Twenty-two new recruits were officially sworn into action, representing the largest hiring that the NHRFR has enjoyed since the five participating municipalities, North Bergen, West New York, Union City, Weehawken and Guttenberg, joined forces to form one unilateral firefighting unit in January, 1999.
It also represented the first time that any hiring took place off the new standardized, regional list. In the past, any new firefighters that were hired came from the old existing lists that were operational in each town. The new NHRFR list has received state certification and is taken through the auspices of the Civil Service examination.
The 22 new recruits brings the total of NHRFR firefighters to 309, which is two more than the total force figure of 307 men recommended by the consulting firm that closely examined the transformation into one regional department.
"It's encouraging that our man power level is now up to the number recommended by the consultants," said Michael Deorio, the co-director of the NHRFR. "It's also nice to see a good mixture of the five communities represented with the new hiring. Each town was represented, and that was purely coincidental. We took the applicants who finished with the 22 highest scores. It just happened to turn out that there was at least one from each town."
Nine of the new recruits are from North Bergen. Five hail from West New York, four from Union City and two each from Weehawken and Guttenberg.
The new recruits have been hired at an annual salary of $25,000, but will receive an increase to $29,000 upon completion of the five-week training course at the Bergen County Police and Fire Academy in Mahwah.
The extensive training will allow all 22 to be trained as a group together, with several NHRFR firefighters acting as instructors.
The hiring will allow the NHRFR to increase manpower in each of the regional's 18 companies. Each vehicle, which had been previously operating on an average of three men, will now feature four firefighters.
"This brings us up to recommended strength," said NHRFR co-director Jeff Welz. "We're going to be able to provide additional manpower during the traditional vacation period in the summer. It's also an evolutionary step in that we hired off our own list for the first time. That was the last bastion of the old regime, because we had to hire off the old lists in the past. This solidifies the separation from the former setup of five different departments into the true regional department."
Welz said that the NHRFR is also establishing its own promotional list within the ranks. Promotions should be announced sometime next month, using the results of their own test for the first time.
"That will provide the final step for regionalization," Welz said. "I think we're all very happy that the business managers and the mayors of the five towns authorized such a huge hiring. You really can't ask for more than that. These 22 were at the top of a very competitive test, with more than 500 applicants. So they were the cream of the crop."
Welz said that he was also encouraged that many of the newly hired firefighters always had the hopes and aspirations to be firefighters.
"This way, we were able to make their dreams come true," Welz said. "Most of these guys would have never been offered the opportunity to become hired, unless it was for the regionalization."
NHRFR Chief Edward Flood likes the idea that the new recruits always had hopes of becoming firefighters.
"From what I've reviewed in the personnel files and from the few I've had the chance to meet, they all seem to be very motivated to become firefighters and that's excellent for our department," Flood said. "They are anxious to get started. They are a very intelligent group, with several of them being bilingual, which is definitely an asset in this area."
Added Flood, "I think having one unified list and one unified promotional list is going to go a long way to help morale in the department. This shows that there are no longer five individual departments, only the one regional."
"It's a sign that the regional is finally coming into its own," Deorio said.
The appointees are: From North Bergen, James Corso, Patrick Cospito, Michael Crossan, Robert D'Antonio, Jr., Todd Estabrook, Jose Izquierdo, Keith Cowan and Steve Wojotowicz; from West New York, Desmond Boyle, Kory Cocciadiferro, Francisco Martinez and Henry Ruiz.
Also, from Union City, Steve Alvarez, Fernando Astralaga, William Shelton, Robert Torres, Jr., and Richie Velez; from Guttenberg, Jose Pujols and Michael Stoecker; and from Weehawken, Edward Vion and Charles Snyder.