Former firefighters Larry and Frieda Smashey work to keep the history of Mantua’s fire departments alive following a 2006 vote to consolidate, and close, two long-standing fire companies.
Barnsboro (incoporated in 1909) and Mantua (incorporated in 1910) volunteer fire companies met their fate in a two-year span following the vote due to cost and membership reasons, and to establish a clearer way of funding the fire department. Sewell and Centre City stations are the two remaining ones.
Larry and Frieda caught wind of the news and decided to round up the equipment the fire department didn’t have space for, and create the Mantua Township Fire and EMS Museum. There, they host a number of tours for curious onlookers.
Within the museum are three antique fire trucks, a 1915 Mac, 1929 Ford and a 1945 Mac from Sewell, Barnsboro and Mantua, respectively, old gear, documents and rescue equipment.
“I have one mannequin in an old uniform and the others are in old rubberized coats or jackets,” Larry said.
“Little by little, we collected old cabinets,” Frieda said. “The ladies auxiliary has helped and we’ve had a few fundraisers. We bought newer cabinets and display cases for things.”
Frieda added the museum has a total of 16 “dedicated volunteers” who all have been involved with the township’s fire service in some capacity.
The museum is largely sustained by rentals of the adjacent fire hall.
As the years go on, Larry said the fire district doesn’t typically donate old equipment to the museum, but instead sells it to other states or countries who could be in more need of it.
“A lot of it goes to Mexico and South America because they’re so far behind us, it’s a shame,” Larry said. “It’s surprising. You look at fire service across the world and we’re behind some of the other countries.”
Larry said the trucks on occasion will be pulled out of the bays for parades in the township, the Wheaton Village Fire Muster or the Wildwood firemen’s convention.
The museum is also home to some EMS equipment, such as uniforms, resuscitators and communications equipment from Mantua, Centre City and Sewell stations prior to the county creating a unified system.
Larry said sifting through some of the antiques they have brings back fond memories of when he was a firefighter.
“You go through the books and see some of the pictures of the fires we’ve been to,” he said. “One I’ve been trying to find is an old article with some pictures for a building fire in Woodbury. It happened in the 1970s and was one of the biggest fires this county has ever seen.”
Frieda said the memorabilia brings back memories of being in the service and remembering the accomplishments and strong camaraderie she had with the other firefighters.
Other than display items from the township’s fire service, the Smasheys said they utilize their experience as firefighters to teach fire prevention to the kids and schools that visit.
As the township continues to accept more and more volunteer and paid firefighters, the two said they wouldn’t want to force any of the current, or future, firemen to visit the museum, but wants them to know it’s always available for them to tour.
“We’re trying to get them involved, but they’re young kids,” Larry said. “They’re involved with the fire company, families, kids, jobs and stuff like that.”
To schedule a visit to the museum or rent the adjacent fire hall, call (856) 468-2335. To mail in a donation, send it to P.O. Box 272, Mantua, N.J. 08051 – or hand-deliver it to the museum on Tuesday evenings.
“There’s so much history in here, how could they just throw it all away and not have a second thought about it?” Frieda said. “They thought it was just junk and got rid of it. We didn’t want it to go down the drain, we wanted to preserve what we currently have.“