By: Deborah Winters
With Chief Steven Toth at the helm, Wayne Fire Company #2, located at 970 Route 23 north, is steadfast in its devotion to keeping the township safe, no matter what time of day or night it may be. Its impervious volunteers, including both men and women, give unselfishly of themselves to keep the residents of Wayne safe.
“It’s not just a fire company here, it’s a family.” said Toth.
Volunteer firefighters are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Whether it’s a holiday or not, volunteers are ready at a moment’s notice and on scene within minutes. Mutual aid calls to surrounding towns including Paterson, Clifton, and Passaic. During major disaster events, volunteers venture as far as Jersey City, Bayonne, Staten Island, and New York City.
Fire Company #2’s busiest year in recent time was 2018 when they responded to 535 calls, with 80 of them occurring that January. Prior to that in 2017 the company racked up 484 calls, in 2016 they tended to 507, and further back in 2015, they responded to 513 calls. Overall they respond to three calls per day.
Wayne Fire Company #2, also known as P.O.L., Property Owners League, was started in 1922 on Fayette Avenue, a well known flood area in the township. A group of property owners, who all resided on Fayette Avenue, got together and formed Fire Company #2. A part also existed in nearby Lincoln Park, explained Wayne Fire Company #2 President Kurt Gough.
Their first firehouse was in Marshall’s Garage also located within the Fayette Avenue, Mountain View area. Prior to their current location they had a station on William Street. They moved to their current location in 1984. The previous fire house was built by the firemen themselves.
“They were carpenters, electricians, they were painters they were everything. You don’t have that too much today,” Gough stated.
The previous building was knocked down by the state and federal government, who were realigning Route 23, but not before constructing their current building, a project that estimated to cost those entities over $1 million, he explained.
Coverage by Fire Company #2 encompasses Ratzer Road near Kohl’s cutting across to Black Oak Ridge Road, down to Newark Pompton Turnpike, and then southward to Routes 46 and 80, all of which is situated near or within the flood zone including Willowbrook Mall.
Sadly Fire Company #2 has also seen its share of devastating events, but none affected the staff more than the loss of fellow firefighter Glenn McCoog, who lost his life in the line of duty. He was just 25. Members including McCoog were all attending a wake for another member’s father prior to this horrific event.
Back on December 13, 1983 the company responded to a house fire in the flood zone, something they had done many times. The inhabitants of the house were trapped inside in the midst of a torrential storm. However a fire rescue boat they were utilizing malfunctioned and four firefighters including McCoog were left in the raging river current. Three of the four firefighters were able to hang onto a steel highway bridge while awaiting rescue. However the current took McCoog and his body was not discovered until over two months later as the river had frozen over. It later resurfaced in February 1984 near a bridge by Willowbrook Mall, explained Gough.
“You name it we had dogs, we had a psychic, we had divers from New York City, helicopters from the state police who could hover low over the water helping us locate Glenn’s body,” said Toth.
Since then the firefighters have gone through extensive training on how to handle rescues involving bridges. The current building that Fire Company #2 currently occupies has since been dedicated to McCoog.
Following McCoog’s drowning Fire Co #2 paid for and built a park in memory of him located on Demarest Drive. However it’s a bit out of the way and has since suffered some damage so members seized an opportunity to utilize space next to the Wayne Public Library where the September 11 memorial is located.
“It’s in the process of being erected. It will be named in McCoog’s honor but will exist for all firefighters throughout Wayne Township,” said Tom Boughton, vice president of Fire Company #2.
Toth added, “This company has lost its share of members over the years but Glenn’s incident really stands out, and at the time, it truly hit our department very hard.”
The last time Fire Company #2 had a chaplain was the late 1970s early 1980s until now. Coming off a 20 year stint as pastor of Packanack Community Church, Karyn Ratcliffe recently assumed the open spot with much enthusiasm for her new calling. And how it happened was all left up to chance.
A member of Fire Company #2, Dave Miller, had moved to Florida a few years ago, at which time his son, Adam Jobbers-Miller, was hired as a Fort Myers police officer. During a police call on July 30, 2018 for a stolen cell phone , Jobbers-Miller was chasing a perp, Wisner Desmaret. When he caught up to him, Desmaret cold cocked him and knocked Jobbers-Miller out and took his gun and shot him in the head. He was on a respirator and fought for his life. Sadly he died a week later, at age 29.
