It has been more than four decades since James Lang followed in his father's footsteps as a member of the Squankum Fire Company. In that time he has seen a lot of change not only in the town of Howell but in the area the department covers.
Now currently serving as the president, Lang and Chief Michael Capper said they are proud of how far the department have come since its founding in 1950 as the Camp Housman Fire Company. Capper said he joined the department as a 16-year-old junior fire fighter and has worked his way up to top of the ladder.
The Squankum company has close to 30 members and Lang said many of them are lifetime members like himself who have been around for a long time. "There's a couple of us that do what we can and stay with it because we've been doing for so long," he said.
Lang said one of the biggest differences between when he started and now is the training the members go through to serve their community. In the early days he said a lot of the training was done with visiting firefighters from places like Newark, Jersey City and New York. "In the summer it was hands on and you'd still sometimes get those guys to come down and we had joint drills," he said.
Now with all the training done through the fire academy Lang said it is a different experience for those who want to join their local departments. "We've gone from where we were having relatively very little training with a lot of hands on experience and we had a lot of fires."
Currently Lang said the department responds to its fair share of fire calls and also helps with first aid calls in the area. He also said the number of working fires has declined as technology has improved. "People would drive by, they'd see smoke coming out of the eaves of the house and they'd call you in the middle of the day." That was before the fire bureau was established in the 1970's when smoke detectors and alarms became more common in houses.
Like Lang, Capper is carrying on a family tradition of fire fighting. Being able to continue that tradition with his department is important to him. Asked what his favorite part of being a Squankum firefighter Lang said there is a "great group of guys here," with all of them sharing a "commitment to being here for the community."
The Squankum Fire Company covers the part of town from Route 33 to Maxim Rd. and also from the Wall border to Squankum Yellowbrook Rd. near Howell High School. That territory makes up close to 12 square miles. Because of their location Capper said they also work regularly with the neighboring Farmingdale Fire Department. "They head out during the day with us depending on where it is," he said.
In addition to Farmingdale the chief said they also work in mutual aid situations with other houses including Ramtown on their southern border and Freewood Acres for incidents on Route 195 from the Wall border to Jackson.
Whether they are working on their own or with a neighboring department, Capper said all the houses in town are working toward the same goal. "We're all committed to working with each other," he said.
Lang said no matter what district they serve in; the members of the various departments have a common sense of pride in their efforts. "It's more of a feeling that you're all part of Howell," he said. "We're five fire districts but we're one Howell Fire Department."
In addition to full-fledged members the Squankum house also has junior program as well. Capper said junior members need to be at least 17-years-old. By joining they can see what is involved with being a firefighter without being able to actually fight fires. "It just gets them involved in the fire company and shows them what everything's about," he said. "It gets them ready so as soon as they turn 18 they can go to the fire academy and start their state service."
One of the things that sets the Squankum house apart from others in town is the memorial in the back of their property. What started as a tribute to members of their department who had died, Capper said it took on a different meaning after the 9/11 attacks. "It just kind of progressively got bigger with the addition of 9/11 and everything else that's going on," he said.
Since it was built Capper said it has become an important part of the department. "We wanted a place that we could go out back and especially on Memorial Day have a place of remembrance for our guys that were here and built us to what we've become today."
For more information on the department check out their website or call 732-938-9391