Tag Archives: Novel Firehouse 101

My life as a Fireman: Brother Justin Watral promotes novel, “Firehouse 101” at the NJBooks2017 on June 11, 2017

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

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:



Author Justin Watral promoting his novel “Firehouse 101” at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2011 ten years after the attacks of 9/11.


My life as a Fireman: From Pasta to Pancakes; when fire fighting tastes good!

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

Blogger and Fire Fighter Justin Watrel at the Little Ferry Auxiliary Spaghetti Dinner.

This article promoted all the great meals provided by local first responders companies in Bergen County, NJ.

My life as a Fireman: The Brothers of Engine One H.H.F.D. participate in the three day Pump Operations Class May 18th-20th, 2018

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

The Brothers of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at Pump Class

Fire Fighter Justin Watrel at Pump Class with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

My life as a Fireman: The Brothers of Engine One participate in 9/11 Ceremonies on September 11, 2018

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

Dedicated to our fallen Brothers and Sisters in New York City and their families and loved ones and to all those who lost their lives that day, we will never forget you!

My life as a Fireman: The Brother’s of Engine One HHFD lose one of their own: The passing of Chief Vincent J. Monahan (1938-2018)

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

Our last group shot with Chief Monahan at the 2018 Installation Dinner. He is forth from the right.

My life as a Fireman: The Brothers of Engine One HHFD participate in “Santa Around Town” December 18th, 2016

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

Brothers Bernie Valente and Justin Watrel decorate the fire truck for the Annual Santa Around Town.

Captain Tim Moots, Lieutenant Bernie Valente, Chief Angelo Roccamo and fire fighter Justin Watrel with Santa at Santa Around Town

Merry Christmas from the Brothers of Engine One HHFD

My life as a Fireman: The Brother’s of Engine One rechristen their eighty year old bell November 7th, 2018

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

The Brothers of Engine One in front of our bell that was rechristened to Engine One (615)

My life as a Fireman: The Brothers of Engine One participate in the Department’s ‘Santa Around Town’ on December 23, 2018

My time on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department

The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at Santa Around Town December 2018

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

9/11 Memorial

Day One Hundred and Seventy-Four: 9/11 again

Today is the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We just got back from the 9/11 Memorial for Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and it still reminds me of that morning when I was still living in California. I still can’t believe that 19 years have gone by in the blink of an eye.

I have students who were not even born when it happened or I have to hear “I was in elementary school when that occurred’. That is surreal for me. Everyone generation has their moment. Our’s was 9/11.

In memory of that day I have enclosed the beginning of my novel “Firehouse 101” and the events that lead the main character, Alex Livingston, to return to New York City. This book can be found on the IUniverse.com website and can be purchased through that site, Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com or any online book store.

This book is dedicated to my best friend, Ahilya Mangroo, who survived the falling of the towers that day by having to go to a doctor’s appointment in the City first before she had to go to the office that morning.

To Ahilya:

The Introduction of my novel “Firehouse 101”

                   September 11th, 2001

                             3:30 am

There were fifteen hundred Japanese business people and their families in Waikiki this week. The Singi Group, an Internet company was meeting at The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Alex Livingston had been on the job all day and it looked like he was going to be there through the night and into the next morning. He had a thousand goody bags to finish by 7:00 am and he and the staff had to set them up for an early morning breakfast pick-up. The goody bags were filled with many little gifts for the employees as a token of appreciation for their hard work. The Singi Group staff was a trying bunch. Their demands had been exhausting from the start and the staff had been on their toes since their Friday arrival. Alex was accustomed to this as he had worked in the casino industry before moving to Hawaii and was used to the demands of the high rollers.

Marriott Waikiki at night

Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa 9/11/2001

The silver goody bags had to be folded in a particular way and their ribbons had to be tied a certain way. The group’s meeting planner, who had yelled at the staff in both Japanese and English on how these bags should look, had supervised the first five hundred bags. After she finished yelling, she showed Alex and his staff how to do it and watched the next couple hundred being made in front of her. It annoyed Alex that any client would sit in his kitchen to watch what he did this early in the morning.

When Alex finished helping with the last of the goody bags, a few of the staff headed to the hallway to help the banquet set up crew get the early morning breakfast buffet finished.  A special set up had been arranged with the flowers positioned in a way that guests would believe it brought good luck. At 3:30 am, all Alex could think about was the good luck he would have when this group checked out at the end of the week. Thursday could not come fast enough for Alex.

“Yo, Cuz!” Maka yelled from down the hall, “We’re all done outside. The banquet people are done and the captain is setting up.”  Maka was Alex’s lead Room Service Captain. “Maka, can you help me with these bags? We have to get them outside,” Alex yelled back. In the distance, the staff could hear several Japanese businessman in the bar yelling at the television set. They were finishing watching a sporting event that had been taped for them by the hotel. Others had arrived late from Tokyo and had been drinking through the night.

The bar had technically closed a few hours earlier but it was kept open by the hotel for the convenience of their arriving guests. The bar manager had left in a huff an hour earlier. Since Alex had to stay until six in the morning to help banquets get the tour guests out, he had said he’d stay and watch the group. Alex went in the bar every half hour to check on them. They were having a grand old time watching the end of the game and watching another channel that was being broadcast from the East Coast, so Alex felt he had nothing to worry about.

