We Can Not Thank You Enough
Interview and Article by Andrea Jackson, Executive Director, The 200 Club of Bergen County
The 200 Club of Bergen County would like to give a sincere “Note of Thanks“ to all of our First Responders working through this very difficult time. They are all deserving of our gratitude and our support in any way we can show it.
We are highlighting individual First Responder Departments in Bergen County to both thank them individually and give them the recognition they deserve as they lead the fight – at great risk to themselves – against Covid-19.
Today, we would like to specifically thank and recognize the Hackensack Fire Department. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the department’s Chief, Thomas Freeman.
The City of Hackensack has a long rich American History. Settled in the 1600s, it was also the headquarters for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Now the County Seat, Hackensack is the home to the County’s Judiciary & County Government. Within its 4 square miles, the cities 45,000 plus residents enjoy a growing shopping and business district along with a number of accredited educational institutes. The City is also the site for a world-recognized hospital, Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center. A very busy and high-density City at the time this was written, Hackensack now has the highest number of Covid-19 positive cases in Bergen County.
At the beginning of our conversation, Chief Freeman told me that all Hackensack Departments are now dealing with the reality of the high number of Covid-19 cases and its devastating impact. Specifically to the Fire Department, this reality has become a “game-changer.” Back in February, when Covid-19 was beginning to become more prevalent, his department made an early call to order as much as they could in terms of supplies such as cleaners and disinfectants. But, he added, “nothing really prepares you as we all saw this virus ramp up quickly with more and more Covid-19 cases daily. It was just a matter of time until our department had its first Covid-19 positive member. It was like a shock wave going through the department, and that was just the beginning.”
Chief Freeman oversees 100 uniformed members located in four firehouses throughout the city plus support staff; prior to Covid-19 this was already a lot to manage and now with a virus that spreads quickly and easily its like “fighting an additional invisible force.” Chief Freeman further told me, “we have members that sleep, eat and spend hours in our firehouses. Social distancing can only go so far especially on the actual rig itself, there is only so much space.”
The Chief credits every member of his department for performing their responsibilities above and beyond the call of duty: “although we have had to make adjustments due to Covid-19, our department is not only there for a fire call but life-threatening calls as well; when a medical emergency call goes out, Ambulance, Police and Fire all respond. When we get a Covid-19 call you can definitely feel a heightened level of energy within our team.”
Chief Freeman said the “Clap Out Night” that the Hackensack City Government started has really helped “lift both his guy’s spirits and the healthcare workers at the Medical Center.” He added, “we have a lot of homes, apartment buildings, and high rises that surround the Hospital. It’s so great to see and hear hundreds of people on their front lawns, terraces, open widows clapping, banging pots and pans. And, to add to this, we have our rigs in front of the hospital’s main entrance. The hospital’s staff comes out front and we all applaud them with cheers and our sirens going. It really gives everyone a good boost”
Chief Freeman added, “everyone in his department feels the stresses of executing their responsibilities in this Covid-19 environment. I think what helps us is when we see those doctors, nurses, and medical staff who have been working 12 hours or more every day with nothing but Covid-19 patients, that’s enough to keep all of us pretty humble. It’s been a real honor working so close with HUMC at this time, they have been amazing!”
As our conversation came to a close I asked the Chief if any “silver linings” could be found through all this: “I guess there are he said… you certainly appreciate the simple things you used to do daily, I know that probably goes for everyone around the world. I personally am just so proud of my department and I hope that when we all get through this we have some answers so we will be even better prepared if there should ever be a next time.”
Like Chief Freeman, we are proud of everyone at the Hackensack Fire Department as they continue to go above and beyond the call of duty through this pandemic, risking their lives daily on our behalf. To all at the Hackensack Fire Department, you have our heartfelt gratitude, appreciation, and support. We can never thank you enough for being there for us in this crucial time of need.