My life as a Fireman: Hail to the Chief: HHFD Chief Angelo Roccamo is retiring after 39 years of service to Hasbrouck Heights, NJ

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

Us with Chief Roccamo at Inspection May 2018

Hail to the Chief: Chief Angelo Roccamo retires Number 39 with 39 years on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

After an illustrious career on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and a three year stint the second time around as the Chief of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department, Chief Angelo Roccamo has decided to retire his badge 39 after 39 years on the department.

Chief Roccamo is the son of Joseph and the late Theresa Roccamo of Hasbrouck Heights, who have lived in the town for over fifty years. Originally born in South Philly, home of his father, the family moved to New Jersey to be closer to his mother’s relatives.

“My mother was from Italy and as her family moved to the States they settled in the New York area, so we moved from Philly to be closer to her family. We found a two family house in Hasbrouck Heights that my parents liked and my brother, Peter and I moved here when I was in the Third Grade,” the Chief said. The Chief is a Hasbrouck Heights HS alumnus ’77 and is the father to Angelo Jr. and Alyssa.

When asked how he became interested in the fire service, Chief Roccamo told this story. “When I was about five years old we had a plumber come to the house to do some work. He started a fire on the room and we had to get out of the house fast. I got all excited when the fire truck pulled up to the house. I don’t know what made my mother more upset. The fact that we had a fire in the house or the fact that I got excited that there was a fire truck outside our home.”

“When I got older, I wanted to become a cop but my mother was dead set against it. I wanted a job where I could get involved in the community, so at 21, I became a fire fighter,” the Chief explained.

“It was the same with my job as well. I started off in the printing business and really was not happy with what I was doing. I took a job with the Hasbrouck Heights DPW and I enjoyed it much more. I wanted something where I could meet the community I was serving.” The Chief is now the General Foreman for the Hasbrouck Heights Department of Public Works and works hard for our community. “I like the fact that I can be there when I am needed and feel that I am making a contribution to the town. I’ve met many longtime members of the community who in all my years of living here I had never met before.”

In the time that Chief Roccamo has served in the fire service, he has held many positions. He has been Lieutenant and Mechanic of the Ambulance, Lieutenant and Captain of the Hook & Ladder, Department Treasurer, Fire Inspector and Second, First and then Chief of the Department (for a second time).

When asked what the most challenging part of the current job is, the Chief remarked that it is keeping up with the paperwork. “People don’t know how much we really have to do in the Department. There are so many phone calls and involved meetings that we have to attend. We have a budget and we have to figure out how best to use our resources and see what equipment is needed. We have to determine what’s the most important. I feel that making sure that all members are safe. When we got out on a call, I want to be sure that everyone comes back safely from that call.”

Some of the goals that the Chief had for the Department were keeping up morale and unifying the Department. “The Community has to understand that this is a volunteer department. The economy has done a number on all volunteer departments. People are working two or three jobs and don’t have the time to volunteer like they used to before. The time factor is something people can’t fit into their lives. Our members have to be available 24/7 and during all the holidays. We have to stop what we’re doing in our lives and help members of the community and the surrounding areas as well.”

“The Department faces the challenges of retaining members and recruiting new ones. It is rough when everyone has to stop what they are doing and make a call. The problem with manpower is becoming a challenge that we are facing in the future. Sometimes I don’t think people have a clue what goes into begin a firefighter. We have schooling, intense training and drills to keep up all our members with new developments that are happening in the industry,” the Chief said.

“Our job is to look out for everyone. We encourage our members to take as many classes as they can. The day you stop learning is the day you should not be a fire fighter. There is always more to learn. There has been a lot of talk about regionalization and paid departments but these things cost money and I don’t know how many towns can handle the financial burden. In the end though, I know that the community cares about us and we are very grateful for them for their continuing support.”

“It’s not my department. In the generation before I got on, the Fire Department had a full roster and people had to wait to get on the Department. Today we are trying to work with youth squads and getting more teenagers involved in our Juniors program. This way they get more hands-on training to see if they really want to pursue firefighting as a career.”

Chief Roccamo as grill master at the Engine One Barbecue in 2015

Some of the memorable things that the Chief remembers from his own experiences with the Department are answering past ambulance calls. “It really is self-satisfying when you save another person’s life. I have had several saves throughout my career and that is a good feeling. You get someone’s heart working again and it is the greatest feeling you can have,” the Chief admitted. “On fire calls, it’s putting that fire out. You really have to sneak around and find the fire before it finds you first,” the Chief explained.

Some of the goals Chief Roccamo wanted to accomplish in his role over the last three years were to collaborate with the other two Chiefs in keeping everyone in the department safe, up to date in equipment and training. “I would like to think that the other Chiefs and I worked well together to get this done.”

When asked about his personal experiences on 9/11 and his contributions on that tragic day he said, “I was home that day. When I saw what happened in New York City, we stood by at the firehouse. Our ambulance was called first and went to the staging area in Jersey City to await victims. We sent our engine (615) next and we got as far as the GWB and then awaited instructions. Myself, Ex-Chief Joe Taylor and Ex-Chief Pat Hayes and former firefighter Bob Pietz were sent to Overpeck Park where we stood by in our bunker gear for six hours awaiting instructions. We were later released that day. Later, several members of the Department went over to help with the recovery.”

“I myself didn’t go over,” the Chief said. “I was still angry that something like this happened in the USA. I knew that they had enough help. I just didn’t want to see what I saw on TV.”

During the time that he was serving as First Assistant Chief, Chief Roccamo was in command of the aircraft incident at the Strawberry clothing warehouse in Teterboro and most recently was Chief during the big warehouse fire at the Marcal Paper Factory in Elmwood Park. “There is not better feeling than knowing that you saved someone’s life or property. You’ve then done something not everyone can do.”

“We want to utilize our members the best way possible and have the equipment to back that up. Our goal at the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department is to protect and serve our community the best way we know how and to keep everyone safe. I will be at all the meetings I can and get to know as many members of the community as possible,” the Chief said.

Chief Roccamo at his swearing in at the 2018 Installation Dinner with the Brothers of the former Engine One

“Lastly, we want to thank everyone in the community for their support. Everything they can do for us is greatly appreciated. I will miss the department and doing my part to keep the community safe. I will miss making calls,” Chief Roccamo added.

We as a Department want to thank Chief Angelo Roccamo for his 39 years of dedication, life and love that he has given to his family, his community and town and the members of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department family, his second home. You have been a brother to us and a true leader and every time the tones go out, we have the experience that you gave us behind you. We never took that duty lightly and will continue that strong tradition in the future.

Chief Roccamo at the Annual “Santa Around Town” with fire fighters Justin Watrel, Tim Moots and Bernie Valente

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