Chapter Nineteen: The State's Smallest Firefighter
At four foot three inches tall, Mark Vogel has made it big this week in Secaucus, after being accepted as a volunteer fire fighter.
"I've wanted this all my life," he told me during an interview where he works at the Secaucus Nutrition center. "Actually I wanted to be a cop, but since I couldn't be that, I wanted this."
Vogel's father served 25 years on the Secaucus Police Department.
At 32, Vogel joins an elite group of determined men under five feet tall who have joined the ranks of fire fighters across the country, several belonging to volunteer fire fighting services like Secaucus, one even part of a professionally paid staff.
Technically, Vogel has been working as a First Responder for the Moonache Volunteer Fire Department since; part of a medical response team that helps evaluate and care for medical emergency until Emergency Medical Technicians or paramedics could arrive on a scene.
In Secaucus, Vogel was slated to serve as a firefighter at the Washington Hook and Ladder Company, after having graduated from the Bergen County Police and Fire academy in Mahwah and passed his physical examination.
Although he wanted to be a fire fighter, he didn't make the move until recently, saying he was "a little scared."
"I was worried that I couldn't do it, or that I couldn't pass," he said.
But encouragement from friends, helped him over come his fear, particularly a man named Harry Baker who helped get him on to the Moonache Fire Department, and took First Responder instruction at classes held in East Rutherford.
"I started out in first aid and that gave me a chance to show what I could do," he said.
Vogel said Second Lt. Raymond Cieciuch encouraged him to join the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department, and that he has had support from various chiefs, making it possible for him to make the move.
His 18 weeks at the fire academy did not come easily, said Vogel. He had to work hard and over come obstacles. For thing, he was never comfortable with climbing a ladder, but found that through determination, he could do that and any other duty required of him as a fire fighter.
"I was a little nervous when I went through the academy," He said. "I had second thoughts that I could do it."
While he got no special treatment, he did get support of those who he worked with, people at the academy that helped him learn the ropes, and encouraged him to keep trying.
"I figured it would be rough, but if I didn't go for it, I would never know if I could do it or not," he said.
Training encompassed a full spectrum of activities, Vogel said he felt confident he could do the job.
"I wouldn't do this if I didn't think I could. I would never put anyone in danger" he said. "The school would not have passed me if they didn't think I could. They would have too much liability."
People are surprised to see him when he comes out for call, wearing equipment that is either specially made or cut down to fit his size.
While he has not yet responded to a fully engaged fire either in Moonache or in Secaucus, and is a little apprehensive about the experience, he has been to working fires and found himself confident in his abilities.
Although his father is deceased, Vogel feels the man would have been proud of him, noting that his mother is very happy about his appointment.
As a volunteer fire fighter, Vogel is only required to take the basic fire training immediately, where as the paid departments are required to take parts one and two right away. Vogel said he intends to keep on advancing, learning more and doing more.
"I want to take more advanced training and get more experience," he said.
While many people seemed surprised at various points in his training and his duties, no one has treated him badly.
"Most people are supportive," he said. "But if they did treat me badly, I wouldn't pay any attention to them. Most people treat me like anybody else, which is the way I like it."
In fact, he said he wouldn't let anyone give him special treatment either.
"I want to earn my way the way other people do, I don't want any special favors," he said.
Yet the experience has left him very philosophical.
"If you want something in life, you have to go for it," he said. "How can you know if you can get it or not unless you try."
Vogel said the election victory of Councilman Tony Soares in Hoboken, has inspired him.
"Who knows I might like to run for council someday, too," he said.