SHOUT OUT: After nearly 30 years of service – and the only perfect score on the state’s recent fire chief’s test – Frank Montagne has become the first North Bergen native to become chief of North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR).
NHRFR Chief Frank Montagne
(PHOTO courtesy Lisa Venezia Thomas)
NHRFR has had four others chiefs in the dozen years since five Hudson departments banded together. This is a first for Montagne’s hometown.
He was an extremely popular choice.
Montagne, 55, became as a full-fledged firefighter in North Bergen in 1983 and within only five years was a captain. A decade later, he was named battalion chief.
North Bergen was among five municipalities that merged their departments into NHRFR in January 1999 (also: Union City, Weehawken, West New York, and Guttenberg).
NHRFR has three battalions, with six engines, four ladders, four squads, one rescue and a fire boat that operate out of several stations, serving a popular of nearly 200,000 people.
Montagne at first was assigned to the Third Battalion in North Bergen at 63rd Street and Kennedy Boulevard. After yet another excellent test score, he was promoted to deputy chief, a position he’s held nearly a decade.
“I was number one on every exam that I have taken,” Montagne, long known for his quick wit and wry sense of humor, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Who would have guessed that?”
Montagne, who married a woman from his hometown with whom he has two grown sons, lives in Demarest.
He’s been acting chief since January, following Brian McEldowney, who retired last year.
PHOTO courtesy Judy Mathews Paczkowski
Seven firefighters were also promoted to captain this week to fill vacancies with NHRFR.
North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue received kudos for the response of its firefighters when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.
It has also had its share of political and administrative flare-ups, which some privately predicted will subside significantly under Montagne.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals last December ruled that the squad’s hiring policy discriminated against African-Americans because it only accepted residents of local towns, who are predominantly Latino and Caucasian.
The department insisted residency was essential to operations for several reasons, including that the familiarity with buildings and streets in the five municipalities it covers would produce faster response times, that the likelihood would be increased of hiring Spanish-speaking firefighters in a department that serves a 69% Hispanic population and because it fosters community pride.
The judges disagreed, saying the NHRFR failed to show any negative effects on safety or the operations of the department by restricting the applicant list to residents of the five towns served.
At Ground Zero on 9/11 with Anthony Venezia (PHOTO courtesy F. Montagne)