Missing: Pleasantville Fire Department Bell, New Jersey

Firefighters and police in southern New Jersey are asking the public for information on a missing bell, hours after it was stolen from the Pleasantville Fire Department. The bell, cast in 1909 at the Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, has given service to the community in Atlantic County for over a century.

Originally installed as a neighborhood alarm bell, the bronze bell would sound the tocsin to announce a nearby conflagration and call firefighters to the station. For decades, it was installed in a purpose-built watch tower adjacent to the firehouse on Washington Avenue, but had most recently relocated to an alley abutting the building – while the department added a new hydrant out front and plans for a new stand and memorial that would incorporate the fire bell were finalized.

Historical photograph of the Pleasantville Fire Department bell

Image: Historical photograph of the Pleasantville Fire Department on Washington Avenue in Pleasantville, Atlantic County, New Jersey. The bell is pictured along the right margin, suspended 10 feet above ground in the fire watch tower. Courtesy: Pleasantville Fire Department.

That all changed earlier this week when the fire department, returning to the alley to measure the several-hundred-pound bell, found it missing. Where the bell had sat, covered and waiting on a wood pallet, was now an empty space with a trail of leaves and debris speaking to the thieves’ methods. It is believed a pallet jack was used to drag the bell from the alley and slide it into a waiting trailer or truck. 

Battalion Chief Eric Moran gave insight into how the bell helped preserve the department’s history: “I would say the bell is irreplaceable. It's one of a kind. It's tied to our fire department.” With advancing electronics and sirens, the bell’s functional role was no longer needed, but it remained a tangible link to a century of service.

Video: Trish Hartman reports on the missing Pleasantville Fire Department bell for 6abc Action News. Courtesy: WPVI-TV.

Speaking to reporters after the incident, Paul Ashe, director of the National Bell Festival, provided background on why someone would steal a historical bell: “The bell is cast in bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, two valuable commodities. While it’s possible the bell was taken by a collector or someone wishing to pawn off the bell intact, it’s more likely they wish to smelt the bell for scrap materials.”

The fire department has been in touch with local scrapyards and metal recyclers while the Pleasantville Police Department conducts their investigation. “Hopefully out of the kindness of their heart it shows up,” said Moran, the Battalion Chief. “You can drop it off at our doorstep or tell us where to go find it.” No questions asked. The station just wants their history back.

Cover image: The Pleasantville Fire Department bell on a pallet awaiting installation in a new stand and memorial. Courtesy: Pleasantville Fire Department.