As we reflect on the many things to be thankful for in this month of November, high on the list are the brave men and women of police, EMT, rescue and fire departments who put their own safety aside to protect everyone else’s.
This year, Sea Bright Fire Rescue celebrates 142 years of service. Founded in 1881, this department has faced numerous challenges, many unique to them due to flooding and marine-related threats. They have battled through hurricanes and Superstorm Sandy, and they do it all as volunteers.
The company has a roster of roughly 75 members with 50 who are active. This dedicated crew is responsible for the care and operation of the company’s two engines, one ladder truck, two command vehicles, four boats, one water tender and two highwater rescue trucks.
It’s no small job. Charlie Rivera is the Sea Bright deputy fire chief. He is also a career firefighter in the Borough of Deal, the father of a 3-year-old son, and is married to a woman most stoic and patient women. “She puts up with my crazy schedule and supports my often dangerous work in the interest of the community. She makes so much of this work possible, and I thank her most sincerely,” he said.
Rivera shares that the mission of the fire service has evolved over the years from fighting fires to handling all types of emergencies.
“So far this year, we have responded to just over 500 emergency calls and only about 8 percent of those are fires, but our department is fortunate to maintain all types of equipment to mitigate pretty much any emergency we come across. Over the years, we have been in the forefront of flood rescue, and I am most proud of our robust flood water rescue program. We have invested a lot of time and money into making sure that we can handle this high-risk, low-frequency incident for our residents and all throughout the state.”
Naturally, this requires a lot of special training, and the volunteers invest more than 100 hours learning how to use this specialized equipment, as well as standard fire equipment, all while maintaining the spotless fire station and vehicles.
The people drawn to volunteer are not only brave and physically capable; they enjoy the challenges of the job and the camaraderie with other firefighters.
Rivera continued, “I was like so many other kids whose childhood dream was to be a firefighter; I am just fortunate enough to be able to live out that dream every day. I come from a family of public servants. Most of my family went into law enforcement, but collectively, almost all of us are serving the community daily. I think the call for this type of work is in your blood.”
Rivera shares that most volunteer departments are experiencing severe shortages of new members.
“While we are fortunate enough to not be experiencing a shortage in membership, we are always happy to welcome new faces and work to fit each person’s schedule,” he said. “If you are interested in joining our department, you can reach us on our Facebook (Sea Bright Fire Rescue) or email Firechief@SeaBrightNJ.Org and ask for an application. If you are untrained, we will send you through the fire academy and get you trained for everything that we do.”
The fire department’s day-to-day operations are funded through a yearly operating budget.
“We truly must thank our mayor and council, as they make everything that we do possible. We are lucky to have the buy-in from the governing body; they take public safety very seriously here. Members of our council attend most of our trainings. By doing that, they have a good understanding of what we do and what equipment we need to continue provide to the highest level of fire and emergency services for our residents, visitors, and surrounding communities.”
The second and most important funding – for buying training props, equipment and more – comes from donations. Much of those funds come from the annual Fireman’s Fair which is usually held the week before Memorial Day, however, the company gratefully accepts tax-deductible donations throughout the year. You can mail or drop off a check at the firehouse, or find the Venmo information on their Facebook page. With the holidays here, the company typically sees an increase in calls, and they are ready to help.
They are also ready to perform one special Christmas duty. For more than 50 years, Christmas morning in Sea Bright begins not with bells but with the sound of sirens as the firetrucks take Santa on a morning ride throughout the town.
“We are one of the only towns to celebrate Christmas morning like this,” Rivera said. “It’s a cool tradition. We really enjoy waking up the town up and giving out small gift bags along the way.”
Photos courtesy of Sea Bright Fire Rescue