The Members of the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association in July 2022
It was a spectacular day for a barbecue!
After having to cancel our June Barbecue because of bad weather (there was a rain storm all day on our date in June), we lucked out on July 10th when we had the most spectacular sunny and warm day with no humidity. Clear sunny skies and low 80-degree weather had the residents of the NJ State Firemen’s Home coming out in droves to enjoy good music and delicious food.
With a menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue ribs and chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans and chili, macaroni and potato salads and fresh watermelon for dessert residents and members had a wonderful lunch under the shade trees and tents that were set up on the lawn outside the home.
We followed all COVID protocols to keep the residents and…
A group of us from the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department joined dozens of other fire departments in Bergen County, NJ to wish our brothers on the Wood Ridge Fire Department our best at their 125th Anniversary Celebration. It was a nice afternoon of food, entertainment and good conversation. It was nice to see everyone having a good time on this sunny afternoon.
I know that I can be quite the traditionalist and like to keep up events that have been successful. I also like to build on them and see them grow over time.
The old Engine One Barbecue that we used to have after every Meeting/Drill night in June started as just a small dinner one night when we wanted to barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs after our drill. Members of our company were joined by other members from other companies enjoyed themselves and it was mentioned at our next department meeting. Some members complained that we didn’t invite them (they were more than happy to come to the drill night). So the next year we sent out invitations for the barbecue that would be after the drill/meeting night.
Firefighter Justin Watrel, Barbecue Chairman, June 2022 Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department Meeting night
For the next eleven summers, we continued the tradition and it grew over time and the menu began to vary. We went from simple hamburgers and hot dogs we morphed into creative salads, baked ziti and doctored up Baked Beans with things like black strap molasses, maple syrup hot sauce and cured bacon.
Homemade Baked Ziti and Potato Salad
I got even more creative with the desserts. I used to order an ice cream cake with a fire engine on it but no one would eat it. So I changed it around and did more traditional desserts like cake cookies, brownies and rice crispy treats. I even experimented with desserts that are traditional to a barbecue like watermelon and apple pie but they were not as popular.
Me preparing for dinner in 2017
As time went on, members would bring their family to the event and many of our old timers and their wives were invited so that they could meet up together again. We were averaging 50 to 60 people at every barbecue so it was hard to judge who to cook for that evening.
Our senior members with their wives at the 2015 barbecue
COVID affected the event just after we merged the department in 2019 and we stopped the event for two years. It was nice for me when the department voted to bring the barbecue dinner back at the May Department meeting. It gave me a chance to put my Hyatt banquet skills back and dig back into my culinary skills.
Setting up snacks and drinks at the barbecue
The menu was kept simple since it was just the department members after the June Department Meeting. We grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and Italian Sausage. For the sides, I made a homemade Baked Ziti, a Red Bliss Potato Salad with Bacon and Baked Beans with all sorts of chips and popcorn and for dessert I made traditional dessert of various flavored Cake Cookies, Brownies and Rice Cripsy Treats. Those Rice Cripsy Treats really disappeared.
What I liked about the barbecue was the compliments from the other guys on the department and what a good time they had. It was nice to bring this comradre back after this long spell of COVID. As usual, I want to thank Firefighter Bernie Valente for helping with all the barbecuing and for being our grill master.
Firefighter and Grill Master Bernie Valente
It’s good to make a group of firemen happy!
Firefighter Justin Watrel setting up the homemade desserts of brownies, cookies and rice crispy treats
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department Annual Inspection May 21st, 2022
For the first time in two years (due to the COVID pandemic), the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department stood for Inspection for the Borough of Hasbrouck Heights.
All department members worked during the week washing, scrubbing and cleaning every piece of apparatus, cleaning all the tools and organizing all the cabinets to be sure that everything was in place. Then we cleaned the fire house from top to bottom. Every room was cleaned and vacuumed and shown the pride the department has in our firehouse.
The Department Inspection was led by Chief Tim Moots, First Assistant Chief Kevin Todd and Second Assistant Chief Mike Greco. The members stood attention for the flag salute, a special greeting by Chief Moots and speeches by invited dignitaries.
The Department invited the community to join in inspecting all of the department’s equipment and out of town chiefs judged each piece of apparatus, two engines, the ladder truck, the rescue truck and the two ambulances for appearance and equipment check. The rescue truck won that evening.
After the Inspection of the equipment was over, the members of the fire department and their invited guests joined together for an Italian dinner in our large meeting room. It was nice way for everyone to come together after a two-year gap.
Good luck and Godspeed to all members of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department in 2022!
Fire Fighter Justin Watrel assigned to the Ambulance Squad for “Best Equipment Contest” at the 2022 Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department Inspection.
