SOUTH AMBOY — On Jan. 1, the city will have a new fire chief — just as it does every year.
Outgoing chief Michael Geraltowski had quite a year — in March, he helped the department acquire a new pumper ladder truck. A month later, the city’s only grocery store burned to the ground. Then, in October, the department held a large-scale parade for its 125th anniversary.
In 2016, John Kelly, who was the first assistant chief this year, will take over, and whether he will have such an eventful year remains to be seen. The fire chief role is a rotational one in the city among the Enterprise Snorkel Hook & Ladder Fire Company, Independence Engine & Hose Company, Protection Engine Company No. 1, Mechanicsville Hose Company, and Progressive Fire Company. Geraltowski is from the Mechanicsville Hose Company, and Kelly is from Enterprise.
Kelly, who has been with the department for nearly 20 years, says it is in good shape. As of October, membership was at 180.
He said, long-term, the department is looking at updating equipment, and perhaps even its facilities, but added it’s not something he’s looking at for 2016.
“They’re in good condition, but they’re older,” he said of the department’s equipment. But replacing anything would take budget. “They’re not cheap,” he added.
He said he also plans to continue the strong relationship Geraltowski had with the mayor and council.
“Absolutely. I plan on keeping it going,” he said.
He also said he feels volunteer membership is strong, but he’s always looking for new recruits. He did say that the economy has had an impact on volunteer rates, and did encourage those interested to pursue it. Requirements for a volunteer are being 18 years old and having a high school diploma or equivalent. Once a volunteer signs up, he or she will then attend fire academy for a few months.
Geraltowski has some advice for Kelly.
“Just be your own person and do the right thing,” he said. “If you make decision, stick with it. Don’t be afraid to lean on or ask for advice from other ex-chiefs.”
He also said that it’s important to connect with other fire chiefs. “Get to know chiefs from out of town. I made some strong friendships with not only Sayreville, Perth Amboy and South River, but others like Fords, Hopelawn, Iselin, etc.”
He said he hopes Kelly likes his new post. “Most of all, enjoy the ride. You will be amazed at how quick the year will go.”