"I always planned on retiring after 30 years," said Flood, who announced last week that he will retire as the chief of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue on April 1. "Quality of life in retirement is the key. You want to enjoy the fruits of your labor while you can. I never wanted to stay past the 30 years."
The NHRFR serves five towns: North Bergen, West New York, Weehawken, Union City, and Guttenberg. Flood never dreamed that when it came time to hang up the helmet, boots and gear for good, he would do so as the top uniformed officer in the largest regional fire department in the state of New Jersey.
The Weehawken native was named as the first-ever chief of the NHRFR three years ago, after being an instrumental force in having the five participating municipalities join forces in 1999.
"It was the most ambitious project in the history of New Jersey fire safety," said the 54-year-old Flood, who was a longtime member of the Weehawken fire department before being promoted to the role of the NHRFR's first chief in 2000. "I was the one who wrote the functional implementation plan, after an independent study suggested regionalization. There was a need for a step-by-step plan and I created that."
Flood will be replaced on a provisional basis by Deputy Chief Brian McEldowney, a longtime member of the West New York fire department who has worked closely with Flood since the regional was put into place. McEldowney will have to take the state-mandated promotion test before he can permanently be named to the position.
The NHRFR's Regional Management Committee unanimously passed the resolution accepting Chief Flood's retirement and the appointment of McEldowney at its monthly meeting last week.
"I am honored to have the support of the five mayors of the North Hudson Regional," said McEldowney. "I hope to continue down the path set by Chief Flood, leadership based in sound managerial principals."
McEldowney was a captain, deputy chief and finally chief of operations and training in West New York before becoming involved with the NHRFR in 1999.
Flood said that he had mixed emotions, retiring at this time.
"It's a happy occasion and a sad occasion," Flood said. "I have enjoyed an amazing journey. The days seem to go slow, but 30 years have gone by so fast. I've truly enjoyed being involved in this business, with the privilege to have worked with two great fire departments. I have been blessed with the assignments and the challenges over the years. I've held every position possible in fire safety, but the most rewarding has been working on the street with my fellow firefighters. That's been very fulfilling and meaningful. I've worked with some of the finest firefighters and officers in the world."
NHRFR Co-Director Jeff Welz said that Flood's retirement will be a loss to the regional, but sees the department's future in good hands with McEldowney.
"It's sad to see Chief Flood leave," Welz said. "He was one of the single, strongest advocates of regionalization. He's worked tirelessly during the past four years making sure NHRFR was an overwhelming success. I feel confident regionalization will continue to improve under the leadership of McEldowney."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who heads the NHRFR's management team, praised Flood.
"I would like to commend Chief Flood for the outstanding job he has done with North Hudson Regional," Turner said. "I have the sincerest faith that McEldowney will continue where Chief Flood is leaving off, leading by example and choosing the best possible avenues to keep the NHRFR providing one of the best fire services in the state."
Flood said that he will always remember the work done by his department in the face of the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy.
"How this department rose and met the challenge of Sept. 11 and responded to help out at Ground Zero will always be remembered, both in sadness and in pride," Flood said. "I'm very proud of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue. In a short period of time, it has become one of the most progressive fire departments, a model to others to use throughout the country."
Flood said that he has no immediate plans for his retirement, except a long-awaited trip just four days after leaving the position.
"I'm going to Belize to scuba dive," Flood said. "I'm also going to explore the rain forest. It's an open-ended trip, so I don't know how long I'll be there. My whole approach to retirement will be to do whatever I want to do without having anything mandatory. But I'll always be a firefighter. I believe it's not a career. It's a calling."