Exempt Firemen, 1871-2022

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Exempt Firemen
DATES: 1871-2022
VOLUME: 11 cubic feet (27 boxes)


Exempt Fireman Certificate
Walton Sherman, former Freeholder
Long Branch Fire Department, November 17, 1920

***Click here to search the Exempt Firemen Certificates database***

The Exempt Firemen Series consists of:

  • Individual Firemen Certificates, 1880-2014
  • Lists of Firemen, 1871-1923
  • Firemen Registers, 1874-1996
  • Early Membership lists, 1871-1875
  • Miscellaneous correspondence, and
  • 13 out of county Exempt Certificates

The firemen listed are mostly male. A searchable computerized index is available in the Archives.


Eighteenth century New Jersey residents were well aware of the devastating effects of fire, but the State had no involvement in firefighting until 1826, when a law was passed to encourage the formation of fire companies. Under the December 14, 1826, “Act for the encouragement of fire companies,” fire companies were granted charters, provided that the fire company had one fire engine and between sixteen and thirty men. As an incentive to attract volunteers, firemen were exempted from military duty in time of peace. Twenty years later, through an “Act relative to juries and verdicts,” passed April 17, 1846, members of fire companies also were declared exempt from jury duty.

Although the laws granted these special privileges for those risking their own lives to protect their communities, they failed to provide any guidelines for record keeping procedures. This lack of defined regulations in monitoring individuals enrolled in a fire company eventually led to abuse of the system. Sometime between 1846 and 1860 (the exact date has not been determined), fire companies began including a five-year eligibility clause within the charter’s by-laws. Each fire fighter had to be enrolled in a fire company for five years before eligibility for the exemptions. But the lack of any legislatively mandated, uniform recording procedures resulted in further abuse of the privileges, which was not corrected until 1857.

On March 18, 1857, “A Supplement to the ‘Act relative to juries and verdicts, approved April 17, 1846,'” stated, “Whereas great embarrassment and inconveniences have been experienced in conducting the business of the court in several counties within the State from Sheriffs returning of jurors and. . . it is proper that public records should be kept of such citizens to which Sheriffs can have access and information.” The 1857 Act also stipulated that any fireman who claimed to be exempt from jury duty had to give proof of membership in a fire company. While the 1857 law also required each fireman to file his name in the office of the County Clerk of the county in which he resided, the earliest extant records in Monmouth County date from 1871.

It was not until 1876 that fire companies, members, and recording procedures came under the strict legislative regulations that had been established for corporations in 1846. Under the “Act for the incorporation of fire companies, approved April 21, 1876,” fire companies could become incorporated, “as a body corporate and politic in law . . .” and “be entitled to all the rights, powers and privileges, benefits, advantages and immunities now conferred upon corporations under the laws of this state.”

The law stated that not less than ten persons could associate themselves together and could incorporate under the name they chose. Fire company incorporations were issued by the legislature through an act of legislation, for a period not to exceed fifty years. The incorporation papers, which were filed with the County Clerk in the county where the incorporated fire company was located, included the purpose of the corporation, the laws and by-laws, and the names of all members.

A year later, a supplement was approved on March 9, 1877, increasing the five-year service requirement for exemptions to seven years. The 1877 Act also made it very clear that each member was required to file, in the office of the Clerk of the county in which he resided, a certificate prepared by the presiding officer of the company. The fireman would not be entitled to his exemptions without the recording of the certificate.

Another benefit was granted to exempt firemen on March 24, 1882, through “An Act Exempting Fireman from Taxes.” The act stated that all members of an organized volunteer fire company were exempt from the payment of taxes to the amount of $5. By the early 1900s, the tax exemption privilege was repealed.

Although the law stated that certificates were to be filed, Monmouth County fire companies continued to submit lists of active members to the County Clerk’s office. It was not until 1890 that firemen actually began filing their individual certificates in the Clerk’s Office.

Although fire chiefs still are required to file certificates with the County Clerk for firemen who have served seven years, the firemen no longer are entitled to military, jury, or tax exemptions, although they still qualify for a free three-year vendors license. For additional historical information, see History of NJ State Firemen Association.


Exempt Certificates are singular documents of individual firemen, 1890-1955. The filing of individual certificates, rather than lists of names submitted by the fire companies, began in 1890. A number of different styles of certificates are included in the record series. Most consist of a purely functional form, providing the name of the fireman and the fire company, the years of service, and the date of the certificate. Some forms also give the date the fireman joined the company and the date of exemption. Most firemen were given the certificate after seven years of service (five years before 1877); however, if they were part-time, the waiting period was longer, e.g. nine years for 60% time. Small proportions of the certificates are highly decorated with pictures of firemen, firefighting equipment and firehouses. A few of these are oversize and are stored separately.

