15 trucks of the United Parcel Service on West Front street was damaged, but firemen safely removed the vehicles. The garage, about 30 yards east of the Satter plant on West Front street, caught fire in the rear part of the roof, but firemen managed to control it at that point. A luncheonette, opposite the Satter office on West Front street, was badly damaged by radiated heat. The clothing factory of John Savage & Soil, adjoining it had numerous window’s broken, but firemen saved the structure and directed streams from its roof onto the main fire. A frame building used as a cafeteria, at the corner of West Front street and North Bridge avenue, was damaged. Although the exterior was scorched and windows broken, fire fighters prevented complete involvement.

Families liviing in houses for some blocks surrounding the burning area were routed and left their homes when it was feared they would be ignited by flying embers and sparks. Here, too, firemen were able to prevent serious extension of the blaze.

Two box cars, on the railroad siding, some trucks and pleasure cars, one of them belonging to a volunteer fireman who was unable to remove it when the fire spread, were destroyed, together with a number of light and power poles.

Arson Not Ruled Out

The cause of the destructive blaze was not determined but because of a number of suspicious factors the possibility of arson has not been discarded.

Fire Assistant Chief Joseph Cleary, who directed the fire-fighting operations, said that although the cause is not known, early phases of the investigation established the fact that the blaze started in the lumber sheds of the Blaisdell Company. The possibilities of a short circuit in one of the lumber trucks, or in the building, or of spontaneous ignition are also being considered.

The first alarm was sent in by an employe of the Bradner Radio Company located at West and West Front streets, about a block away from the scene. The fire, when he first saw it, was in the lumber yards. When police arrived at the scene they said flames were burning on top of a freight car and the rear of the lumber shed. From this fact it was believed possible the fire originated in an empty freight car on the siding a few feet from the lumber yard.

Assistant Prosecutor George A. Gray asked police and fire officials to submit a report on all fires in Red Bank and vicinity for five days preceding the near conflagration. Under investigation at the time of this fire, was the $60,000 burnout of the Stardust Inn, a few blocks from the scene of the newest fire.

Police Broadcast Help Appeal

The first alarm was transmitted at 2:32 A.M. from Box 125. This brought the following response from the Red Bank Fire Department: Relief Engine —1,000 GPM American La France; Independent Engine and Liberty Hose both with 1,000 GPM American La France pumpers; Union Engine—750 American La France, and West Side Engine, also 750 American La France. Also Navesink H & L—75-ft. American La France aerial; the floodlight truck, and two ambulances of the First Aid Squad.

Diagram of Fire Area, Red Bank, N. J.Red Bank Firemen Man Lines at Beers Coal and Fuel Oil Co., Next to Lumber Yards.

Anbury Park Press Photo

The first call for aid went out at 3:25 A.M. and was responded to by hair Haven Volunteer Engine—1,000 American La France and 750 General Motors Comb., and First Aid Ambulance together with Shrewsbury Engine Co., and its 1,000 American La France.

The second assistance call was clocked at 2:35 A.M. and brought the following:

Fort Monmouth Engine—1,000 GPM Ahrens Fox (piston)

Belford Engine—750 GPM Mack Bedford Independent 400 Diamond T (Combo’) Hale

Brevent Park-Leonardo Engine—600 GPM Stutz Bean Fog Truck Headdone Corner Engine*—500 GPM American Da France

River Plaza Engine*—500 GPM Ahrens Fox

Lincroft—500 GPM White (Hale pump)

Note: The engines indicated (*) pumped from the Navesink River.

At 2:37 A.M. with the blaze still raging out of control and flames visible for many miles, Chief Cleary requested the Red Bank Police Department to contact the Monmouth County Police radio (KEA-317) and broadcast a county-wide general alarm.

The county radio at Freehold sent the following message: “Red Bank requests all Monmouth County Fire Departments to send immediately, all available fire apparatus.”

The response was prompt, with pumpers and ladder companies, as well from: Matawan, Keyport, Union Beach, Keansburg, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, Seabright, Oceanport, Rutnson, Monmouth Beach, Long Branch, West Long Branch, Pine Brook, Fort Monmouth, Asbury Park, Oeean Grove, Bradley Beach, Avon, Neptune, Belmar, Spring Lake, Manasquan, Brielle, Wanamassa, Neptune City, Eatontown, Freehold, Colts Neck, West Belmar, Glendola, South Belmar, and Whitesville.

Asbury Park, the only paid department in the county, dispatched a 1,250 GPM pumper from headquarters, with a crew of seven off-duty men under Deputy Chief Edward Hutchinson. Chief Hutchinson said that when he arrived, he found the water pressure good, but said the system was being “over pumped.” He is said to have advised Red Bank authorities to cut off some of the pumpers on the line so that several good streams might be had, instead of the numerous inferior streams that conveyed the impression that the pressure was low (and were in many cases ineffective on the fire).

Five of the incoming companies pumped from the Navesink River several blocks distant from the fire. The long layout of hose, however, and the fact that it was uphill grade, helped reduce the pressures on these lines. Also, it was reported that the pumpers at the river, and those relaying (where relaying operations were attempted), were mainly of the 500-gallon capacity, while many 1,000 gallon pumpers stood idly by.

More Help Than Needed?

Not all the responding equipment could be put to work. Some units with booster tanks, however, patroled the area while others stood by. Assistant Chief Cleary reported that 35 hose lines were laid by the local and 30 or more out-of-town fire companies. In the relay operations lines were stretched from pumpers at the river edge to North Bridge avenue and then relayed another block to the fire.

The two lumber yards were leveled first and then the flames communicated to the buildings of the television company.

Burning utility poles and high tension wires handicapped fire fighters and threatened spectators. On three occasions conductors burned out and distribution wires carrying 3,300 volts fell to the ground. Light and power company crews were quickly on the scene and cut off the current until the fire was controlled. Telephone crews also went to work to restore the 300 and more telephones put out of commission by the fire.

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