The Township of Mount Olive Fire Department: Service Impacting a Lot of People

By Steve Sears

The late Fred Detoro, who was a third generation Fire Chief and served as the Township of Mount Olive’s Fire Marshal, and for a period as the first Director of Fire & EMS, states, “The fire service is who people call when they don’t know who to call, so you have to be ready for anything.”

An appropriate statement, for the Township of Mount Olive Fire Prevention Bureau, which is located at 204 Flanders-Drakestown Road, and includes Flanders Fire Company No. 1 & Rescue and Budd Lake Fire Company No. 1, is always ready when called upon.

Fighting fires and rescue are all part of a firefighter’s day. “At the end of the day, I’m very fortunate where we have fire and EMS under one roof, so we work simultaneously with each other,” says Tyler Wargo, Fire Chief in Flanders. “But at the end of the day, it’s a job, it’s the whole job from point A to point B to the finish line.”

Yes, a job, but a volunteer one. Former Budd Lake Fire Chief Mike Dorlon explains. “The most important thing I would like everyone to know is that the Budd Lake Fire Department is 100% volunteer, 24/7, 365 days a year. I have been to many incidents where the residents thought the fire departments in town were paid and are pretty shocked when we let them know that we are all volunteer. The members of this department are on call all day every day, leave their homes on holidays and in the middle of the night to respond on their own time without expecting anything in return except their own satisfaction that they helped someone on their worst day and hopefully changed the outcome.”

Wargo, who is an assistant store manager for Lowes, agrees. “Yeah, the biggest thing is the volunteerism. We go to calls and people think that were a paid department, and we’re not a paid department at all, including the Fire Chief. I am not paid, and just really getting the word out that when we come to their house or come to their need, it’s a 100% volunteer organization, and a lot of the guys and ladies responding have full-time jobs, and we do it for the love of our community.”

The Flanders Fire Department was established in 1923, and Budd Lake followed in 1929. Flanders celebrated a 97th anniversary in 2020, and Budd Lake turns 92 in 2021. Both departments also celebrated in 2018 the 85th anniversary of the Mount Olive Township Committee passing an ordinance, officially establishing on May 8, 1933 the Mount Olive Township Fire Department, with both the Budd Lake and Flanders departments under one umbrella.

This is the story of a Fire Prevention Bureau, the fascinating histories in brief of both departments, and their continued dedication to the Mount Olive community and beyond.

“The fire department first started in a chicken coop up the street…”

Flanders Fire Company No. 1 & Rescue was founded first.

Detoro, who passed away suddenly in June 2019, grew up in town, right on Main Street, nearby the Flanders firehouse. “It was the original road (Main Street) in Flanders, one of them,” he said in a January interview that year. “That’s where the firehouse was started, in various locations, two different locations. The fire department first started in a chicken coop up the street and then when the school moved up the street, I think the fire dept bought it from them in ’23, and it’s been housed there, it’s gone through many renovations, many additions, as the town did.   As the town grew, the fire department grew.”

Marc Muccione took over as Fire Marshal after Detoro’s death, was born and raised in town.

“My parents moved here in 1969. I became a volunteer in 1988, with the Flanders Fire department and Rescue Squad. Fred and my older brother were also very good friends going back to their childhoods. When I joined the fire department, Fred and I became friends and he suggested I obtain my Fire Inspector and Fire Official licenses. Fred was the first full-time Fire Inspector for Mt. Olive Township.  When the Township approved a hiring of a second full-time Fire Inspector, I applied for the position.  I’ve been employed with the Fire Marshal’s Office since January 1, 2001. After Fred passed away, I was appointed Fire Marshal on July 29th, 2019 to succeed him.” Muccione admired Detoro’s skills. “Fred was very knowledgeable in firefighting. He was an incredible mentor.” And, then the time came for him to assume the top chair, Muccione benefitted from Detoro’s tutelage and was ready. Going back to the very beginning, we always talked about how we wanted to mold the future of the Fire Marshal’s Office. We had a common vision. So not only was he a boss, but he was also a close friend.”

From the Flanders Fire Company No. 1 and Rescue website: The Flanders Fire Company No. 1 has the responsibility to respond to fire and EMS emergencies within Mt. Olive Township, Flanders, and the surrounding communities. The Company has the duty to maintain all the emergency vehicles and all the equipment used to protect the lives, the property of Flanders residents, those passing through as well as those who live in surrounding towns. The Fire Company is also responsible for attaining the best possible equipment and the continuous training of our volunteer members– both for their safety and the safety of all whom we protect.

The first discussion regarding establishing a fire company was in 1922, when residents chatted while picking up mail at the local post office. On June 8, 1923, seven residents, Howard and Ed McLaughlin, William Marvin, E.C. Ted Ashley, George Erickson, Watson McPeek, and Augustus Stark – established Flanders Fire Co. #1, and McLaughlin was named Chief. Meetings were held in Ed’s chicken coop, and McLaughlin’s barn was used to store the company’s equipment, and his house served as fire company headquarters. In October of that year, the township’s first fire truck, a Brockway Torpedo, was converted from a chemical car into a water carrier. Still stationed in 1928 in McLaughlin’s chicken coop, the completion of a new school at 26 Main Street enabled the former old schoolhouse to become the new fire house, and it was remodeled to house all the fire company’s equipment. With the expanded space, the company operated with two bays and a meeting hall upstairs. In 1936, a Dodge pumper was purchased to replace the old “Torpedo” fire engine, and in 1938, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed to aid the firemen. Hazel Tinc was elected Chairwomen, Mrs. Erickson as her assistant, Ruth Gray served as Secretary and Ruth Clawson was the first Treasurer. In 1940, a new rescue squad joined forces with the fire company in order to serve the residents of Flanders, furthering service to the township. As of 1942, Flanders Fire Company #1 operated two engines and a rescue truck, and in 1950 the Rescue Squad was added to the company’s name. Randolph Township shortly thereafter donated an ambulance, which in 1951 was replaced by a 1949 Studebaker, which was then replaced by a Cadillac in 1958. As time progressed, methods of fighting fires improved aided by technology. In the early 2000s, an addition housed a 2003 E-One 95′ Tower, as well as included offices and lockers for storage and management. Sadly, in 2011, Assistant Chief Thomas Shields suddenly passed after a mid-day call. A memorial plaque is placed between the bay doors of Engine 95 and Tower 96.

“…to provide the safest and quickest outcome of any emergency or non-emergency incident that is confronted…

The mission of the Budd Lake Fire Company No. 1 is “to provide the safest Fire Protection, Emergency Medical Assistance and Education to both its members and the general public. The manner in which we will provide these services shall be systematically approached and in accordance with the safest practices and procedures of the Budd Lake Fire Department (Fire Division). Above all, it is the intent of the Budd Lake Fire Department (Fire Division) to provide the safest and quickest outcome of any emergency or non -emergency incident that is confronted by the Budd Lake Fire Department (Fire Division).”