The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

As he helped the staff get the goody bags out, Maka and Robert (the other Room Service Captain), spoke with Alex about Maka’s son’s first birthday party, which had been the week before. “You know, Cuz,” Robert said to Maka, “you should have had more food. You ran out.” Maka turned to Robert and said, “My mom did not expect thirty extra people at the party. She should have though, more people always show up for these events.” “Your mom can cook, Cuz,” Alex said, “I always enjoy going to your house.” Alex had been there a few times over the last year and a half. Ordinarily Alex would not have gotten this close to his staff members in the past, but he had worked with this group for over three years, so they felt more like family.

Alex had been Room Service Manager for the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Waikiki Beach since he had moved from Las Vegas over three years earlier. A co-worker friend had recommended him for the job when Alex tired of casino life. The high rollers wore him down and he never really liked the tacky glitz of the city even though he had lived there for almost five years. There had been a big Polynesian population living and working in Las Vegas while he was there, driven there by better paying jobs and a lower cost of living. Most worked in the hospitality industry. His friend, Sean, had recommended Alex for the job in Waikiki when Sean’s cousin moved to Las Vegas. Alex jumped at the chance to get off the mainland and as far from his family as possible. In time, his staff at the hotel he become his surrogate family.

“Yo, Alex. Stop daydreaming!” Robert yelled as he and two of the other room service servers brought the goody bags out. Alex could still hear the loud shouts of the Japanese businessman in the distance. At least someone was having fun, he thought. Some of the early morning staff walked by Alex on their way to work and nodded hello. They looked just as tired as he did.

“Alex, how long you been here?” Maka asked. “Since 2:00 pm yesterday, when they threw a last minute box lunch meal at us and I had to help the Banquet Manager,” Alex replied exhaustedly. He had worked non-stop since he had walked in that afternoon and had not even realized the time until it was way after midnight. “Go home after breakfast,” Maka said. “I am, Cuz, I am,” Alex answered. Alex had slowly picked up the local dialect, “Pidgin” English, over time much to the disgust of his father. His father would yell at him on his visits home and tell him to stop speaking like an uneducated islander. Alex never realized it until it was pointed out to him while he was talking to another employee.

It took fifteen minutes to get the tables organized. Finally Alex, Maka and Robert could relax. The three other servers were now assisting the banquet staff with the remainder of the set up. “So Cuz,” Maka asked Alex, “are you going home for Christmas this year?” “No way,” Alex remarked, “I no deal with that.” “Don’t you miss them?” Maka asked, never understanding why in the three years he knew Alex he never went home for the holidays. ‘Too busy’ was Alex’s usual answer but he quietly answered “Sometimes.”

Alex had a strained relationship with his family that had started in his childhood. He always felt that his older sister Lisa, seven years his senior, had gotten everything while he got the leftovers and hand me downs. He adored his mother, a jovial and hardworking C.P.A., (who ran her own business out of New Haven, Connecticut), but he realized that she harbored her own secrets about her family. Like her son, she rarely talked to her own immediate family. What kept Alex from going home was the constant insisting of his father on how he should make something of his life and becoming an investment banker like himself and other members of his family. Alex Senior, as he was known, did not want his son in the hotel industry.

Alex Senior was constantly on his son’s back about his joining the firm and making some real money. He understand neither his son’s dropping out of Penn State to go to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, nor his fascination with the hotel industry. “It’s horrible pay, lousy hours and dealing with picky people,” his father would say. “It’s never dull,” Alex would say, “I get to travel and the money will come as I move up the ladder.” Whose fault was it anyway? Alex would think to himself. His father had taken the family on two foreign vacations a year from the time Alex could walk until he transferred colleges. Alex and his sister, Lisa, even in the lean years that the family experienced, had now been around the world five times.

It had always fascinated Alex how the hotels where they stayed worked. Every chance he got, Alex would peak behind closed doors. His biggest thrill was when he was ten. While the rest of the family stayed by the pool, the General Manager himself escorted Alex on a tour of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. The General Manager was impressed that someone so young would be interested in his hotel. Getting to see how the hotel worked, who cooked the food and cleaned the rooms plus the rich history of the hotel drew Alex in. After that, Alex wanted to work in the hospitality industry.

“Besides, I hate snow,” Alex continued getting out of his daydream, “I like Christmas when its 86 degrees and can go swimming in the middle of the winter. Don’t believe people when they say they want a ‘White Christmas’. Who the hell wants to shovel all that snow? In addition, I would rather sing, ‘Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day’ than ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Bing Crosby probably never shoveled snow before.” Maka started to sing, “Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day” as Alex and Robert joined in on the second chorus. They were laughing their heads off as the rest of the staff joined in. It was 3:45 am.

