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Long-serving N.J. fire chief dies at 110

Singac Fire Chief Vincent Dransfield was buried with his favorite hat proclaiming him the “oldest active fireman in the U.S.A.”

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Vincent Dransfield celebrated his 110th birthday at the Singac Fire Co. No. 3, where he volunteered for over 85 years, in Little Falls on March 16, 2024.

Alexandra Pais/TNS

By Rob Jennings
nj.com

LITTLE FALLS, N.J. — Vincent Dransfield was so famously resilient that when he passed away at home in Passaic County, three months after celebrating his 110th birthday, it came as a surprise.

“It was very unexpected,” said his granddaughter, Erica Lista.

Even among the world’s few hundred supercentenarians, the term for those 110 or older, Dransfield stood out as an anomaly.

He lived alone at a house in Little Falls, his home for 79 years, remained on the roster of the fire company where he served as fire chief from 1958 to 1965 and continued to drive his Hyundai sedan on local errands, his granddaughter said.

He died June 26 at home, three days after an upbeat final visit with Lista in which he perused photos of his great-grandson’s high school graduation. She said she brought him some cream for his joints because knee pain was one of the few things that ever slowed him down.

“Everything was the same. Nothing was amiss,” Lista said Monday. “He went the way he wanted to go. Being at home.”

Funeral services were held last week.

Dransfield’s admirers from Singac Volunteer Fire Co. No. 3 had hosted his 110th birthday party on March 16, 12 days before his actual birthday.

Upon his death, they fulfilled his final wish, transporting his casket via an antique fire truck from the funeral home in Little Falls to the cemetery in Totowa.

“He had helped refurbish it in the 1980s,” Lista said.

Dransfield’s wife of 54 years, Ann Dransfield, died in 1992, according to his obituary. Survivors include his daughter, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Dransfield was buried wearing his favorite cap, one which proclaimed him the “oldest active fireman in the U.S.A.,” Lista said. It was a cap he wore everywhere, including his 110th birthday party at the firehouse in March.

A bottle of Ovaltine was placed in the casket, she said.

Dransfield had playfully credited Ovaltine, the flavored milk drink, with his longevity, and the company recently sent him a two years supply and shared the video on TiTok.

“We have a ton of Ovaltine,” Lista said.

Dransfield never lived anywhere other than Little Falls and Paterson, where he was born in a house on Preakness Avenue on March 28, 1914. Woodrow Wilson was president, the U.S. was about to enter World War I and Yankee Stadium had not yet been built.

He discussed his early years in an interview in March with NJ Advance Media.

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“I graduated from School 5. The old School 5,” Dransfield said, referring to the building in Paterson down the street from where classes were relocated starting in 1939.

He quit school after the eighth grade.

Lista said he was delivering milk in his early 20s when his customers included legendary boxer Joe Louis, who trained in Pompton Lakes in the mid-1930s.

When World War II broke out, Dransfield was working as a manager at the Schmid company, which supplied condoms to U.S. troops overseas. He told his granddaughter he was not drafted into military service because his job was classified as a civil defense position.

He later worked as a manager at Crane Motors in Little Falls for 25 years, followed by several years at another job dealing with car parts, before retiring.

Dransfield got married in 1938 when he was 24, and his wife introduced him to Little Falls. When they moved into their house in 1945, it was located where a road did not yet exist.

He was a longtime New York Yankees fan — ever since the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957, he explained. This year, opening day, for only the second time in his long life, coincided with his birthday.

Lista said the family hasn’t finalized what to do with his car, which he used to swing by the local QuickCheck and ShopRite for coffee, newspapers, groceries and conversation in the years before his death.

It was perhaps the ultimate symbol of Dransfield’s astonishing run of good health.

She said they likely will keep it in the family.

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