By: Kimberly Redmond
It’s not officially summer in Denville until the carnival rolls into town.
This year, the Denville Volunteer Fire Department will once again continue its annual tradition of welcoming the start of the season with a bang.
This year’s carnival will run Tuesday, June 25 through Saturday, June 29, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the field, which is located at 2 Indian Road – right across from the ACME Supermarket on East Main Street.
Carnival-goers can purchase wristbands to get unlimited access to rides at a cost of $25 on Tuesday evening and for $30 on Thursday and Saturday. Individual ride tickets can also be purchased.
A Fourth of July fireworks display is scheduled for Wednesday, with a rain date planned for Friday evening.
For more than 70 years, the volunteer fire department has sponsored a carnival in late June at Firemen’s Field, giving local families an opportunity to enjoy rides, games, raffles, and of course, all kinds of sweets and treats.
Barb Steele, who serves as the carnival’s chairwoman and recording secretary of the Denville Volunteer Fire Department Association, said, “It’s definitely a good time and a chance to get out and be social in the community. We try to change things up and do what we can to make sure it’s a great night for people.”
“We’ve definitely added things to it, like the pretzel tent, and some other new tents, like pickles on a stick and fried Oreos. We try to max out as much space as possible and keep it updated,” Steele said.
For many firefighters on the volunteer fire company, attending the carnival has been a summertime staple since childhood. And now, many of those firefighters still return each year with their own families in tow to experience the fun.
“It’s definitely a tradition,” said Denville Fire Chief Richard Yobs. “There’s a ton of food, rides for all age groups and games of chance. We also experiment with having some live music and of course the fireworks display.”
“What’s my favorite part?” Yobs laughed. “The food!”
Preparing for the carnival is “a lot of work,” Yobs admitted, but views it as an important part of the volunteer fire department’s community outreach efforts.
“It’s almost a full time job,” the fire chief said. “On Sunday and Monday you set up for it, then work at it when it’s open and then on Sunday, there’s clean up. And that’s on top of what members have going on at work, at home or in life. It’s hard work, but it’s money we rely on.”
The fire chief also enjoys the camaraderie of being with his fellow firefighters, especially the newer members.
“You spend so much time together. It’s what we call ‘the good times.’ So many times, you’re together on calls that could go very bad. With the carnival, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a good time,” Yobs said.
The carnival at Firemen’s Field is one of two major fundraisers taken on by the Denville Fire Department Association to help aid members of the three firehouses. The other effort is the annual fund drive, which consists of members going door-to-door in uniform seeking donations.
“The proceeds help support our training, equipment, gear, supplies and other things needed on an every day basis,” Steele said.
But just as trying to ensure fire crews have the gear and training they need, the association also strives to make sure Denville stays a great place to live by hosting social activities and giving back to other community groups.
In addition to providing support to the Denville Volunteer Fire Department, the association also sponsors the William Green Memorial Scholarship each year, which is open to college-bound students who have served on the fire department’s junior auxiliary, fire department association or fire department’s ladies auxiliary.
Winners are announced each year following the Memorial Day Parade.
The Denville Fire Association also donates money to other organizations in Denville, such as the Girl Scouts, Denville Little League, Denville Blue Angels, Denville Hub Soccer, Denville PBA Junior Police, the Denville American Legion, Denville PAL Hockey and the Burn Center at St. Barnabas Medical Center.
Over the last few years, the Denville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival has lost a few days due to rainy weather, but that hasn’t dampened the buzz around the event, according to the fire chief.
Even with having to shut the carnival down two days in 2018, the fundraiser still pulled in the same amount of money that it did the previous year, which, Yobs said, the fire company is very grateful for.
“It puts our name out there and helps raise money that is vital to our budget every year to offset what the town budget is,” Yobs said.
In mid-May, the fire department received a new rescue boat and accompanying equipment, a purchase it was able to make thanks to proceeds from fundraisers such as the carnival, Yobs said.
“It’s an upgrade after 20 years and long overdue,” the fire chief said, adding, “It’s very exciting – it was just delivered.”
Starting over seven decades ago, Denville Fire Department’s carnival is now one of the last fire department carnivals in Morris County.
While Boonton Volunteer Fire Department and Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department still hold carnivals, fire companies in Wharton and Dover have not sponsored them in a few years, according to Steele.
“A lot of the carnivals have gone by the wayside because departments are running out of manpower or space to do it,” said Steele, who has been involved with the volunteer fire department for more than two decades.
Membership shortages are an issue for the majority of volunteer fire departments in New Jersey and across the country, as training requirements have grown making it harder for firefighters to balance firehouse obligations with those at work and at home.
“It’s getting demanding. Every certification requires more time to maintain, and that’s hard for some people,” Yobs said. “Some people don’t realize when they come in here and are interested in joining just how much goes into it.”
“We make do with what we have and we do a phenomenal job, but we could always use more members,” said Yobs, who has been chief since 2018.
The all-volunteer fire department was formed in 1926 to better provide the growing community’s need for fire protection. Up until that point, Denville relied upon neighboring towns, such as Mount Tabor and Rockaway Township, when a fire broke out.
That year, on June 26, the department’s first division – the Main Street Company – was born. Since then, it has grown to include two other divisions – the Union Hill Company and Valley View Company.
Altogether the fire department has 90 members to cover the 16,735 residents who live within the 12-square mile town. Of the 90 firefighters, about 25% are active members who respond to about 1,500 fire calls a year, according to Yobs.