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Posted March 30, 2005

A Visit With
Fire Chief Joe Taylor

Story by Justin Watrel

Some Hasbrouck Heights residents don’t realize what a heavily trafficked area we live in.

Surrounded by major highways, a small but busy airport close by and a twelve mile trip that’s straight to midtown Manhattan, we really are a town that leads to everywhere.

The drawback of this type of accessibility is that we have our share of accidents, from bus breakdowns and car wrecks to the recent plane crash in Teterboro and remind us all too well of where this type of rapid transit can lead.

Recently I sat down with Joe Taylor, Jr., who was sworn in as our new Chief of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department. Chief Taylor, as many residents may remember, was one of the firefighters that led a team of men from Hasbrouck Heights to help with the rescue and recovery at Ground Zero.

As the new chief, I asked what were some of the goals and plans he had for leading the fire department. "Now that we have moved into the firehouse, it’s getting everything in order and getting the proper equipment we need to get the job done.

Our main goal of the department is to make sure people stay safe when we answer a call," the Chief said.

The recent plane crash really put our department and the other new chiefs of the department, First Assistant Chief Angelo Roccamo and Second Assistant Chief Mike Ratkowski to the test, which they handled with the utmost in professionalism.

It has also made Hasbrouck Heights residents aware of what type of situation we have living so close to an airport that keeps getting busier.

As the population grows in this area, the traffic in all forms of transportation that caters to New York City will continue to grow as well.

That’s why Chief Taylor is fighting to get new equipment to help the department become proactive instead of reactive. "Some of the equipment we need are thermal-imaging cameras.

These work on the heat of the body to help find people. Also, we need a foam pumper to help with airplane fires.

Working so close to the airport, this piece of equipment is very important and we don’t want to waste precious minutes in putting a fire out," the Chief said.

The ladder truck, from 1990, is going to need replacing.

"People don’t realize since 9/11 that firefighters carry more equipment for protection," the Chief said.

He also added that the department has also been going through extra training.

He encourages his members when they want to take classes to improve their firefighting skills.

The state is requiring more of firefighters in areas such as Hazardous Waste Materials and the chief also encourages members to take Firefighter Two at the academy in Mahwah (the state currently requires only Firefighter One).

"Today’s firefighters are becoming better trained in many different aspects of safety like HAZMAT and Anti-terrorism. We live in a different world."

Chief Taylor also would like to see more community involvement.

"The department now has 54 members and that puts a strain on the membership. All the members have full time jobs on top of firefighting duties and their family life."

The Chief was recently talking with a resident in town who has lived here for two years and didn’t realize that our firefighters aren’t paid.

She was under the impression that we were always at the house. "We might not always be at the house but we will always be there for the town.

Some people don’t realize that we cover Teterboro as well." If someone wants to get involved, the Chief added, the department is always looking for new recruits.

On top of a background check and a physical, once approved and accepted, the applicant goes through basic training in Firefighter One at the Bergen County Fire Academy. There is also lots of on the job training with experienced firefighters in the department.

It is not all fighting fires, the Chief said. The department also participates in The Fire Safety Days at the schools in town, the Bike A Thon, where the members work all day and cook for the participants, the Band Events, town parades and the department’s annual Visit from Santa, where the members have various stops around town.

"Also, we have get togethers as members to build our team spirit. We are like a second family to one another," the Chief said.

The department also has an annual appeal as a fundraiser for the department and this contribution greatly helps the department.

Chief Taylor’s second career on top of his responsibilities at the firehouse is as a professional EMT in the Hackensack Fire Department and as a husband to his wife, Colleen and son, Jason (who the Chief hopes one day will follow in his footsteps).

The Chief is a life resident of Hasbrouck Heights and a HHHS alumnus. His parents, who currently reside in Florida, had lived in town for forty years.

When asked how he got involved with the department, the 19 year veteran said, "I was coming home from school during my senior year and I saw some firemen putting out a house fire.

Three days later I signed up to join the fire department." When asked what made it so influential, the Chief said "I can’t mention why for sure, but just something inside said that this was something I wanted to do."###

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