Singing ” Mele Kalikimaka”

As the group of six was singing, there was a commotion in the bar and then a scream from one of the banquet captains. “What’s going on now?” Robert asked. “Mouse?” Alex asked. “Mouse,” Maka answered. The banquet captain ran out of the bar area into the hallway where everyone was working and hollered, “Everyone get in here. The World Trade Center in New York was just hit by a plane!” “What the hell?” Alex said.

Everyone scrambled into the bar to see the crowd glued to the television. Smoke was billowing from one of the towers and the television reporter had no idea what was going on. Maybe it was a military aircraft like the one that hit the Empire State Building fifty years ago, Alex thought. The reporter was rambling so fast that no one could understand what had just happened. The restaurant manager ran into the bar with his staff. They were also setting up for the onslaught of breakfast patrons that would be dining with them in two hours.


Watching the events unfold on Honolulu time at the bar

About forty people were now glued to the television and nothing was being done. Alex thought of his sister and father, who were both working on nearby Wall Street. It was now almost 9:00 am in New York. They were probably in their offices at this point, on the phone, having their morning coffee. He debated calling home but could not take his eyes off the television. He stood there like everyone else, transfixed by the horror he witnessed.

For the next ten minutes, there was the clamor of English, Japanese and Hawaiian being spoken so rapidly that it was unintelligible. Then it happened. In front of some forty people, the second plane hit the other tower. The whole crowd went silent as the explosion tore through the building. Some people started to shout and run out of the bar. Others stood stunned, not knowing what to do.

To the shock of everyone at the bar that morning another plane hit the towers

Some of the women started to cry and quickly were followed by some of the men. People made desperate cell phone calls to loved ones. Alex grabbed his cell phone and called his sister’s apartment in Manhattan but there was no answer. He then called his father’s office but again no answer. He then tried to call his mother, but by 9:30 am, she was probably stuck in traffic some where between Milford and her office in downtown New Haven. Alex did not know what to do, so he went back to the bar to wait with the other people.

Everyone in the room was either talking on cell phones, watching television or downing the complimentary drinks that the bartender was now handing out. This was no time to be sober, one man said. By 5:00 am, more people had entered the bar. Before anyone could say anything, suddenly there was a roar heard on the television. Everyone fell silent again. Tower One was collapsing in front of them. For a split second, there was silence in the bar, no one moved and no one said a word. Then people panicked, workers and guests started to run out of the room. Maka and Robert watched Alex’s face pale in horror and they ran over to console him. In disbelief, Alex started to run out of the room too.

“Where you going?” yelled a bewildered Maka. “I’m going to the General Manager’s office. I have to call my mother!” Alex stopped for a moment. His staff tried to console him and calm him. It did not work. There was a second rumbling and he watched the second tower collapse. No one could console Alex; they were in shock themselves. Alex raced out of the bar to the office without looking back. It was now 5:40 am Honolulu time.

September 15th, 2001


Planes were finally able to leave the islands and frightened tourists looked over their shoulders at the Honolulu Airport. There was no use singling out anyone with dark skin because the whole airport had a tan and no one was in the mood for jokes. Security was extremely tight. In newspapers around the world, everyone saw a photograph taken by Bob Hakamoto, a journalist with The Honolulu Advertiser. He had been on vacation with his family, getting ready to go to the observation deck of the Trade Center with his family when tragedy struck.

 Sending his family away to meet him later at the South Street Seaport, he ran around taking pictures of the towers and of the firefighters racing to the scene. Soon before Tower One fell; he snapped a picture of two firefighters assisting three frightened ladies that needed help leaving the tower. Not five minutes later, Bob ran for his life as the tower started to collapse. His picture depicting the bravery of these two firemen from New York was published all over the world as a symbol of the good in man. Because of a mistake in communication by cell phone, the picture was titled “Heroes save women and many others as Building Seven falls.” No one knew who the firefighters were or if they had died that day.

The famous Bob Hakamoto photograph in the Honolulu Advertiser on 9/12/2001

September 28th, 2001

                                                     1:00 pm

Alex’s girlfriend, Alice Fallon (or as she was called behind her back, Princess Alice) told him that as a class project, she was having the kids of her second grade class each write a letter and make a poster for the firefighters who helped those women. Alex’s mother had told him that his cousin, a fire chief in Connecticut, said that many firefighters had lost their lives that day, so he was not sure the two of them were alive. He told Alice that it was still a good idea as it might cheer some of the guys up.

Alice Fallon, Alex’s girlfriend, was the great-great grandniece of Queen Lili’uokalani and a member of the Hawaiian Royal Family

January 18th, 2003      

3:30 pm

Alex walked across a quiet courtyard and up the stairs to the pool area to drop off some paperwork. He waved over to some bored co-workers at the front desk who were yawning. They waved back. It was quiet at the hotel and now that Christmas was over, it was getting quieter.  Alex only had about ten orders that day and for the past year had not seen much of his staff. They only checked in to see if hotel occupancy had increased.

Waikiki Marriott

The resort over a year later

You can read parts of the book online at the IUniverse.com website or order the book to see how the story unfolds.

My novel “Firehouse 101” is available for sale online or can be ordered through any bookstore.




Articles on my novel:



Justin Watrel promoting his book “Firehouse 101” after the Brooklyn Book Festival 2011