Liberty Hose Company’s first motorized fire truck debuted in the 1910s. (Click to enlarge) 


When the Navesink Hook & Ladder Company Number 1 formed in 1872, fire hydrants were a distant dream. Red Bankers were at the mercy of a “bucket brigade,” an alternating chain of residents who would pass buckets of water hand-to-hand from the nearest water source to the burning building.

Marking 140 years since those days, the Red Bank Public Library will pay tribute to the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department’s storied history Saturday by opening its memorabilia and photo exhibit to the public.

And on Sunday, the department will host its annual fire safety expo Sunday in the White Street parking lot

The library exhibit, located in the West Room upstairs, has two purposes, said library historian Elizabeth McDermott. First, the Fire Department needs more attention as volunteer numbers are down and donations are dwindling. Second, the library welcomes its own 75th anniversary this year as an opportunity to look back at all of Red Bank’s past.

“The fire department, it just comes with the town,” McDermott said.

Perhaps the exhibit might be considered repayment for a 103-year-old favor from the RBFD. The Mount Street fire of 1909 destroyed 100 carriages and sent embers to the roof of the Eisner house, now occupied by the library. A restored photo from the fire hangs on the same walls volunteers once saved.

In one display case sits a 1915 “speaking trumpet,” a horn used by the chief during a fire to issue instructions loudly and clearly over the roar of a blaze and commotion. Nearby antique helmets, a lantern, a straight-stream hose nozzle and other gear spanning the entire last century line the shelves.

Classic fire trucks from decades past that are brought out for parades might invite nostalgia, but how about the hoses and ladders pulled by horses in the late 19th century? And who could forget Liberty Hose Company’s first motorized fire truck pre-dating the Model T and chic in white? These images are all out for show, alongside photos of post-fire rubble and burning buildings, each with a story.

Items in the collection range from a still perfectly bound 1880 minute book establishing the organization of Liberty Hose, to a 1972 congratulatory letter from President Nixon for the department’s centennial.

The children’s librarian will run an RBFD history trivia scavenger hunt, and a fire truck from Relief Engine Company will park in the library lot for families to explore.

The exhibit is will be open during regular library hours throughout October, which is designated as Fire Prevention Month.

The RBFD will also hold it’s yearly  Fire Prevention Expo and Free Barbecue in the White Street Parking Lot in Red Bank on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The  rain date is October 14.

The library’s next exhibit will honor veterans in November.