Belleville veterans, public officials and residents were at the Municipal Building last weekend to mark the annual observance of Memorial Day and to belatedly dedicate a historic Fire Bell.
Among the invited guests were Barbara and Frank Marino. Barbara is the daughter of John Resciniti Sr., who donated the bell as a memorial intended as a remembrance and tribute to those deceased members of the Belleville Fire Department.
By Barbara’s recollection, the 2,500-pound bell was placed in front of the Municipal Building on Washington Ave. as far back as 1962 but has never been formally commemorated until now.
In “A History of the Belleville Fire Bell,” author Anthony Buccino, a Belleville native and local historian, and Marino recount how the bell – 3-foot-1-inch high and 4-foot-inch in diameter – was cast in bronze by the Meeheeny Co., of Troy, N.Y., and purchased in 1898 by the township’s fire commissioners. Its arrival in Belleville was welcomed by a parade of local firefighters.
From 1898 to 1935 the bell hung in a 50-foot tower at the William St. firehouse, where Volunteer Co. 2, then known as the Eastwood Co., was quartered. Aside from summoning the volunteers to a fire, the bell rang to announce the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
In 1935, the bell was retired to sit on cement blocks in the rear of the firehouse and it was turned over to the custody of the Belleville Exempt Firemen’s Association. During World War II, the association decided to donate the bell to a salvage scrap drive but the bell was never melted down.
Periodically, the bell rang on the occasion of the death of a Belleville firefighter, the last time for the funeral procession of Fireman Michael Carr on May 4, 1960.
After deciding to set up the bell as a memorial, the association approached local scrap dealer John Resciniti who agreed to sign over its ownership to the Exempt Firemen’s group which enlisted the aid of the Belleville Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, Local 29, and Ladies Auxiliary of the Belleville Fire Dept. which donated funds to finance the memorial.
Off-duty firefighters dug the footing, retired Firefighter Charles Natale helped firefighters lay the bricks that make up the two supporting piers; local monument setter Vincent Sorrentino donated his truck to swing the ton-and-a-half bell into place; and local sign painter Joseph Dietz offered the use of his truck and boom to set the heavy limestone in place to complete the memorial outside the Municipal Building.
– Ron Leir