Although Vogel had struggled all his life to prove he could do anything anybody else could do, the 4-foot-3 firefighter seemed not to understand the impact he had on the people around him, or how much he would be missed when he died.
As one of the shortest firefighters in the county and the first dwarf to serve as a firefighter in Hudson County, Vogel at 33 years old had already proven a lot, not to other people but to himself.
Vogel, who died on June 16, need not have worried, as fire vehicle after fire vehicle rolled into Secaucus from Moonache, N.J. for three straight days to help pay tribute to a man some call "a big little guy." Firefighters from Secaucus, Moonache and other towns gathered at the wake and funeral to say good-bye to a man they claim had a giant's heart.
As he worked in maintenance for the Secaucus Buildings and Grounds Department for 15 years, Vogel always dreamed of becoming a police officer, taking after his father, who had served for 25 years, and retiring as a lieutenant.
"I've wanted this all my life," he said last year after he had been accepted into the Secaucus Fire Department. "Actually I wanted to be a cop, but since I couldn't be that, I wanted this."
"Mark wanted to prove that he was just as good or better than any one else," said Raymond Cieciuch, Battalion chief for the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department.
Vogel had gone into public safety when he couldn't become a police officer. In Secaucus, he served as a firefighter at the Washington Hook and Ladder Company, after having graduated from the Bergen County Police and Fire academy in Mahwah in 2000.
Cieciuch remembered Vogel as a hard worker who was on "almost 90 percent of the calls."
"He was treated as just one of the guys," Cieciuch said. "Mark drove the fire truck. Mark also went into fires."
Exam before death
Vogel died last Saturday following an operation at the University Hospital in Newark to install a rod in his spine. The rod was necessary to keep him from becoming paralyzed. Vogel did survive the surgery, but went into a coma during the recovery phase. The hospital is investigating to determine what went wrong.
Three days before his death, Vogel had taken the final exam to become a class two firefighter, a distinction that would allow him to become an officer.
"This is something that many men in the department don't have," Cieciuch said. "I checked with the fire academy. They confirmed that Mark had passed. He went on his own. It was something he wanted."
As a volunteer fire fighter, Vogel was only required to take the basic fire training when he started, whereas the paid workers are required to take parts one and two right away. Vogel vowed to keep on advancing, learning more and doing more.
"I want to take more advanced training and get more experience," he said.
Worked for two fire departments
Frank Smith, chief of the Moonache Fire Department, said he had worked with Vogel both on the fire department and as a member of the Moonache First Aid Squad.
Smith said he was skeptical when Vogel wanted to join.
"I didn't think he could do it," Smith said. "I was a captain on the fire department then. But the man busted his ass and proved he could."
Vogel served as a member of First Responder for the Moonache Volunteer Fire Department since 1997; part of a medical response team that helps evaluate and care for medical emergency until Emergency Medical Technicians or paramedics could arrive on a scene.
"Although he could not lift a stretcher, he did everything else," Smith said, noting how Vogel's presence on an emergency scene often helped lift the spirits of victims and rescuers.
At the time of his death, Vogel still worked for the Moonache fire department and the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department.
"Moonache has rules that if you lived with a certain distance, you could be a member, and since he was already a member of the ambulance squad, he was allowed to join," Cieciuch said.
"We came to honor him," Smith said. "We have not had a firefighter fall in the line of duty. But this is close, and we feel that strongly about Mark. We're hanging up Mark's gear in our firehouse."
Although Vogel wanted to be a fire fighter, he didn't make the move until 1997, saying he was "a little scared." "I was worried that I couldn't do it, or that I couldn't pass (the tests)," he told the Reporter in an interview last year.
But encouragement from friends helped him overcome his fear, particularly a man named Harry Baker who helped get him on to the Moonache Fire Department. Vogel then took First Responder instruction at classes held in East Rutherford.
"I started out in first aid and that gave me a chance to show what I could do," he said.
But Vogel was determined to do things on his own.
"Most people are supportive," he said. "But if they did treat me badly, I wouldn't pay any attention to them. Most people treat me like anybody else, which is the way I like it."
In fact, he said he wouldn't let anyone give him special treatment either.
"I want to earn my way the way other people do, I don't want any special favors," he said
Vogel would try to do anything
Vogel on the last week of his life also managed to fulfill another dream.
"He always wanted to drive the fire apparatus," , said Cieciuch, who had helped Vogel become a member of the Secaucus Fire Department. "We extended the petals for him. On Tuesday, he drove to an unattended cooking fire In Harmon Cove."
Not that driving an ordinary vehicle was any challenge to him. Vogel drove his car wherever he wanted, and had learned years ago thanks to help of former board of education employee Delores McCarry.
Mayor Dennis Elwell said Vogel loved trucks, and often came around to Elwell's trucking firm to watch.
"He used to play with my son, Travis," Elwell said. "He spent many hours in my home. Although he was born with a very difficult disability, he was very energetic person. He went out to compete with people larger than him, and he was very successful. While he was a small person, he had the heart of a lion. He only wanted to help and be accepted into the community, and he never stopped trying."
Vogel learned to drive, and wanted to drive some of the DPW vehicles.
"He was a very good employee," Elwell said. "But the job he wanted most was to drive the small sweeper. He thought he could reach the pedals with extensions. We were working on that."
Cieciuch said he met Vogel 15 years ago when Vogel first started working for the town as a housekeeper in town hall.
"I'm his supervisor," Cieciuch said. "He worked hard and liked showing what he could do. Recently he worked his way up from a housekeeper to a custodian. He a go-getter a real hustler. He always gave all he had and would try to do anything."
Vogel once worked as a bartender at Charlie's Corner and as a bouncer at the Boogie Box Cafe. he cut lawns, detailed cars, and even walked dogs for residents in Harmon Cove. He also often ran errands for Secaucus senior citizens, and delivered meals to the town's senior citizen nutrition center.
"He always wanted to help people," Cieciuch said. "It was in his heart."
In his short lifetime, Vogel even got his picture taken with then-Gov. Christine Whitman at a Little People of America function, an organization of which he was a member.
Although very sensitive to the prejudices often aimed at people at his height, Vogel had a good sense of humor and was not above playing roles for children. He played the role of a Furby each year around Christmas, and he also agreed to work as an elf for the fire department holiday celebrations.
"If you want something in life, you have to go for it," Vogel said during an interview early in 2000. "How can you know if you can get it or not unless you try?"