Budd Lake Fire Co. # 1 has a fine history as well. In 1929, a discussion over coffee at Tichners Store on Route 46 centered on creating a Budd Lake Fire Department. Edward Brown acquired a Model T Ford, and he and Ray E. DeGraw fashioned it into Budd Lake Fire Department’s initial fire truck. Department meetings were held in the basement of Mockler’s Tavern on Route 46. A Baby Grand Chevrolet was purchased and delivered from North Carolina, and it was used as a chemical truck. In July 1931, the Fire Department was reorganized, and elected to office were President Robert Fennimore, Vice President John Kelley, Secretary Roscoe Reimel, and Treasure William Moekler. Incorporation papers were secured under the name Budd Lake Vol. Fire Company No. 1 of Mt. Olive Township. Charter members were Andrew A. Brown, Edward Moelker, Roscoe Reimel, John Hunt, Robert Fennimore, T.J. Romer, Edward Trinner Sr., George Todd Sr., Charles Garneau, Frank Stephany, Robert Wittenberg, John B. Freudenberger, Ray E. DeGraw, Fred Klenke, Lois P. Petrie, Dallas Batson, Leonard D. Sylvester and John Kelley. On May 8, 1933, the Township Committee passed its Ordinance, naming both the Flanders and Budd Lake departments as the Mount Olive Township Fire Departments. In 1934, the fire department joined both the Police Department and Post Office, moving into the township municipal building. In 1935 the Township Committee bought the Fire Department their first pumper, a 1935 Ford with a 500 gpm Barton Centrifugal pump v-40 mounted in front of the truck. In 1941, the Township purchased the old Municipal Building, and the Budd Lake Fire Department was housed there until 1968, when the present firehouse on Route 46 became their new home. A second fire truck (a 1946 International) was purchased in 1946, and in 1956 the Fire Department held its 25th Anniversary. In 1968, construction on the Route 46 firehouse was completed, and in 1972 an addition to the firehouse was completed. In 1981, the Budd Lake Fire Company No. 1 had a grand 50th Anniversary party, and a huge parade, which included 119 fire companies, 74 rescue squads, 259 pieces of apparatus, and 23 bands. In 1987, added to the firehouse were two more engine bays, a radio room, Chief’s Office, engineers’ work room, a storage room, and a conference room, and in 1994 a picnic pavilion was built in the rear.

“For me, it was a family thing”

Detoro was a 3rd generation Fire Chief in Mount Olive. His dad and grandfather were first and second Chiefs, respectively. Detoro started out as a volunteer firefighter and fire Chief. He eventually became a Fire Marshall, which includes investigations, inspections, and sub-coding for new buildings.

“My father,” said Detoro, “was the first Fire Marshall from 1972 to 2001. They thought it was easier to just keep the same business card and name tag on the door,” said Detoro with a laugh. Detoro grew up in a house listening to the fire department alert radio sounding. As a child, due to safety precautions, he never ventured out on runs with his elders, but the want was there to be a fireman. “For me it was a family thing. My grandfather, my father, my mother. My mom was the first female captain of EMS. It’s in the blood.” 

The Mount Olive Township Office of the Fire Marshal was established in 1972. The primary responsibility of the Fire Marshal’s Office is the enforcement of the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code and other local fire safety regulations. Major activities within the scope of this office include Inspections of Life Hazard Uses, Inspections of Non-Life Hazard Uses (except owner-occupied one- and two-family dwellings), Fire Safety Complaints, Fire Permit Control, Fire Lane Enforcement, Smoke detector / Carbon monoxide / Fire extinguisher compliance for the resale of residential properties, and Fire investigations to determine origin and cause.

Joe Compano took over as Budd Lake Fire Chief in January 2021. Dorlon is now Assistant. “I have been a member of the Budd Lake Fire Department since 2011,” says Compano. “I have held numerous positions during this time that have included: Vice President, President, Captain, Lieutenant, Engineer, three Years as 2nd Assistant Chief, and as of January 1, 2021 I became the Chief.  I have been responsible for numerous committees such as Bingo Hall Rental.” Compano started as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18 in 1987 with the Roxbury Fire Department #2, and in 2001 joined Budd Lake.

He credits Dorlon with his aid during the recent transition. “Mike was the Chief for three years, and I worked closely with him during this time as I was the 2nd Assistant Chief. These are big shoes to fill and a lot of responsibility. Mike has been sharing his tricks of the trade with me throughout this time and I feel confident that Mike is the 2nd Assistant Chief.” He then talks about the passing of Detoro. “The passing of Fred was devastating news to all of us.  Fred worked very closely with the fire department as the Fire Director/Fire Marshall.  Not only did Fred fill that position, we worked closely with Flanders Fire Department, and are all part of Mount Olive.” He envisions the same stellar department leadership with Muccione. “I have worked with Marc when he was Fire Official and look forward to working with him as the Fire Marshall.”

