Darren Rivers earned the nickname “Demonslayer” early in his career as a Jersey City fire fighter for his aggressiveness and fearlessness in going into burning buildings.
“I really didn’t have a lot of fear, and I attribute a lot of that to the firemen who were my superiors – some of the best I ever knew on the job – and how they trained me,” Rivers said.
Before the end of this week, Rivers will be taking on the biggest challenge of his 28-year career when he officially becomes Jersey City Fire Department’s first African-American chief in its 181-year history.
Rivers has been serving in a provisional capacity since former chief Michael O’Reilly’s retirement on Sept. 1, and will officially become chief once he is sworn into office.
Rivers, 49, worked his way up the ladder to the department’s top post. He spent his first six years as a firefighter before he was promoted to fire captain in 1988. In 2001, he became a battalion chief, and then a CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) officer in 2004. He became deputy chief in 2007, serving in that capacity until his promotion to chief.
‘They will see that, with a little hard work, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.’ – Darren Rivers
“It didn’t hit me until Chief O’Reilly retired and I was named chief,” Rivers said. “I feel like I am living someone else’s dream – but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Rivers is a Jersey City native who currently lives in Hillsborough with his wife and five children. Rivers said he and his wife plan to move back to Jersey City in the near future to be closer to his workplace, especially important now due to his appointment as chief.
Reaching the heights of his profession
Rivers, a 1979 Lincoln High School graduate, was already a married man by the time he was out of school. With a family on the way and nothing but odd jobs to make ends meet, Rivers, unable to complete college, decided to go down the civil service route and took the exam to become a police officer.
It was while waiting for the results of the police exam that he decided to take the firefighter’s exam with encouragement from his mother, who brought him the exam application.
“I wanted to take care of my family, to have a steady job, and things worked out when I passed the exam,” Rivers said.
Rivers became a firefighter at 21 and has not looked back since. He turns 50 in November, and was planning on working one more year. Instead, as chief, he plans to put in another five years, saying he likes to operate on five-year plans.
While he is meeting with various city officials to discuss the other initiatives he will carry out as chief, his first priority in his new position is to make sure to “improve the morale” of the department. Rivers said the department suffered a considerable blow in the past year when over 100 firemen – with more than 2,000 years experience combined – retired due to Gov. Christopher Christie’s major drive to cap sick leave payouts for public employees.
“It’s a shame that firemen and police officers have become the targets of people’s anger,” Rivers said. “When they weren’t making as much money, people didn’t care.”
Rivers also sees being chief as a moment to continue as a role model to African-Americans, as well as to all Jersey City youth.
“They will see that, with a little hard work, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to,” Rivers said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.