I still can’t believe that Christmas came so quickly this year. It was almost like the blink of an eye. With the start of the Christmas holidays, there are many cherished Christmas events in Hasbrouck Heights that have become tradition.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so beautifully decorated for the holidays (Heights Flower Shoppe)
Starting with the Christmas Parade the day after Thanksgiving, this annual event showcases our wonderful downtown in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and dazzles us at the end of the parade with the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Caroling. It had been so cold that night that the crowds were more subdued than usual (remember COVID is still going on) but no less spirited.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse decorated for Christmas at the Hasbrouck Heights Circle
The Fire Department escorted Santa down the parade route to the Christmas tree and was greeted by the Hasbrouck Heights Community , who were ready for some Christmas cheer. When the switch turned on, we were dazzled by the lights of the trees and decorations that grace the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights.
The Christmas Tree at the Hasbrouck Heights Circle always dazzles at night
After the parade and carolling were over, it was back to the firehouse but not before the fire fighters got their own group shot at the Christmas tree.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the Christmas Tree in 2021
By the end of the month, we were ready for our big community event, “Santa Around Town” where the fire department escorted Santa around the Hasbrouck Heights community to wish everyone Christmas cheer in a very difficult year.
We lucked out and the weather cooperated and it ended up being a sunny but cool day. Because of the COVID pandemic, we cut the number of stops and the crowds were a bit smaller but no less enthusiastic about seeing and talking to Santa.
Being socially distanced and wearing masks in some locations, residents of Hasbrouck Heights got to talk to Santa and give him their Christmas wishes. I have never seen so many families and especially children need a lot of Christmas cheer in these tough times and Santa really came through for families and even their pets, as many Christmas dogs greeted and licked Santa.
We toured all over town, greeting residents and every keeping as socially distanced and safe as we could as Santa greeted everyone who came and cheered up a community that really needed it.
Merry Christmas from the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department!
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department’s Annual “Santa Around Town” 2021
The era of COVID has spawned innovation in running events at the firehouse. Hasbrouck Heights had to cancel their Annual Easter Egg Hunt this year like last year because they could not bring all those kids to the football field to run around. Even though we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, and this too will pass soon we have to stay safe.
For the second year, the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department held it’s “Annual Easter Bunny Around Town” drive by event for the families and especially for the kids in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. This type of community outreach is what makes a good town better. About twenty five firefighters loaded up the two engines, the two ambulances and the rescue truck and donned their masks as we split the town east and west with the equipment covering every street in Hasbrouck Heights. Each team visited their side of town with two bunnies greeting all the residents.
Happy Easter at the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department
We had a nice crowd of people waiting on their lawns, masks on, greeting us as our Easter Bunny waved at them. We rode behind the truck that was carrying our Easter representative, waving at residents as well. For a sunny afternoon in the beginning of April, the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department spread a little Easter cheer to a community that know that better times are ahead.
Happy Easter in 2021!
In 2022, the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department made another trip around Hasbrouck Heights on a gloomy day. Still the residents of the community enjoyed seeing the fire trucks and many families greeted us on their front lawns with pictures. It was a nice way to welcome in the Spring and the Easter holidays.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department escorting the Easter Bunny Around Hasbrouck Heights 2022
In keeping with a long time tradition of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and in the era of COVID, we decided to run our Annual “Santa Around Town”. This has been held every Sunday before Christmas for over twenty years. It is one of the biggest outreaches to the town of goodwill that the Department holds each year.
The event started much earlier than in previous years and we gathered for breakfast and set up at 9:00am and started the event at 10:00am. This was a much bigger ride that in previous rides as for years before when we stopped in about twenty locations all over town, handing out candy canes and Santa greeting people.
Because of COVID, we decided to take Santa on a longer trip to every street in Hasbrouck Heights, up and down roads and avenues, greeting families from their doorways and front yards, watching excited children jump up and down. So many families greeted us on their front porches, at the front doors and windows. They were in their yards waving and cheering us. So many children were so happy to see Santa as were their parents. This really was the year that we all needed to believe in Santa.
We passed houses that were decorated to the extreme with residents trying to add normalcy into their lives and Christmas cheer to their families. It really was a pleasure to pass all this holiday excitement.
I know that a lot of people are struggling right now but if we brought a little Christmas cheer to them and their families than we accomplished our role as fire fighters. Our goal is to help and assist our communities and if spreading a little Christmas cheer is as important as putting out a house fire or saving a life (which we have done a lot lately) than we accomplished our goal.
This is why I love being a fireman.
Firefighter Justin Watrel decorating Engine One at the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department 2015
I am still promoting my novel, “Firehouse 101” the story of Hotel Executive Alex Livingston, who moves from Honolulu to Brooklyn a year and a half after the 9/11 attacks and the people he meets along the way and how they change his life for the better.
It’s available on IUniverse.com and all online book sites: