September 16, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES I • Page 23 100 Trial by fire (continued from page 18) adjoining structures in the area and immediately called for assistance. The Paterson Fire Department dispatched horse-drawn pumpers from the North Street Station. The firefighters battled the blaze throughout the frigid night, which bottomed out at five below zero, but the school building was completely destroyed. Chief Brown’s quick actions saved the surrounding dwellings and businesses from flying embers, although McNeil’s Drugstore (now H. Rubin Opticians) was severely scorched. The late John Olthuis, a life member of the department, remembered seeing his firefighter father (Jacob H.) returning home that night covered with ice. September 1949 brought another challenge for the department: the explosion at the Goelitz Candy Company. At 3:10 p.m. on a warm Saturday afternoon, neighbors heard a muffled noise and spotted billows of black smoke over the corner of Godwin and Rea avenues. The longest and perhaps most difficult fire in department history had begun. Twenty-two of the candy company’s employees survived the explosion of hot sugar, which started the blaze. Upon arrival, Chief John Pitman Jr. called for help from the Ridgewood, Wyckoff, Waldwick, and Hawthorne fire departments. The structure fire was being fueled by vats of hot sugar and raw ingredients in storage. The battle demanded large volumes of water, which presented a challenge at that time, and firefighters could not enter the structure due to the advanced nature of the fire. Firefighters continued their battle into the night, working on the primary structure fire and ensuring that it did not spread as wind-blown embers scattered through the town. The next day, the fire was under control, but had not been extinguished. The Midland Park Fire Department, with the help of the neighboring towns, remained on the scene until Wednesday morning: three and a half days after the initial call. Memorable fires of the last 50 years The most challenging fire in the memory of presentday firefighters was the fire that destroyed the middle section and the third floor of the Brownstone Mill at the corner of Goffle Road and Paterson Avenue. On June 20, 1975, the fire department had been called to Midland Park High School to extinguish a suspicious fire at a construction site. Within minutes, the department received word of a structure fire at the old stone mill, the tallest building in town. The two fully-manned pumpers and emergency truck responded immediately but found the building fully engulfed in flames. Upon arrival at the scene, Chief Henry Amos Jr. called for a second alarm and requested mutual aid. Glen Rock, Ho-Ho-Kus, Waldwick, and Wyckoff helped to fight the multi-floor blaze at the mill well past dawn, saving the historic mill from total destruction. “It would not burn down. We couldn’t see through the black smoke,” remembers 49-year veteran Dan Bardzell. “They had mats on the floor (it was home to a karate school), and as you walked on them, it felt like the floor was going to give way any moment,” he added. “I remember looking up the stairs and thinking it looked like a flame thrower,” remembers Peter Jeffer, who reported to the fire straight from fire school that night. That year, June 21 was the fire department’s annual picnic. It was remembered as the sleepiest picnic in the organization’s history. An arson fire at the May residence on Park Avenue stands out in present day firefighters’ minds as well. “It was so hot, the bed burned through the floor, and the phones melted,” said Jeffer, remembering that the ceiling fell in, blocking the firemen’s exit route and forcing them to back out. The Amos residence fire on Center Street (next to the Senior Center), “was the coldest,” remembers Hollema, who said he and fellow fireman Rink Vanderbush couldn’t get down from the roof because their wet coats had frozen on to the roof shingles. Aug. 28, 1985 marks the saddest day in the department’s th ANNIVERSARY history. On that date, 74-year-old Marinus “Pat” Witte was lost during a fire at the Stripping Depot on Goffle Road, which had previously served as the Midland Park train station. His death was the first in the line of duty in the history of Midland Park. Witte rode on the tail step that day. As a result of his death and others, firefighters were later banned from riding the tail step of any fire apparatus. Witte, who had been a fireman for 43 years, was famous for knowing every hydrant and street in town. He was also a skilled carpenter who used his expert craftsmanship to add to the department’s antique 1921 Model T pumper. During a summer thunderstorm that year, 40 homes were evacuated after lightning downed the electrical wires on Paterson Avenue. Residents reported an extremely bright white light at several spots and a hum that was heard throughout town. The wires eventually ignited natural gas from the pipes on Paterson Avenue, forcing the evacuation. PSE&G aided the situation by shutting off the gas and electric supply to the area. In September 1999, firefighter Albert Van Houten Jr. and Midland Park Police Officer Smith were cited for heroism for pulling an impaired woman from her burning car on Bank Street. Van Houten heard the crash and saw the woman trapped in her smoldering car near his home. He rushed out and, together with Smith, pried open the door. They were then joined by Chief Albert Van Houten Sr., and worked together to remove the woman from the vehicle. Throughout the years, the Midland Park Fire Department’s tireless volunteers have been on the scene of each and every blaze, no matter the day or the time. And residents are grateful. On Jan. 26, 2004, a serious house fire extensively burned the garage, kitchen, and second floor of a home on Colonial Road. Neighbors provided coffee and refreshments for the firefighters who turned out on that cold evening. In March 2006, a house fire on Dairy Street challenged firefighters, as the basement blaze was fed by a natural gas leak. The damage was so severe that the homeowner opted to replace the building. However, in recognition of the firefighters’ valiant effort, the resident placed a sign on his front lawn expressing his gratitude.