WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Fire Department welcomed its new chief Nov. 9, swearing in Anthony Vecchio as the new head of the department. Vecchio is hardly a newcomer to the town — he is a West Orange native, and has worked in every position in the fire department since he started there in 2001. After spending time as the interim chief, his swearing-in ceremony officially made him the leading man of the department.
Vecchio took a roundabout path to becoming a firefighter. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a communications degree focusing on radio, television and film, he returned to West Orange to work for two family businesses making promotional products and fundraising programs. Eventually he was looking to make a change, and someone suggested he take the firefighter test.
“It was a drastic change. I had kids at that point, so I wanted something that could help me financially,” Vecchio told the West Orange Chronicle in a phone interview on Nov. 16, mentioning his three children, Alexandra, Anthony Jr. and Austin. “I also wanted something that could serve the community, and it’s a rewarding job.”
As he began work as a firefighter, Vecchio went back to school at New Jersey City University, taking classes in the fire science program.
“In this job, you advance through promotion, and I was not as familiar with the world as I needed to be,” he said. While he did not complete a degree at NJCU, Vecchio said the classes he took helped him to understand more about the field, and he received his Certified Public Manager designation from Rutgers University.
Having spent the majority of his life in West Orange, Vecchio said that growing up in the town prepared him for his adult life.
“It’s a great community,” he said. “Growing up I was around people from all different backgrounds, with all types of people and personalities. It prepped me for whatever life was going to throw at me.”
When firefighters apply for jobs after passing the test, Vecchio said many of them will write down as many different towns and communities as possible, to give themselves a greater chance of being hired. That wasn’t the case for him; he only wanted to work in West Orange.
“There was no other community,” Vecchio said. “If I wasn’t in West Orange, I didn’t want to do it.”
To then ascend through the ranks of the department from firefighter to captain to deputy chief and chief is special for Vecchio.
“It’s an honor,” he said about becoming the head of the department in his hometown. “I have roots here, and most people keep those forever. I still get together with men I went to elementary school with; sometimes people move but when we all come back, to say I’m the fire chief here is great.”
Vecchio is involved in West Orange in more ways than just professionally. He is an officer and member of the Orange/West Orange chapter of UNICO, as well as a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Chamber of Commerce. A sports fan, he coaches youth soccer and baseball.
As the new chief, Vecchio said he has no plans for a department overhaul.
“I’m not going to do anything drastic,” he said. “I like to say baby steps.”
The department has already taken over emergency medical services from the now-defunct West Orange First Aid Squad, and the new chief wants to see the department work more on community involvement.
“We went around town installing smoke alarms a few weeks ago, and residents seemed to respond to it,” he said. “Not every day of this job is easy, but overall it’s a really rewarding job.”
Photos Courtesy of West Orange Township