Schuyler Co. 2 carries long family legacy

NORTH ARLINGTON —

This is the story of a volunteer fire company that is celebrating its centennial this year. It is also the story of a family, inextricably linked to that fire company for the entirety of those 100 years.

Schuyler Engine Co. 2 formally opened in 1916, founded by a group of local men led by George A. Eckardt, whose Meadow Brook Dairy farm was located just off Schuyler Ave. (at the foot of Noel Drive). The community’s first fire company, Hose Co. 1, had opened in 1910, but it was some distance from the still-rural eastern side of town, where property was often endangered by fires erupting in dry, grassy  areas, particularly the meadowlands.

Hence, Eckardt formed a committee, which began holding meetings in his farmhouse and, in fairly short order, raised enough funds ($300) to erect its own firehouse. The original building stood on the west side of Schuyler Ave., near Gard Ave. (now Canterbury Ave.), where the North Arlington Volunteer EMS is now. The fire station on the east side was dedicated in 1995.

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Other founding members in 1916 included Frank Eckardt Sr. (George’s brother), Henry Rodenburg, George Lentz, William Zurhiede Sr., Edward Maier Sr., Peter Bianchi and Joseph Bianchi. George Eckardt was unanimously elected as  the company’s first chief, his granddaughter Margaret Nichols noted.

George had four sons (more about them later) and one daughter, Clara, all of whom were raised on the farm — which wasn’t some “garden” operation, but a real farm, with barn, milkhouse, farmhand quarters, horses, pigs and 10 cows.

In fact, until 1989 (by which time the property had changed hands), folks travelling along Schuyler Ave. could look down the hill and still see some horses in the corral.

Schuyler Co. 2 was just 5 years old when Clara was born, and as she grew, she worked there. Washing the floors. Every week. She did that from girlhood to her early 20s, when she married and left home. How do we know this? Because Clara (Eckardt Mayer), a delightful font of local history, still lives in North Arlington. She celebrated her 95th birthday this past March and was a guest at Schuyler Co. 2’s 100th anniversary celebration Friday night.

Two of Clara’s brothers, Charles and William, followed in their father’s footsteps and became dairymen. Her other two brothers, George F. (the oldest) and Walter (the youngest) followed in their father’s footsteps and became firefighters.

Walter became chief of Schuyler Co. 2 in 1970 and was selected as the borough’s Firefighter of the Year in 1997. Tragically, he suffered a fatal heart attack just a few months after receiving the award.

George F. served as a fireman until he entered military service during World War II.  He was killed in action, storming  Omaha Beach on D-Day — June 6, 1944. The new Schuyler firehouse and a street near the old family farm have been named in his honor. (Note to North Arlington officials: The street is called Eckhardt Terrace. That’s a misspelling. If you are honoring a hero, you should get his name right. It’s a short street. Correcting the signs shouldn’t be a major project. For shame.)

As Clara’s daughter Margaret Nichols — also a North Arlington resident — noted in a congratulatory letter to Schuyler Co. 2 on the occasion of its centennial, the next generation carried on the family tradition. George A.’s grandson Walter Eckardt was a North Arlington fireman until a change of residence forced him to resign, and granddaughter  Diane Eckardt Piscal made local history in 1986, become the borough’s first female firefighter.

The family saga does not end there.  Founder George A.’s great-grandson Matthew Piscal joined the Fire Department at age 18 and is now a lieutenant.  Another great-grandson, Jeffrey Nichols (Margaret’s son), is chief of Schuyler Co. 2 — exactly a century after his ancestor held the same job — and this past Saturday, he was elected assistant  chief of the entire borough department.

More? Just last month, great-granddaughter Marissa Piscal (Diane’s daughter; Matthew’s sister) was sworn in as an NAFD member.

In her five-page letter to Schuyler Co. 2,   Margaret Nichols paid a beautiful tribute to the volunteers who serve, and have served, their community. “While we are very proud of our bloodline in the Schuyler Firehouse,” she wrote, “we are also well aware that eight people in the past 100 years could never keep an organization together, and that is where all of you have played such an important role.”

She continued: “Each one of you has contributed to the growth and continuity of the Schuyler Firehouse . . . . You all have the same ideals as George Eckardt did — that the Schuyler Firehouse is vital to the safety and well-being of the residents of North Arlington . . . .  Each one of you, past and present members, has gone the distance to keep this much-needed organization going strong.”

Nichols explained that her mother, Clara – George A.’s last surviving child – had asked her to write the letter “to extend her most sincere gratitude to you all for keeping the dream and hard work of her father alive.”

And so they have, from the days of hand-drawn hose carts to the first horse-drawn hook-and-ladder (purchased used from the Kearny FD in 1927 for $20) to today’s sleek, state-of-the-art engines and trucks.   Schuyler’s firefighters, and the rest of North Arlington’s Bravest, have served with courage and commitment.

Nichols ended the letter as follows: “George Eckardt lived an abundant life, devoted to his family and his hometown. . . . When God called him home [in 1963] and his work here on Earth was finished, he left it in your hands for all of you to carry on.  I am happy to say you did not disappoint him.”

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Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent