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History of Association


Chapter One


The official records of the New Jersey Firemen’s Association contain the original Notice of the organizational meeting in Newark, New Jersey, forwarded by the Board of Representatives of the Newark Fire Department. (#1) The Notice called for a meeting of the fire departments in the state and invited delegates from each to attend a meeting on May 22, 1879 in the City of Newark. The Notice called “. . . delegates from the several Fire Departments of the State of New Jersey to meet in Convention for the purpose of taking into consideration the feasibility of organizing a permanent Association, to be known as the ‘Firemen’s Association of New Jersey’ . . .” The meeting was called by William H. Brown “Pres’t. Board of Representatives” for the “. . . Firemen’s Hall, in the city of Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday, the 22nd of May, 1879, at 12 o’clock PM.” The Notice also provided, “P.S. Enclosed please find a copy of law passed March 14th, 1879 under which all premiums must be collected in the future.”

The law of 1879 required the insurance agents in the respective municipalities to pay the two percent ( 2% ) tax on foreign fire policies to the treasurer of the Benevolent Fund of the fire department of the municipality. (#2) Previous laws had required the Collector of the County (#3) or the Mayor of the City (#4) to pay over the monies collected to the Representatives of the respective fire department Benevolent Funds, but this apparently created problems and all monies were not accounted for completely.

The Notice or Call to the various fire departments throughout the state resulted in what is now called the First Convention, at the Firemen’s Hall on Mulberry Street, Newark, New Jersey. Nineteen (19) departments throughout the state were represented. (#5) The first order of business was to appoint a committee of five as the committee on permanent organization. The committee recommended Wm. H. Brown of Newark as President and Bird H. Spencer of Passaic as Treasurer.

During the business of the meeting A. James Payne, a delegate from Newark advised that he had been a member of the Legislative Committee of the Newark Fire Department and “. . . it was the duty of this committee to look after the interests of the Benevolent Fund and the collection of the two percent (2%) tax . . . the committee for various reasons had arrived at the conclusion that we were not getting all the money that was justly due . . .” Apparently the Legislature passed a similar law in 1877, but the same was not signed by the Governor and failed. (#5) It was also reported that Newton and other municipal fire departments had no charitable or benevolent funds and such departments needed to organize the same and apply for a charter and see that the two percent (2%) tax was properly paid. (#6)

The name adopted at this First Convention was the “Firemen’s Association of the State of New Jersey.” Three (3) delegates were to be provided from each department and the Chief Engineer of each department was to be recognized as an ex-officio member, and if no chief engineer then the Senior Foreman. (#7) Finally, it was resolved “. . . to hold an Annual Convention at Trenton on the Fourth Wednesday in September 1879.” (#8)

On September 24, 1879 the second meeting of the State Association was called to order in Trenton, N.J. (#9) Some historians called this Convention in Trenton the First (1st) Convention, but that is incorrect. It was, however, the First (1st) Annual Convention and thereafter subsequent Conventions were numbered accordingly. (#10) Twenty-eight (28) departments were represented with three (3) delegates each and the additional ex-officio representatives. The Constitution and By-Laws were duly adopted at this Convention. Questions arose concerning fire departments without relief funds and after discussion it was determined that such departments were not entitled to membership, but all were encouraged to create such a fund and thereafter join the State Association. (#11) This was the obvious catalyst for departments to join what is now the expanded State Association.

Further action at the Convention resulted in an assessment of the member local relief associations to provide funds to operate the State Association. The Convention then adjourned after electing most of the same officers and designating Paterson as the next Convention site. (#12)

Interestingly the Trenton Fire Department hosted a banquet after the Convention and this was reported in the press. (#13)

The Second (2nd) Annual Convention was held in the Opera House in the City of Paterson on September 22, 1880. (#14) At this Convention nineteen (19) associations were represented. Also communication was received from Wm. H. Brown, indicating that he was declining re-election for President and the Committee on Reorganization recommended Bird W. Spencer of Passaic as President. He was duly elected and served faithfully for forty-eight (48) years in that capacity.

The Convention also appointed a Special Legislative Committee to look after the interests of “the Fire Benevolent Associations of this State” in the next session of the legislature. (#15) The Legislature was apparently reviewing a total restructuring of the statutes, system of benefits and the benevolent funds for firemen.

The Third (3rd) Annual Convention convened in the City of Burlington on September 28, 1881. Action was formally enacted to provide continuing assessments upon the local associations “for the benefit of the State Association to conduct the operations of the State Association.” (#16) Although the Convention authorized the Executive Committee “. . . to make a pro-rata assessment upon the benevolent funds . . .” there apparently was no action forthcoming or any dollar amount affixed. (#17)

Although the Executive Committee had been appointed there were no formal recorded meetings of the committee until September 26, 1883. The first scheduled meeting of the committee was in the morning immediately preceding the regularly scheduled Convention called for 11 o’clock in Dover, N.J. At this Convention the State Association was becoming more actively engaged in legislative initiatives, such as the exemption from certain taxes for firefighters, tenure in certain positions, various laws with adjoining states and general firematic efforts. (#18)

During the 1884 legislative year several Assembly Bills were introduced, A-187, A-188, A-253, and A-378. These bills impacted the reorganization of municipal fire departments and the benevolent associations. (#19) None of these bills apparently reached fruition and new or revised bills were introduced in the Senate and Assembly again in 1885. These bills A-2, A-15, A-22, A-92, A-93 and S-21 were introduced, but apparently S-21, introduced by Senator Fish, Essex County, encompassed all issues and became law. This new legislation became the enabling legislation creating the Local Relief Associations and authorized them to affiliate and create the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association. (#20) This law is essentially unchanged to this day. Following the passage of the enabling law the Legislature enacted changes to the tax on foreign insurance companies to provide the two percent (2%) tax benefited the firefighters and their relief associations. (#21) All of these legislative initiatives were reported to the Eighth (8th) Annual Convention in Atlantic City, on September 30, 1885. At this Convention the Vice President of the United States, the Honorable Thomas A. Hendricks addressed the Convention. (#22) At this Convention it was reported that fifty-five (55) local associations were affiliated with the State Association.

At the Convention Counsel W. R. Weeks reported that during debate on the legislation issues concerning the constitutionality of the laws were raised. The issues raised were the same issues raised and decided in the case of Szabo v. The New Jersey State Firemen’s Association in 1988. Also the Convention authorized the election of five (5) Vice Presidents and adopted the state seal.

Chapter Two


By 1883 the State Officers were forging the State Association into an effective statewide organization. This was clearly attributed to then President Bird W. Spencer. He not only orchestrated the passage of the state legislation in 1885, but he increased the number of local associations substantially, and by the Fiftieth (50) Anniversary there were three hundred and eighty-nine (389) associations affiliated with the state association.(#1) On May 12, 1886, shortly after the new State legislation, the Executive Committee authorized the filing of the Charter or Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. This was accomplished on June 1, 1886. (#2) Thereafter the local associations followed suit and also filed their incorporation papers. At this meeting on May 12 the Executive Committee also authorized the state officers to amend the original legislation to “. . . provide for the burial of active firemen . . .”

President Spencer commented upon the exceptional growth of the number of local associations at the Tenth (10th) Annual Convention in New Brunswick, September 28, 1887. At that time there were sixty-five (65) local associations present and affiliated with the State Association. (#3) The officers included seven (7) Vice President or Assistant Secretaries who were elected representing the seven (7) Congressional Districts then existing in the State of New Jersey. These Vice Presidents or Assistant Secretaries, along with the other state officers, comprised the then existing Executive Committee. Also at this Tenth (10th) Annual Convention the first mention of a “. . . home for old and disabled firemen . . .” was recognized when the Hoboken Firemen’s Relief Association introduced a Resolution calling for the establishment of a home. The resolution easily passed and was referred to the Executive Committee for further action. No action of the Executive Committee is reported, but President Spencer furthered the concept of the Firemen’s Home at the Nineteenth (19th) Annual Convention in Cape May, N.J. on September 30, 1896. He proposed an outline of the organization for the home, control and operation thereof, and recommended a board of managers. Legislation providing for the Home, including many of his recommendations, passed in 1898. The present property was then acquired, and the Home opened in Boonton, New Jersey in June 1900. (#4)

Along with the continued growth of the State Association came the growth of the states larger municipalities and cities. With that growth came the expansion of their fire departments. Many departments were outgrowing the volunteer service and converting from a volunteer department to a fully paid (career) department. As a result there were various turf battles between the older, “Exempt”, volunteer firefighters and the newer or younger paid firefighters. This was especially true during the organization of the paid department where new officers were elected and new positions or duties assigned within the department and salaries and monies involved. The biggest problem seemed to be the control and use of the relief funds previously accumulated while a volunteer organization. The older Exempt firefighters, many of whom had completed their term of service, seven (7) years, and were no longer active, wanted control of the new organization and the funds of the new paid relief association. The new paid or active firefighters obviously objected and complained to the State Association which in many cases resolved the same, but in others, litigation ensued such as the cities of Trenton, Passaic, Atlantic City and others. This caused disharmony and discord among firefighters. (#5)

The older “Exempt” firemen at this period of time were fighting for status and recognition. Up until 1889 there was no legislation affording official status for the Exempt Firemen, and in that year, legislation passed which authorized the creation of a State Exempt Association and Local Exempt Associations. (#6) This legislation was similar to that adopted for the relief associations, but did not provide for any funding. The relationship among the firefighters in many departments making the transition from a volunteer department to paid department did not improve. As a result, the “Exempts” petitioned the legislature for authority to transfer the relief association funds to an Exempt association, if one existed, instead of to the paid Firemen’s Relief Association. This law was enacted in 1894. (#7) There is no way of ascertaining how many departments struggled with this problem, but President Spencer, the State Association, and its counsel opposed this procedure and did not support enactment of the law. Also the State Association authorized the Executive Committee to oversee the transition from the volunteer department to the paid department and to protect the relief funds for the purposes specified in the original 1885 Act. (#8) Although the Executive Committee received such directions from the officers and Convention delegates, such power was not officially granted until 1906. (#9) This law delegated clear and unequivocal authority and provided “. . . supervision and power of control of the funds and other property of all Firemen’s Relief Associations and see that the same are properly guarded and legally invested and expended . . .”

The controversy between the volunteers, Exempts and paid firefighters continued throughout the early l900’s and was exacerbated when the City of Passaic created its paid department in 1910. The active paid members created the “Passaic Paid Relief Association” and the “Passaic Firemen’s Relief Association” transferred its relief funds to “The Association of Exempt Firemen of the City of Passaic” in accordance with the 1894 Act. (#10) Litigation followed and the State Association created a Committee of twelve (12) to establish rules and guidelines for the transition problems. (#11) The legislature was aware of the transition problems because it conducted an inquiry into “the Funds of the Firemen’s Relief and Like Associations” by Joint Committee of the Legislature during the 1914 legislative session and thereafter repealed the 1894 Act permitting the transfer of relief funds to an Exempt association. (#12) There was a companion act which gave the Executive Committee of the State Association power to establish rules and regulations for the transition to a paid department if the volunteers and paid could not agree. It provided the Executive Committee with complete power and control over the funds of any Relief Association. (#13) The Passaic litigation ended with a decision of the Court in 1922 requiring the Exempt association to return all funds and turn them over to the Paid Relief Fund. (#14)

During this period of time, not only was power moving to the Executive Committee, but the Death Benefits came into fruition. The impetus for the same was the death of an old Exempt member found dead in Jersey City in 1920. He was to be buried in Potters Field by the City authorities. President Spencer was advised that the fireman, identified only as “Moulds”, was not receiving a proper funeral befitting one who had completed years of fire service and he interceded, contacted the funeral director and guaranteed payment for a proper burial. Payment was then made from the funds of the Jersey City Relief Association. (# 15)

After the 1920 Convention and report concerning the “Moulds” incident, President Spencer appointed a Special Committee to investigate a plan to provide a One Thousand Dollar ($1,000) death benefit to the “legal heirs” of “a paid, volunteer, or Exempt fireman.” Thereafter at the 1921 Convention there was a report read from “the Special Committee” to the Executive Committee on August 15, 1921 at Sea Girt, New Jersey. (#16) The Committee report recommended that One Thousand Dollar ($1,000).be paid for the burial benefit. The Convention approved it, however, it was reported that new legislation was necessary to allow a diversion of part of the Two Percent (2%) Tax from the local Relief Associations for the death benefit. Counsel was directed to prepare the proper legislation and seek its passage. (#17) The legislation was passed and signed into law on March 11, 1922, along with companion legislation implementing payment of the death benefit and giving the Executive Committee supervisory powers thereover. (#18) As a result, the Advisory Committee was established and it drafted the Rules and Regulations concerning the procedures to implement the plan. These Rules and Regulations were approved by the Executive Committee on September 22, 1922 and reported in full to the Forty-Fifth (45th) Annual Convention, in Atlantic City. (#l9) In 1922 the payment of death benefits commenced and through August 29, 1923 three-hundred and ninety-nine (399) claims were paid; however, the benefit was reduced to Five Hundred Dollars ($500). (#20) The assessments against the local associations for the death benefit fund also commenced during 1923 and the first payment was due on July 15. (#21)

It also should be noted that the State Association opened the first State Office on December 15, 1920 in the Proctor Theatre Building in Newark, New Jersey and hired an Executive Secretary to operate the office. (#22)

After approval of the burial benefits and creation of the Advisory Committee the fortunes of the State Association continued without major incident for several years. President Spencer was in full control, and he and the Executive Committee were able to steer a steady course. At the Forty-Eighth (48th) Annual Convention in 1925 he announced there was general harmony in the transition among the many departments forging a paid department from a volunteer department. (#23) The Executive Committee also reported there was concern from many local associations concerning apparent shortfalls in the receipts from the two percent (2%) tax. It reported that a legislative committee had been formed and was investigating. The concern stemmed from collections by the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance and the New Jersey State Treasurer, and proper distribution and or payment by the insurance companies. The State Treasurer was requested to investigate and make a report. (#24)

The State Association continued to grow as more local associations joined. President Spencer’s leadership was beneficial, but at the Fifty-Third (53rd) Annual Convention in 1930 he was unable to attend and it was reported he was ill but doing well. Vice President Chris H. Hasselhuhn presided. (#25) Also at this Convention a report was made concerning a pension survey or study. At the next Convention it was reported that General Bird W. Spencer had died on July 28, 1931 and Vice President Chris H. Hasselhuhn had succeeded him. (#26)

The State Association now found itself in the middle of the Great Depression. Little activity was reported. The general membership, however, appears to have become somewhat restless and financial matters seemed to predominate. Members and delegates addressed concerns at the Conventions over revenue collections, expenses and especially state officers’ salaries. The burial benefits even came under pressure and were reduced. (#27) The depression bottomed after several years and President Hasselhuhn reported the financial picture was improving. (#28) Now World War II was imminent. As a result, the State Association made accommodations for firefighters who entered the military service, giving them credit for time spent therein. (#29) The federal government also imposed limitations on large Conventions, including the availability of space especially in Atlantic City, and also imposed travel regulations. As a result the Conventions were cancelled in Atlantic City and changed to single day Conventions from 1942 to 1947. They were held in either Newark or Trenton. (#30)

After the war, the collection and allocation of the two percent (2%) tax remained a problem. Many local insurance agents failed to either collect the tax from the foreign carriers or distribute the same to the Local Associations. (#31) As a result new legislation was proposed to ameliorate the condition. (#32) The legislation permitted the foreign carriers to bypass the local collector, insurance agent or broker, and make payment of the tax due each year to the treasurer of the Local Association on or before March 1. The Insurance Services Organization (ISO), the state rating association, was apparently assigned the task by the insurers because the legislation did not mention ISO. Thereafter the State Association entered into a contractual agreement with ISO to provide these services. A similar contract was made with Factory Mutual Engineering Corporation which was not affiliated with ISO. Each local was also given a distinct ISO number for identification. Then ISO would collect all the taxes and make payment to the respective local association. (#33) As a result the President was able to report that “. . . collections for 1956 have been fully paid . . .” during his comments to the Eightieth (80th) Annual Convention in 1957. (#34)

At the Eighty-Sixth (86th) Annual Convention in 1963, it was reported that Mrs. Hasselhuhn had passed away and President Hasselhuhn had requested retirement which was granted. William J. Dugan was then elected, and Chris Hasselhuhn, was voted President Emeritus. (#35)

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