Fort Monmouth fire chief leads way to 14th straight win
June 22, 2009
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. - You know you have a good job when it doesn't feel like work.
Ask the Fort Monmouth firefighters, winners of the honor as the Installation Management Command Northeast Region Fire Department of the Year for the 14th year in a row.
"Coming to the job is not like work. When you love your job, you are having a good time," said firefighter Robert Todd.
They say they are the protectors of those who defend and protect our freedom, and that they watch out for the 5.5 square miles that make up the fort and its research facilities.
The department is led by Fire Chief John Erichsen, who has been selected as the DA Civilian Fire Officer of the Year. He is now eligible for selection at the DoD level, an honor to be announced at the DOD Fire Awards Banquet in late August in Dallas, Texas.
Not one to boast, Erichsen said the awards are not about him, but about the outstanding work of his department.
"Our quality rating was 99 percent," said Deputy Chief Stephen Roszkowski. In one year alone, the firefighters logged 28,883 man-hours of training.
"We go above and beyond everyday operations," Roszkowski said. "We are always providing mutual aid. This year we installed and inspected carbon monoxide detectors in all the residences on post. We got results. We have a family of four who are alive today because the detector woke them up [when] they had a near-fatal level of carbon monoxide in their home."
The 816 mission responses included calls for such emergencies as structure fires, emergency medical, extrications, trench rescues, structural collapses, hazardous materials and aircraft and marine incidents.
The department boasts of being "Trained, Supplied, at the Ready, Boots on the Ground, and Battle Ready." It has provided specialized fire-rescue training to federal and military firefighters and trained active duty and Reserve fire units to meet job requirements.
The department has also designed unique programs to prepare units for deployment and their specialized mission needs while in hostile environments. That includes the 177th New Jersey National Guard Air Force unit, based in Atlantic City.
The unit recently conducted training at the Fire Academy on post, located in the Charles Wood Area. Master Sgt. Fire Chief Brian Alexander said his 41 firefighters were undergoing recertification training.
"The Fort Monmouth Fire Department is very proactive. They offer training in [responding to] aviation fires and fuel fires on the ground. They have provided a great service to us over the years," he said.
Roszkowski and Captains Vito Marra and Elizabeth (Beth) Sweeney say the whole force enjoys exercises with the local fire departments that often provide mutual aid.
"They come here for training and you get to know them. It makes it easier when you are working with them in the field," said Sweeney. A prime example was the recent fire in the Myer Center laboratories.
"That was an exciting night," said rookie firefighter Mike Cook. "With mutual aid, you know what you are going to. We just got the call that there was smoke in the building; we did not know what we would find. We were the first truck to arrive."
There was smoke all right, and there was fire. "You have all this gear on and there is a limited amount of time you can stay on the scene," said Sweeney. "Our folks were in the building about 20 minutes putting out the fire and then mutual aid arrived to help take over. The timing was great."
Roszkowski said everyone knew what to do and everyone did what they were trained to do. This is a Fire Department where the old timers want to teach the rookies how to do things correctly.
"The 'dinosaurs' as we call the older ones, never criticize," said firefighter Charlie Larue. "They will just say 'Let me show you why we do it this way' and you learn. They want us to learn the right way and not embarrass us along the way."
That goes right to the top. Chief Erichsen is proud of his Department and what he has accomplished with his men over the last 18 years.
In the past year, he has spearheaded the drive to assist the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center's final development phase of the only interior tracking device that will save the lives of military and first responders.
Chief Erichsen never gets sick. In fact, he has an unblemished sick leave record for 33 years. He has achieved one of the highest performance levels under the new National Security Personnel System; and earned "Exceptional" level ratings under the Army's prior evaluation systems for 33 years.
There is no such thing as a typical day at the firehouse. There was the day a post employee collapsed on a ball field during an organizational event across the street from the fire station.
Alert firefighters and emergency medical technicians raced to apply a defibrillator for a "save." As the firefighters like to say, "Lived to play another day."
The Department operates as the installation's 24-hour community hot line to meet the needs of its customers in both emergency and routine situations, handling each concern until the customer is satisfied.
Then there's the "Santa's Here" program in which the firefighters provide military families with Santa and his elves on a "Big Red Sled" to ensure the holidays will be a special time of year for the children, even when deployed Moms and Dads aren't there.
The department's nationally recognized Honor Guard participates in command ceremonies and civic events.
"This department is the real deal. This is where 'the rubber meets the road,'" said Roszkowski.