BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield firefighter Joseph Critchley, an eight-year veteran, was promoted to captain Wednesday, Aug. 7, during a brief evening ceremony held in the Bloomfield High School Media Center.
A third generation firefighter, the 32-year-old Critchley was joined by his grandfather, a former East Orange firefighter, and his father, a former Bloomfield firefighter. Both senior men are also named Joseph Critchley.
Capt. Critchley was lauded by fire Chief Louis Venezia as a dedicated and knowledgeable firefighter.
“Fire captains have a big influence on the firefighters they serve,” Venezia told an audience of about 50, which included a departmental color guard consisting of Capt. Rick Rannou and firefighters Mike Searls, Alex Nives and Carl Mercado. The bagpiper was Jack McGarry, of the Essex County Emerald Society.
After Mayor Michael Venezia acknowledged “the importance of family support for people who miss so much of family time,” Critchley took his oath of office with his wife, Jaryda Gonzalez, whom he married last November, and his father, a retired Bloomfield deputy chief, looking on. Pastor Anthony Ventola, of the Agape Worship Center, provided the invocation and benediction.
In an interview two days later at the Watsessing Fire Department, where he is stationed, Critchley said his grandfather was an East Orange fire captain.
“I grew up around firefighters,” he said. “I knew pretty early on what I wanted to do.”
Critchley spent time in all the Bloomfield firehouses as a child, but mostly at headquarters because of his father’s position.
“There were a few times when he got called in on a big fire and you would worry,” he said. “But I always knew he was the best at his job and would come home.”
Critchley’s father was also his mentor and guided him.
“He told me to treat everyone with respect and you’ll get respect in return,” he said.
The father also told his son to never stop moving, as there is always the opportunity to better oneself.
Most firefighters have second jobs like him, Critchley said. He attended Oak View Elementary, Bloomfield Middle School and graduated BHS in 2006. He attended Lincoln Technical Institute and also works as a mechanic.
“Firefighters like to stay busy,” he said. “Being a firefighter is a very blue-collar profession. We’re always looking to work. And you have a family. You always need more money.”
He said that when he gets called to a fire, it is because things are not going well for someone.
“It’s always stressful,” he said. “It might be the worst day in the life of another person. Someone may be losing everything, someone may be dying.”
Firefighters also have to spend time away from their families, and if there is a storm, they worry about their families when they are away from them.
“Luckily, I live in town,” Critchley said. “I can check on my family. But when you’re here, this is your family. It’s one of the best parts of the job, too, working with your good friends and having a second family. Other places, people may not like their coworkers. Me? I love coming to work. There’s a lot of trust with the people you’re with. You’re given training, but there’s a bond. I have full confidence with the people I work with.”
Critchley’s first fire was at a Bloomfield College building on Spruce Street. It was not so bad, he said. There was smoke inside the building and several walls had to be opened up.
“I was nervous,” he said. “I had to break down the wall. After two or three swings, I was out of breath. And the guys were saying, ‘Keep going, keep going.’”
Critchley’s worst fire was in Montclair and Bloomfield on a mutual service call. There was plenty of smoke, heat, zero visibility and an October snowstorm all happening at once.
“Sometimes all you see is the orange glow,” Critchley said of being inside a burning structure. “We thought we did a good job and backed out.”
Once outside, he saw the second and third stories burning.
“It became a defensive operation,” he said. “It was too dangerous and the guys were pulled out and used the deck guns. That’s a larger diameter hose, and we fought it from the outside.”
The morning of Cricthley’s interview was during first shift as a BFD captain. As a captain, his job is to supervise at a fire.
“And make sure we’re not going into any life-threatening conditions,” he said, “and get the guys home in the morning.”
Suddenly there was an alarm.
“That’s a call,” Critchley said.
A line was down at 50 Alva Street.
“It’s not much,” he said heading out, “but I have to go.”