Certificates are granted to volunteer firemen as a reward and incentive for serving. Early certificates often reference specific exemptions from jury duty and service in the state militia. Some early certificates mention a reduction in taxes. Others simply state that all exemptions provided by law are granted. Regardless of the style of the certificate, it is always signed by several officials, such as the officers of the fire company, mayor, and County Clerk. Certificates after 1935 usually cite Chapter 176 of the Laws of 1935, as amended by Chapter 117, Laws of 1936, which standardized their form.

Lists of Firemen, from 1871-1923, (bulk 1871-1911) were often sent to the County Clerk, sometimes as part of a letter or with a cover letter. The lists usually just provide the names of active members, new members, or discontinued members. Occasionally, other information is provided, such as length of service and occupation. The record series includes certificates for many firemen included in the lists.

Miscellaneous records include correspondence.

Firemen Registers, 1874-1996, are lists of firemen in three volumes stored in three flat boxes. The Firemen Registers contain columns of information for Date, Name, Name of Fire Company, and Date Exempt. Registers are arranged alphabetically by fireman’s surname. The names in the Registers have not been indexed in the database although most, if not all, are the same names as found in the certificates and lists.

Early Membership Lists, 1871-1875, were submitted by fire companies in Matawan, Long Branch, and Red Bank. These early membership lists, which pre-date the 1876 Act of Legislation requiring such lists, were submitted to the County Clerk by:

  • Washington Fire Co. No. 1, Matawan (1871)
  • Oceanic Fire Co. No. 1, Long Branch (1873)
  • Navesink Hook and Ladder, Red Bank (1873)
  • Washington Fire Engine Co., Matawan (1875)

The overwhelming majority of individuals in the Exempt Firemen series are male. At least one woman, Mrs. Emma K. Vernell, who joined the Red Bank Fire Company in 1926, received exemption privileges and certificate in 1935.


Boxes 1 to 15 of the firemen’s records are available for use on microfilm and the remainder as originals on paper.

A database indexing the records includes the following categories:

NAME Name of fireman
TOWN Location of firehouse
FIREHSE Name of Fire Company
YREXPT Year fireman was eligible for exemptions
YRJOIN Year fireman joined the company
LSYR Year the list of active members was prepared
SUBSER Subseries; indicates whether the name appears on a list or certificate
MCRFLM Microfilm roll number (if applicable)

The database, as of August 2014, includes 17,345 records of Monmouth County firemen, but this figure includes at least 15% duplication of names appearing on both lists and certificates. Some firemen served in different locations and received more than one certificate, while others appear on more than one list from the same fire company. The database has been compiled from the lists and certificates. As previously noted above, it is possible that some additional names may be found in the Registers. A searchable database is available online.


This collection is open to researchers.


Records in Boxes 1 to 15 of the Exempt Firemen are grouped alphabetically by town; records within town are grouped chronologically, and within these groups, arranged alphabetically by fireman’s surname. After the records were microfilmed in 1991, a supplemental series was established in which certificates are filed alphabetically by surname within towns arranged alphabetically. Most of the oversize certificates are in two flat boxes but three certificates that do not fit in the flat boxes are stored in a drawer in a metal flat file cabinet; two of these are attractively decorated.


Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: (732) 308-3771


The first portion of this record series was transferred to the Monmouth County Archives by County Clerk Jane G. Clayton before 1994. Deputy County Clerk Felicia Santaniello transferred two cubic feet of certificates, 1956-1999, in 1999 (Accession 1999-15). Since 1999, additional certificates have been sent to the Archives on a routine basis and added to the records.


Carmen G. Triggiano Jr. of the Archives staff, also a member of the Manasquan Hook & Ladder Company No. 1, processed the Exempt Firemen records in 2001. The finding aid was created April 1994; updated March 12, 2001; updated August 2, 2014.


For more information on Monmouth County fire companies incorporation papers, see Corporations Series and firehouse construction, see Building Contracts. See also New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.


Record Group 200




Allenhurst to Asbury Park


Atlantic Highlands to Avon


Belford to Eatontown


Elberon to Freehold


Freneau to Keansburg


Keyport to Little Silver


Long Branch, 1872-1907


Long Branch, 1910-1952


Manasquan to Matawan


Middletown to Navesink


Neptune to Ocean Grove


Oceanic to Red Bank, 1873-1919


Red Bank, 1920-1955, to Sea Bright


Sea Girt to Spring Lake Heights


Star Hook and Ladder to West Side Hose; miscellaneous documents


Aberdeen to Deal


Eatontown to Holmdel


Howell to Little Silver


Long Branch to Marlboro


Matawan to North Bergen


Ocean to Red Bank


Rumson to West Long Branch


Most recent, added from 2016-

Folder 1 last names A-L, Folder 2 last names M-Z



Flat box of Oversized certificates, A-K


Flat box of Oversized certificates, L-Z

Flat File

Very large certificates (3)

Exempt Firemen Registers, 1874-1996

Record Group 200.1


Firemen Registers


Vol. 1; 1874-1900


Vol. 2; 1901-1953


Vol. 3; 1953-1996