"Ever since I was about 13 years old, I wanted to become a firefighter," said Oriente, now a Weehawken resident. "I used to read books and collect magazines about firefighting. I knew that's what I wanted to do."
So 21 years ago, at the tender age of 20, Oriente became the youngest member in the history of the Weehawken Fire Department.
"I was 20 years, nine months," Oriente proudly said. "I was very young when I became a firefighter, but I knew that's what I had to do."
Thursday evening, Oriente continued to live out his dream when he was promoted to the rank of battalion chief in the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue.
The 340-member squad provides fire service for Weehawken, West New York, Union City, North Bergen, and Guttenberg.
Oriente was one of two NHRFR members to receive the promotion to battalion chief, joining John Halpin of West New York.
In all, 17 members of the NHRFR were promoted as part of the ceremonies that were held before a standing room only packed audience at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen.
Two members, Martin Mandell and Nicholas Gazzillo, were promoted to the rank of deputy chief.
Thirteen others, including Jose Rodriguez and Thomas Hoover of Weehawken, were promoted to the rank of captain.
Moving up the ranks Oriente said that once he became a firefighter, he wanted to be able to move up the ranks.
"I was always studying hard to take the [promotional] tests," said Oriente, who is married to his wife, Carolyn. "I studied for this last one for a year and a half. I always wanted to be a chief officer. I'm always trying to make the department better. When you get promoted, there's always a sense of pride. It's a great profession because you always want to be able to help people."
For the 6-foot-6 Hoover, one of the tallest members of the Regional, the promotion was a long time coming. The 56-year-old Hoover has been a member of first the Weehawken Fire Department, then the NHRFR, for 28 years.
"Once we regionalized, I thought I had a better chance of getting the promotion," said Hoover, who was accompanied by his wife, Barbara, while his grandson, Joseph Carroll, held the Bible for the swearing in. "I just got lucky that I finally got my chance."
Hoover, the Weehawken native and Weehawken High School graduate (Class of 1967) was a fine basketball player in his high school days. He never thought he would become a firefighter back then.
"It just sort of happened by accident, but it turned out to be the best job anyone would ever want," said Hoover, who has one daughter and three stepsons. "This is a great day for me and my family. I've waited a long time for this."
When Hoover received his captain's pin, he quickly showed it to his grandson, who looked with amazement and awe.
"He really loves firemen," Hoover said. "He has an uncle who is a fire chief."
Now, he has a Pop-Pop who is a fire captain, too.
"I'm his captain," Hoover said.
Rodriguez, a native of Cuba, has lived most of his life in Weehawken. A fellow Weehawken High School graduate (Class of 1981), the 41-year-old Rodriguez has been a member of the fire companies in Weehawken and the NHRFR (which regionalized in 1999) for the last 17 years.
As Rodriguez was being interviewed after the ceremony, his 6-year-old son, Joseph, was wearing his father's uniform hat.
"He wants to follow in my footsteps," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said that he first wanted to become a pilot and attended flight school upon graduation from Weehawken High.
"I wanted to fly helicopters," Rodriguez said. "But someone told me about becoming a firefighter, and this came along and I signed on. I've always wanted to do good things for the community."
Rodriguez is married to wife Joy and has three children, daughters Amanda, 10, Christina, 9, and of course, Joseph.
He said that he received his promotion after taking the captain's test for the second time.
"You always try to make yourself better in this job," Rodriguez said. "I absolutely look forward to the challenges ahead."
In swearing in each officer, NHRFR Chief Brion McEldowney told them about the main ingredient in becoming a fire officer.
"It's about trust," McEldowney said. "Trust in your fellow firefighters and officers, trust that you will use the rank with respect, trust that you will be always prepared to serve the public. We want you to lead this department into the future because this is the finest fire department in the state."