Editor's note:  This continues the Meet The Leaders profile series on the Summit Alternative Press.  The objective is to provide our readers the opportunity to hear from Summit's leaders in government, public safety, commerce and other areas, regarding Summit's present and future outlook, their background and what they enjoy doing in their private life.  In order to keep the format consistent, The Alternative Press presents each individual with the same five questions.  We publish their answers unedited.

Today - Summit Fire Chief Joseph Houck

Background / Biography

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As a kid growing up in Newark, I wanted to be a police officer.  I began my career as a volunteer emergency medical technician with the North Ward's First Aid Squad.  This led to working as an EMT for the City of Newark and then University Hospital.    I became a civilian dispatcher with the Summit Police Department in 1986 before becoming a career firefighter in 1987.  Over the course of my career I was promoted to lieutenant in 1994; battalion chief in 2000; deputy chief in 2005 and fire chief in 2008.

Throughout this time, I have completed the Certified Public Managers program at Fairleigh Dickinson University and attended numerous training programs at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; including the Executive Fire Officer program. Presently, I am working toward a degree in Public Administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  

I live in Summit with my wife, Irene and my two daughters; Christa, is about halfway through an 18-month research assistant position at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.  My daughter Kelli, is on break from the University of Delaware but is working long hours as a lifeguard and coach of the Summit Sharks at the Summit Family Aquatic Center.

What inspired you to pursue a role in fire safety / fire protection?

While I was working at University Hospital in Newark as EMT, the Newark Fire and Police Departments closed their heavy rescue units, the hospital quickly establish a heavy rescue unit that I was assigned to.  I enjoyed specialized rescue and auto extrication so I became a Summit volunteer firefighter in 1985.  The fire service gives you an opportunity to help people when they are probably having the worst day in their lives.  It’s a great job where no two days are ever alike.


What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing Summit today?

The Summit and Millburn Fire Departments have enjoyed a close working relationship for many years.  This relationship was enhanced in the mid-1980’s when the two departments began sharing a combined fire dispatch center in Summit.  The departments implemented numerous shared services, joint training and automatic aid agreements.  We continue to explore other services to share, such as, fire inspectors and fire investigators.

The mission of the fire service continues to evolve and expand.  When I began my career, our department responded to about 700 incidents per year, we currently respond to about 2500 incidents per year.  The additional workload and our mission to serve our customers pull our members in more directions than ever before.  The crew members continue to conduct fire inspections, pre-fire planning and public safety education.  Additionally, our members are constantly training and maintaining our apparatus and facility.


What are the top priorities on your "to do list" as Fire Chief?

My top priority every day is the health and safety of our members.  Many of us wear a black wrist band that reads “Everyone Goes Home” as part of the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives Program delivered by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation.  

My daily priority is to do my best to give the men and women of the Summit Fire Department the equipment and personnel needed to provide the highest level of fire protection and emergency services to the public.  We are studying the replacement of our fire station which has exceeded its useful life; some parts of our building are over 100 years old.

Our new Emergency Services Combined Dispatch Center in New Providence is nearing the end of the planning phase and we anticipate construction to begin within the next few months.  This center will handle 9-1-1, emergency medical, fire and police dispatching for New Providence, Summit and the Millburn Fire Department.  This will improve the services for the three communities.


When you are not being the Fire Chief, what do you do in your spare time?

In the immediate future, I am looking forward to an upcoming family vacation with my wife and daughters.  I continue to attempt to get better at playing golf…maybe next year.  I have attended over 100 Bruce Springsteen concert performances and hope he decides to continue his tour into the U.S. next year.  I plan to enjoy the Giants winning the Super Bowl in their home stadium in February.

Five words that describe Summit are...

Great schools, strong sense of community, convenient, family-oriented and safe.