HACKENSACK, NJ - The Hackensack Fire Department welcomed eight new faces this week to its ranks.

On Monday morning, Sean Ruane, Matthew Garnto, Eric Nassello, Michael O’Reilly, Joseph Yannotti, Kevin Cribben, Brendan Egan and Shawn Yates officially began their careers as city firefighters.

The hires will bring the department’s staffing level back up to a number it hasn’t seen in many years, according to Fire Chief Thomas Freeman.

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“We’re thrilled to have eight new probationary firefighters here. We’ve been short manpower, but these eight bring us back up to 101,” he said.

In 2018, five firefighters retired and the department is anticipating the upcoming retirement of Mark Tomaselli, a 25-year veteran, this summer, Freeman said. 

"The city manager, mayor and council were gracious enough to hire an extra guy that’ll keep us at 100 firefighters after the retirement this year. We haven’t had 100 in quite some time,” said the fire chief. “It’s been at least 30 years.”

As the county seat, Hackensack’s resident population is around 45,000 people, but during the daytime that number swells to around 100,000 thanks to business, government and retail. A redevelopment effort, which will add more residential and commercial units, is also underway in the city.

“We’re a very busy department – about 7,000 calls a year. The city is not getting any smaller. It’s a credit to the mayor, council and politicians to recognize that the city is growing and allow us to grow with it,” Freeman said.

Next week, the firefighters will start basic training, which will last through the middle of June. Then, they’ll go for EMT training and certification in July.

“Soon thereafter, they’ll be on a platoon and count towards manpower,” Freeman said. “We’ll still be riding a little short over the next few months while they go through schooling and get certifications squared away.”

For the first time ever, Hackensack Fire Department will host training for its new hires, as well as those recently added to the ranks at Englewood, Ridgewood and Teaneck fire departments.  

Though training is always run at the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah, the chiefs “saw an opportunity to get the four career departments in the county a fire class for recruits,” Freeman.

“It’ll be administered by the county but hosted here,” said Freeman. “We think it’ll be beneficial because it’ll save time commuting and provide more time training. It worked out well.”

After graduation, Hackensack’s hires will remain on probationary status for a year. 

On Monday, the new firefighters each said they were eager to get started and looked forward to learning the ropes. 

Many of them said were drawn to fire services because of a relative who was involved in firefighting.

Kevin Cribben, 25, said he wanted to pursue a fire services career because he “grew up around it.” His grandfather and father were firefighters, and his older brother, Michael, is on the Hackensack Fire Department currently.

Matthew Garnto, 28, said, “It’s kind of in my blood.” His father is a detective sergeant at the Garfield Police Department and his uncle, Peter Rocco, is a lieutenant at the Hackensack Fire Department.

Even the fire chief said family was a big reason he became a firefighter.

Freeman, a third generation firefighter, said his grandfather joined Hackensack Fire Department in the 1930s, his father was hired in the 1960s and he started there in the early 1980s.

“You ask any firefighter and they’ll usually tell you firefighting is inherited. And, it’s come true here. It’s exciting to see that in this next generation,” he said.

Giving back to the city is also important to the new hires.

Sean Yates, 33, said he wanted to continue his commitment of service to the community. “I worked at the DPW before and used to be a volunteer here,” he said.

Sean Ruane, 26, and Eric Nasello, 23, said they want to become firefighters because they like the teamwork aspect, as well as being in a position to help the city.

Mike O’Reilly, 26, said he wanted to follow in Freeman’s footsteps “and serve the community,” while 33-year-old Joseph Yannotti said community service and “continuing the legacy of the department” is why he pursued firefighting.

Brendan Egan, 31, said he was drawn to firefighting because he “wanted to be part of a solution in the community that I grew up in.”