Wargo has been Chief of the Flanders unit since 2016 and has been a volunteer firefighter for 18 years. Wargo was recently the recipient of the NJSP Appreciation Award for Valor and will be starting his 5th appointment as Chief in the 2021 year.  Wargo’s team in Flanders includes 26-year veteran and 1st Assistant Chief Frank Zeller, and 2nd Assistant Chief (and 33-year firefighter veteran) Mike McDermott,  who has served 21 years in Flanders. The Chief states, “I love to help out my community and the residents who live within the township of Mount Olive. Also, I love to teach our youth the importance of fire safety and seeing that big smile on their faces when they get to see our equipment and interact with my men and women who put their lives on the line daily.” He leans back and describes the busy 2020 year.  “We have seen something that we have never been faced with and had to quickly adapt to and that being the pandemic Covid-19. It was the first time I could ever recall having to essentially shut the doors to the fire department from the public, and this was very challenging for all my men and women who look forward to the public interaction and events we hold at our Firehouse.” Wargo also commends his EMS division, led by Captain Todd Summer, 1st Lieutenant Megan Pfefferkorn, 2nd Lieutenant Josh Heyman, and 2nd Lieutenant Alec Staszak who managed not only the response for Covid-19 calls but also assisted with the implementation and roll out of our Covid-19 protocol and safety standards in conjunction with CDC requirements. “By doing such, we have not had to take Flanders Fire & Rescue offline during the entire pandemic so we can continue to serve our residents in Mount Olive Township.” 

Speaking of the coronavirus, Compano details the Budd Lake side of things. “We were affected by all members being required to wear proper (PPE) Personal Protective Equipment while responding to all incidents/calls in the Mount Olive Township. The firehouse was closed to social gatherings and members were only permitted there to respond to fire calls.”

Dorlon adds, “I have actually joked that I would have rather dealt with Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy than deal with the pandemic. That’s my current comment  to everybody when they ask.” Dorlon and Budd Lake Fire thought that call volume would go up during the pandemic,  because everybody was home, and there would be more cooking fires. “The call volume dropped off. It was very interesting. You know, we would have maybe one or two calls a week where we normally have one or two a day once in a while.” When things opened back up again, the call volume ascended. “Right now,” Dorlon said in December, “we’re at 502 fire calls.” The Budd Lake Fire Department has a usual call volume of 650 to 700 calls a year, and the number increases every year due to the town growing substantially. “We finished 2018 at 725 calls,” Dorlon recalls. “If I remember correctly, when I joined the department back in 1999, we had about 400 calls a year.”

For Muccione, COVID19 was very difficult. “As far as the employees and the Fire Inspectors, we’re still operating at full staff. The issues that confront us, we are responsible for the building safety inspections.  We need to enter office buildings, nursing homes, and hospitals to perform our duty. The Fire Inspectors are very concerned about that. The State DCA allows us to do a “modified inspection”, so to speak. It’s very difficult for the guys when you go there and cite violation. But you work closely with businesses.  When a house goes up for sale and changes of ownership occurs, we have to go in and inspect the house. The State allows us now to do an affidavit, putting Inspectors at increased risk. It’s very difficult when you do paperwork versus in person inspection, there’s that chance of not accurate reporting.”

“The challenges that I foresee is that with the numbers fluctuating in positive cases, we need to ensure the safety of our members and the community,” says Compano. “The members are still required to mask up and follow safety protocols. Some of our calls have consisted of decontaminating Mount Olive Police Officers that have entered houses while wearing their own PPE and we need to decon the officers after exiting the house.”

Mount Olive is a key location in Morris County, which Routes 46, 206, and 80 enveloping the area, 183 running nearby, and a railway running through it. “It’s the one township in the state,” alludes Wargo, “that has all the major hearts of our transportation going through it.”

