BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Louis Venezia will be promoted to fire chief Tuesday, July 10, in a ceremony scheduled for 6 p.m., at Town Hall. He will be replacing former fire chief Joseph McCarthy who retired earlier this year. Venezia, who is brother to Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, received the highest grade on the Civil Service test for fire chief among all eligible candidates.
Venezia, 40, is a 19-year veteran of the department. A graduate of Bloomfield High School, Class of 1996, he lives in West Caldwell with his wife, Laura; their daughter, Anabella; and Louis, their son.
“I began thinking of firefighting when I was in high school,” he said in his office last week. “I graduated in June and took the firefighter’s test in October.”
As with many first-responders, for Venezia, the primary motivation for becoming a firefighter was to help people in crisis.
“It’s a demanding job, but very rewarding,” he said. “People call you when they have a problem. You arrive and solve the problem for them.”
It can also be physically demanding. Venezia considers firefighters “occupational athletes” and said they should strive to be as physically fit as possible. He works out regularly and plays soccer in a West Orange league and at Montclair State University.
He had to wait two years after taking the fireman’s test before becoming a Bloomfield fireman.
“My first captain was Dave McCabe,” he said. “He was a real-life superman; a very aggressive firefighter and a really nice guy.”
Nothing would prevent Mccabe from putting out a fire, Venezia said, but every senior officer was an informal mentor to him when he began.
Like all firemen, he remembered his first fire.
“It was an arson,” Venezia said. “A mother set her house on fire with two kids in it, but she changed her mind before we got there.”
Two bedrooms were damaged by the fire.
In addition to being physically fit, he said a good firefighter needs common sense.
“Adrenaline takes over with a fire so you don’t have too much fear,” he said. “You say to yourself, ‘What’s going on?’ and you go with the flow.”
A firefighter also needs a willingness to reach out for additional training. Having mechanical skills is also important, too. And a firefighter needs people skills.
“There’s a customer-service aspect to firefighting,” he said.
Since beginning his career, Venezia said fire department responsibilities have increased.
“It use to be just fighting fires,” he said. “Now it’s all hazards — car accidents, assisting EMS, hazardous material incidents, car and house lock-outs.”
Technology has also changed. The dispatch system is now computer aided and there are iPads in firefighting vehicles providing information on all three-family-and-above residences, and all commercial property, he said.
As chief, Venezia will no longer be fighting fires or working 24-hour shifts. A big change, he said, that will definitely help simplify homelife. Instead, he will be a 9 to 5 administrator.
“I want to work every day to make department members as safe as possible and for them to do their jobs as best as they can,” he said. “Priorities will be education and upgrading the facilities. We have two firehouses that are 80 years old.”
Regarding education, Venezia said seven Bloomfield firefighters have attended safety and survival class and three firefighters are certified for child-seat installation. As for possibility of a woman becoming a Bloomfield firefighter, he said there were no eligible women currently on the Civil Service list for Bloomfield, but there is one township volunteer firefighter who is a woman. Civil Service test results are crucial to employment priority.
“Volunteers can get points added to their Civil Service tests,” he said.
Venezia was a firefighter for 10 years before being promoted in 2009 to captain. For the last four years, he was a deputy fire chief. Fire Chief Venezia will be writing policies, plan and implement budgets and determine all personnel moves.
“I’ll definitely miss firefighting,” he said.
He has gotten help learning his new job.
“Chief McCarthy showed me the ropes when he was here,” Venezia said. “My secretary, Doreen Butler, keeps me on track. I also reach out to neighboring town chiefs when I have a problem whose solution I don’t know. Also, Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio helps out a lot. Even though he came from the police world, he’s an administrator and knows how to manage people.”
Venezia will be managing 78 career firefighter-personnel and 25 volunteer firefighters.
Earlier this year, the local Bloomfield firefighters’ union filed a complaint against Venezia alleging actions which the union considered detrimental. He was placed on administrative leave until an investigation concluded that most complaints were unsubstantiated.
“Going through that, as uncomfortable as it was, made be better and smarter,” he said. “It’s made me more aware of people’s’ perceptions. Everyone’s feelings got hurt, but I think we can all move on to make the department as best as it can be.”
Although the perception has sometimes been otherwise, Venezia said his brother, the mayor, remained neutral about the local union complaints.
“But he has helped me to understand the political and governmental process,” he said. “I will be able to navigate through that better.”
In addition to Venezia’s promotion, there will be promotions for two deputy chiefs and two captains at the July ceremony.