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Historic 100-year-old South Jersey fire company needs your help

Historic 100-year-old South Jersey fire company needs your help
Historic 100-year-old South Jersey fire company needs your help 03:57

DEPTFORD, N.J. (CBS) -- For 100 years, Black men in the North Woodbury section of Deptford Township have banded together, selflessly, to serve their community.

They are the Helping Hand Fire Company.

"This firehouse was founded by family," said Capt. Bryant Fiddler. "I'm fourth generation."

The company's founding dates back to 1922, making it one of the oldest African American volunteer stations in the state.

"There were a couple surrounding towns that had fire companies, but it would take them longer to get here. And it was more or less, are they going to fight the fire the same way in your community that they're going to fight for theirs?" said Fiddler.

"I look at it like this, if something was going wrong to my family, I would like somebody to be there to help them," retired chief Sheldon Johnson said.

And for so many of the men who have and do serve with Helping Hand, it's all they've ever known.

"My earliest memories, I was probably like 3 or 4, because I would hang out with my grandpop during the day," said Fiddler.

"I've been here since I was 15 years old," said Johnson. "I'm 64 sitting in front of you."

Even community members who aren't volunteers with Helping Hand see how remarkable they've been and continue to be.

"Very hard-working, very dedicated, very family-oriented," Deptford Township councilman Wayne Love said.

The legacy of Helping Hand Fire Company speaks for itself.

"There was, away from your home, as a young man, to keep you off the streets and getting in trouble and everything. It was the fire department," Johnson said.

Now as a volunteer force, these men were not and still are not paid. Members have always had full-time jobs, but they give their time anyway.

But as Helping Hand's members celebrate their storied past, they look ahead to an uncertain future. It's harder now to find young people who want to volunteer their time.

This is how the trucks at Helping Hand Fire Company used to look. Helping Hand Fire Company

"Children now, it's sports, games have a huge interest, there's not a lot of hands-on activities," Fiddler said.

There's a shortage of youth in the community looking to help. At its peak, Helping Hand had between 60 and 65 members. Today, their membership sits at just 21.

"To get there, we have to get out and reconnect with our roots and our community, let them know that yes we're still here, yes we can still help you, and it doesn't have to be an emergency," Fiddler added.

Fiddler believes that if you can contribute as little as an hour a week to Helping Hand, you may be able to help them. Both he and former Chief Johnson say Helping Hand has helped mold them into the men they are today. 

"They kept me out of trouble...took me around, you met people," Johnson said.

"Being a part of this fire company has opened up many many different relationships for me," another member said.

And it's all borne out of that sense of community that formed over 100 years ago.

If you're interested in getting involved, you can find them on Facebook below or click here.

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