The atmosphere was celebratory and lighthearted as family and friends of firefighters from North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue gathered at the West New York-based headquarters March 26 for the swearing-in of a new chief and the promotion of seven firefighters to captain.
It had been a while since the mood was so jovial.
Back in December, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Newark branch of the NAACP’s claim that North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue’s residents-only hiring policy discriminated against blacks who wished to join the force.
Tuesday morning, there was a different kind of news.
“Today is a very special day for the regional fire department, as we will be swearing in our fifth chief in our young history,” Deputy Chief Charles Thomas said of new Chief Frank Montagne. Montagne served over a decade as deputy chief and replaced the now-retired former Chief Brion McEldowney.
Montagne then congratulated newly-promoted Orlando Trujillo, Michael Donnarumma, Glen Gavin, Robert D’Antonio, Phillip Cranwell, Thomas Willbergh, and Eugene D’Alessandro for their achievements and urged them to never forget to uphold the high standards of the force.
“Remember, it’s not the badge that you wear or the rank that you hold that determines your leadership,” Montagne told them. “What will determine your success as a leader are your everyday actions, on duty, and off duty.”
Honoring those who serve
Police Chaplain and Father S.T. Sutton asked for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives while on duty and during the 9-11tragedy. “May they always remember where they came from,” he said, “and may the new badges of light they received this morning continue to be signs and symbols of their dedication, their loyalty, and their promise to protect life and property.”
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco congratulated the new chief and the new captains and noted that Montagne scored “as high as anyone in the state of New Jersey could score.”
“It was a dream almost twenty years ago that someday a regional fire department with the scope as large as North Hudson would make fire safety the primary responsibility and that our towns would no longer have boundaries,” Sacco said. “And we’ve succeeded.”
“This is not a day for speeches, this is a day for families to enjoy as their husbands and fathers move up through the ranks,” Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff said.
He noted that the long list of Hudson County dignitaries present “speaks volumes to the close knit brotherhood of firefighters. They do a very difficult and challenging job, and I think this is recognized,” Drasheff continued. “It’s always a pleasure to recognize professional dedicated public servants as they move forward.”
“With everyone’s support, we will be one of the best departments in the state of New Jersey.” – Frank Montagne
Montagne’s wife Mary and two sons Anthony and Frank, along with many other family members, sat proudly in the front row.
“Our family has a long history of firefighting on both sides,” Mary Montagne said. “I think Frank will make an outstanding chief. He is so good to the department and to the men.”
“I want to recognize the tremendous responsibility that is placed upon me and this department,” the new chief explained in his acceptance speech. “You cannot do it alone. With everyone’s support, we will be one of the best departments in the state of New Jersey.”
As a testament to his hard and constant work as a member of the force, he avoided the typical rest-on-one’s-laurels acceptance speech and took the opportunity to congratulate – and to instruct – the seven new captains.
“You have the responsibility to be the best leaders you can possibly be and I know you will,” Montagne told them. “You must continue to be confident, to read, learn and train as firefighters. Read about the latest technology and equipment. Read about the problems that happen and what we can do to avoid them.”
He defined courage as a character trait that extends beyond that required to become a firefighter to begin with. “You have to make some very difficult decisions as young officers on the fly,” Montagne said. “You need to have the courage get through that: it is part of your leadership role. I have full confidence that you can do that.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.