Being Jobbers-Miller was initially a member of Fire Company #2 prior to his move to Florida, members were holding a vigil for him prior to him dying and Ratcliffe presided over it as a pastor.
“We had a candlelight vigil and Karyn had some very thoughtful, inspiring words to share with everyone who attended. It went over very well and we had about 250 people turn out,” Toth stated.
Ratcliffe’s husband Chris and her daughter Karilyn are members of the Wayne First Aid Squad, so it’s not a far shot for Ratcliffe, as well, chose a path of volunteerism.
“They knew I was leaving the church at the end of the year and I’d be unattached,” said Ratcliffe.
But in the end, it’s all about the “cuss can”.
During her initial days at the fire house, more or less, Ratcliffe had to learn how to fit in so to speak.
“I had to figure out how to live into my uniform,” said Ratcliffe, an honorary member of Fire Company #2.
She added, “But by going to the monthly meetings I’ve gotten to know how everyone interacts with each other. I see what issues they’re wrestling with and need to work on. And they’ve gotten to know me. I’m the other woman in the room with a lot of guys who are used to saying things. So it’s funny to watch them moderate themselves between being firefighters and being men because not only is there a woman in the room, there’s a woman clergy in the room. For the next meeting I’m creating a swear bucket or ‘cuss can’.”
All in all, Ratcliffe is enjoying her newly found service. The difference speaks for itself.
“For starters I’m not responsible for anything at the fire house. I had to hold the church together, constantly try to revitalize it. People always looked to me to be the person who’s going to keep them moving and it was 24/7. I was always on call and dealing with so much. Now it’s nice to be able to do things I wasn’t able to do. It’s a lot of fun here and I enjoy it,” she said.
Every organization has issues, said Gough, but you still have to come together at some point and stick together no matter what situation is going on.
“It’s not just a fire company here, it’s a family.” Boughton stated.
And like any other big family, lights must be kept on and bills have to be paid. But how do you do that when volunteer fire companies are highly dependent on donations and you are located within the meager area of the township is something Fire Company #2 struggles with year after year.
“A lot of people just don’t donate. They pay taxes and that’s it. And in this end of town the median income is less versus the higher affluent areas. Fire companies in those areas of the town get larger donation checks than we do,” said Gough.
“We rely on boot drives, pancake breakfasts, and whatever the town does cough up to us. We just scratch our nickels together and make it work. We always try to find new ways. The problem is to try and get guys to do things. It’s very difficult,” Toth added.
Wayne Fire Company #2 has around 30 active members. But they are always looking for more, both men and women. Exactly what they will be faced with and what will be expected of them will be discussed so they will be well aware of what they are up against.
Firefighters both volunteer and paid must also have to take a class Firefighter One, which is mandatory by state law. Classes are available at Passaic County Fire Academy, in Wayne. Applicants must be a Wayne resident for at least six months and be between the age of 18 and 45. They must also pass a physical and criminal background check. For further details log onto to www.pccc.edu/community/public-safety-academy.
It’s a young man’s game although nothing stipulates retirement, said Toth. The average age is probably 60.
“We do however have many guys stay after that age, just not big in firefighting. Maybe just driving and of course administrative functions, meetings, and fund raisers,” he added.
Millennials versus 3 a.m. fires, it’s difficult to process.
“Back in the day it was what can I do for my community. Now you get some of these millennial members who come in and it’s like well what are you going to do for me. It’s not what can I do for my town. And they question why they have to fight fires at 3 a.m. Ah yes, if that’s when the fire call comes in you have to be there,” Toth stated.
He added, “They don’t understand our dilemmas most days especially paying bills and tending to daily chores. They think because you have a $1,000 in the bank that we’re rich. Money is burning a hole in our pocket. They don’t understand where it came from. The old guys sit there and steam comes out of their ears because they remember those days having to chose what bills will be paid. And they need to be more involved.”
Firefighting may be a young man’s game but you need the older guys to be straight with the expenses and make sure things are run right, Boughton said.
If you are interested in joining the ranks, either visit the fire house on a Monday night and speak to someone or go on their website to fill out an application at www.waynefireco2.com/.