All of the fire departments have mutual aid agreements throughout the county and any nearby areas. Budd Lake and Flanders both have mutual aid agreements, sending them to Chester, Roxbury, Netcong, and even outside the county, if needed. Budd Lake itself covers approximately 23 square miles of Mount Olive Township and borders other towns such as Hackettstown, Allamuchy and Byram Townships, Stanhope, Netcong and Roxbury, and Washington Township. 

The life of a firefighter – from the Chiefs and the Director

When a person joins the Mount Olive Fire Department, they are required to attend Firefighter One training, which is basic firefighting at Morris County Public Safety Training Academy. Basic Firefighter 1 Certification is needed, and Fire 2 for any fire department officers. The classes are about 180 hours. 

“You never stop learning,” says Wargo. “Every second Thursday of the month we (Flanders) have fire drills, and then quarterly we go to the (Morris County or Somerset County) academy and do live burns or some sort of live scenario.”

In addition to the  turn out gear that is worn at every call (which has a life span of 10 years), in 2019 Budd Lake Fire currently has 3 engines, 1 ladder truck, 1 tender (which is used to supply water in areas of town that do not have fire hydrants) 2 support trucks, 3 Chief’s vehicles and 1 military surplus truck. In 2020, there was a fleet change. Replaced were a rescue engine and a small support truck with heavy rescue truck. Call types change as the town evolves into a different type of population and infrastructure. “We’re building 50 townhouses on Route 46 right now, and there’s talk of a new development over off the (International) Trade Zone of 700 and something homes as well. So, as our population is changing, the infrastructure changes, there’s new warehouses going up, factories – it’s an evolving town and things have to change.”

“Flanders has a rescue, engine, tower, brush truck, three ambulances, and MCI unit with an ICE rescue unit all in one and will also be receiving a new mid-mount state of the art Pierce Ladder Truck. Budd Lake has three engines, a ladder, a rescue, a tanker…we have a ton of resources, and going back to the county level, they see how integrated we are with what we have and how professional we are and how we are evolving and developing, and it goes a long way. So, we’re heavily relied on in that aspect across the board,” adds Wargo.

When firefighters enter a burning building, they do so carrying a lot of necessary weight. “So, along with firefighting depending on the call, if a member (of the FD) is fully dressed, you’re looking at 110 lbs. of equipment that they have to carry, and that includes their SCBA (breathing apparatus), their turnout gear, any tools they’re carrying…in some instances it can be even greater than 110 lbs. It varies on the call, but on average you’re looking at anywhere from 88 to 100 pounds,” says Wargo. The Mount Olive Fire Department uses state of the art of equipment. “The township is very proactive and takes care of their firefighters and medical responders very well. From our personal breathing apparatus to our actual fleet, and we have thermal energy cameras – which help firefighting and finding victims inside a smoke-filled structure or fire structure – different kinds of gas meters, Jaws of Life,  an ample number of tools to stabilize cars, different types of power tools – we have everything.”

In addition to the physical aspect of firefighting, there is also the mental and emotional side.

“Each one,” adds Wargo, “has its own different twist to it. I would say the biggest ones that really touch the general membership would be anything involving kids. Being a father, kids are the worst. But going back to the township, the amount of support we get from a social media standpoint regarding a job well done or , ‘Hey, you guys did something amazing,’ or just a thank you, I mean it really goes a long way to the membership when they see that. They see that the town folks are really supporting and backing what we do day in and day out. That in itself, just a thank you goes a long way.”

“Sometimes it can be a stressful position,” says Dorlon. “Obviously, the past few years, like with structure fires, and there was a pandemic to deal with. We had the school bus accident, and there was a couple of serious incidents that we had on the interstate a couple years ago. That stresses you. And then, as well as everything else, along with just running the department can be a little stressful at times. But in the end, you know, it’s definitely something I took a lot of pride in, and I was very proud of the department and to serve it.”

