When the emergency crew got there, the owner was standing outside. It took 10 minutes to get the fire under control. The house suffered considerable damage to the roof and third floor, besides extensive water damage. No one was injured.
When firefighters turn out for a call, they never really know what to expect, but they are trained for all types of situations."We have specific criteria when responding. A structural fire, like the one on Friday, is an all-call - everybody comes with all the equipment," said Battalion Chief Mike Gonnelli last week. "Car fires require two engines." There are 89 volunteers in the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department. They are paid a monthly stipend of $250, if they respond to at least 35 percent of the calls throughout the month. They can receive up to $500 for any firefighting clothing that is damaged during a call. Firefighters must be trained for 130 hours at either the Bergen County Fire Academy in Mahwah or at Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayerville. The town pays for the training out of its budget. Before that, they are known as auxiliary firemen. The course can be taken straight out or on two nights a week until completed. "Auxiliary firemen don't have the same duties. They can't do any interior or structural firefighting," said Fire Chief Raymond Cieciuch. "Going inside is a whole different ball game."
What it takes
Each fire has different degrees of danger and difficulty, said Cieciuch.
"Depending on the fire's intensity, people's distance from exits - there are a lot of considerations," he said. "Getting the people to safety comes first."
The main goals include protection of life, the environment and property. The training involves developing an effective thought process as well as knowing how to use the tools of the trade.
In the last year, Secaucus firefighters went out on a total of 600 responses, said Gonnelli. In August alone, there were 80 calls. Besides house fires and car fires on the NJ Turnpike, there were 32 of false alarms. Some of the calls included seven calls for brush fires and one natural gas leak. There were three calls for fires from unattended cooking, two calls for carbon monoxide, and one call was for an infant locked inside a car. "The false alarms are a regular occurrence each month," said Gonnelli. "It can be anything from lack of maintenance on smoke detectors to power surges."
During a storm in the middle of August, there were multiple alarms at Allied Junction, the Harmon Cove townhouses, and on three different streets. The same night, there was a call for people trapped inside an elevator at Harmon Cove Towers. During the two-hour response, no one was injured.
"You never know what's going to happen during a call," said Cieciuch. "But with the continuing support of the mayor and Town Council, we have all the resources we need to keep things running smoothly."
The five houses train two times a month as a department. They also train regularly as individual units. All must keep current with new technologies and information on the variety of problems that can arise during an emergency.
Some recent mandatory training sessions included "Blood Born Pathogens" and "Confined Space Rescue and Entry".
Even local corporations lend a hand.
In October, Hartz Mountain will sponsor training on their property in high-rise firefighting and elevator safety. NJ Transit will provide commuter bus firefighting and natural gas seminars for continuing education purposes. While there is talk from time to time of instead implementing a paid department, the volunteers save the city and taxpayers millions of dollars.
Above and beyond
Chief Cieciuch said two fire department volunteers have come forward after a nationwide request for firefighters for the Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. They will be on stand in case needed to relieve firefighters down South.
"One of our firefighters, Dan Monti, went to Alabama," said Cieciuch. "He's also a Red Cross volunteer and was mobilized by them the day after the hurricane hit."
Since the Secaucus Firefighters began in 1891, they have lost only six men. Currently, there are continuing memorials on the Rt. 3 overpass and at Engine Co. No. 2, Engine 1 on Paterson Plank Rd. for ex-Captain William Koenemund, who died 20 years ago Sept. 2. Koenemund was driving a rescue engine full of firefighters back from a mutual call in Passaic when he had a heart attack. He managed to pull over safely on the bridge before he collapsed and died.
"At one time, there were 221 volunteer years [of total service] throughout the Koenemund family," Cieciuch said. "We've had other families too, like the Glasser and Cosky family with generations of volunteers. It's been a long-time tradition for many people in town."