ROXBURY, NJ - The Roxbury Fire Department recently honored former Fire Chief Steve Chapkovich for half a century of service.
Chapkovich, 73, of Succasunna, said he joined Roxbury Fire Co. 1 shortly after moving to Kenvil from Mine Hill in the late 1960s. "I was 21 years old," he said, noting that his father, grandfather and uncle were all firefighters. "It just ran back in the family," he said.
Roxbury was a lot less developed back then, recalled Chapkovich. However, the fire department was a bit more crowded than it is these days, he noted.
"It's getting harder and harder for the younger generation (to join)," Chapkovich said. "They all have to work and many just don't have the time. Back then, when I joined, many guys had to wait to get in. I didn't, but after I got in the roster got full and if somebody wanted to get in, they had to wait for an opening."
Chapkovich rose through the ranks of both Company 1 and the overall fire department. He served as assistant engineer, engineer, lieutenant, captain and - from 1993 to 1995 - as chief of the Succasunna-based company. In 1996, Chapkovich served as chief of the whole Roxbury Fire Department.
He said it doesn't feel like 50 years have come and gone. He can still vividly recall some major fires, such as the one that burned stores at the Roxbury Mall, an underground fire at the former Fenimore Landfill and a house fire on Orben Drive that claimed the lives of multiple children. He was around when Hercules Powder Company explosions shook the town and he was there through many happier times, such as parades, Delaware River raft races and firefighter drill team competitions.
"Time's gone by quickly," Chapkovich said. "We had good times and bad times at the fire house, just like everything else."
Being on a volunteer fire department can be both rewarding and trying, he acknowledged.
"It's a big part of your life," Chapkovich said. "It takes a lot out of your family. You just sit down to supper and the whistle blows. Or you start to do something and the whistle blows. The family has to put up with a lot."
In thanking Chapkovich for his service, the fire company said firefighters and emergency medical technicians "serve their community with compassion, courage, and integrity. Belonging to this group of dedicated brave men and women is not about what they receive, but what they give ... Thank you, Steve, for your dedication to our town and community."