Mount Olive has a population of 33,000 residents, and new developments are going in throughout the town. That means more people having to educate those people about fire safety via the fire department website.

A handshake or hug, between the fire fighter and the community

“I typically put in 60 hours per week there (at his job) and then in my free time I’m answering calls,” says Wargo, “and it can be all hours of the night. We’re not getting any sleep; we’re working our full-time jobs. Being fire chief is like a second job, but we love doing it. We do it for love, not for pay. Seeing the service, seeing how we impact the lives of others, just getting a handshake or hug, it speaks a thousand times.”

“Some of them,” added Detoro, “have brought people to tears. It’s very emotional.”

Wargo recalls the 2018 Fenmore call. “The whole family was essentially overcome by carbon monoxide, and then seeing the whole family come to the firehouse and how grateful they were. They invited the whole township to their home for a pool party and barbeque. Just being able to see the end results of everybody putting their hard work together for a positive outcome and being thanked – you can’t put words to that.”

“Hands down we live in an awesome community and we do this all for the same reason: it’s for our community.”

As a chief, Wargo knows that calls will come in that pull on your heartstrings. “It’s tough wearing that white helmet because you have to be the support function for all your men and women.”

Wargo also adds that each call doesn’t end when the call ends. “Once a call is ended, the call is evaluated and reevaluated, seeing if things could’ve been done better, or what we can change to make the next outcome of a same call better, so we’re always planning, always thinking outside the box, always trying to improve, to be the best we can be. Knowing your area, things are constantly changing as Fred said, we’re a growing township, just knowing your surroundings and pushing everything as a whole is what we do.”

“…the (Town) Council has been more than generous seeing that and helping us out”

Detoro explained the uniqueness of Mount Olive and how it pertains to firefighting. “You can have single family homes, and then hotels, and then industry, you have industries that have chemicals…the makeup of Mount Olive Township dictates what the fire departments have, what type of apparatus, and the (Town) Council has been more than generous seeing that and helping us out.”

Wargo delivers a good example. “If there’s a serious call, the Mayor’s at that call. He’s coming out seeing what the men and women are doing, as a support function to all Mount Olive services, whether it be police, fire, EMS. He’s there, he’s thanking everybody…I mean, that’s how above and beyond  our Town Council goes for us. You don’t find that in other townships; I can tell you hands down that doesn’t happen at all. So, the township, the Mayor, the Council, they’re more than 100% behind our back. We might not get something we request immediately, but they find a way to make it happen. They are constantly praising us, doing things for us all the time,  and its appreciated.”

More training, and volunteers are needed

More training is something Muccione plans on for 2021. “The more services you do, the more training you’re going to need. There are a lot of classes we would like to attend that are offered, but we’re not sure yet with the COVID-19 pandemic how these classes will be given. Will they be done online, or in person, or a combination of? But that is probably the highest priority, getting these guys more trained in different areas.”

Both Budd Lake and Flanders are seeking new members. Candidates should stop by any firehouse, and every year the department puts out quarterly or year-end videos on all publications (Facebook, Twitter) which details specifics. Every Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. in Flanders you can come down and fill out an application, and there is also contact information on the website. 

“Budd Lake Fire Department is always looking for new members to join the team,” says Compano. “We are a volunteer organization that meets every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Budd Lake Fire House.  Members are accepted at the age of 16 as Junior members. As the new Chief, I am looking forward to working with the Mayor, Council, Business Administrator, Police Chief and working together. I would like to thank all the firefighters for their dedication as well as their families for the time that we are away from them.”

A more detailed explanation of what the Township of Mount Olive Township Fire Prevention Bureau does can be found at www.mountolivetownship.com/fire_prevention and by calling (973) 691-0900. For information on the separate fire houses, visit www.buddlakefire.org and www.flandersfire.org.

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