Chief Venezia’s Story
Fire Chief Lou Venezia began a proud career as a firefighter with the Bloomfield Fire Department in 1999. After several promotions through the ranks, he was appointed Chief of Department in 2018. He currently leads 78 career firefighters and 15 volunteers. The men and women of the BFD staff 4 firehouses responded to over 4000 calls for service last year.
As the COVID virus began to take hold in 2020, Chief Venezia, like most other first responder leaders, wasn’t fully prepared for what he was to face in the coming months.
As the virus spread, his department began to perform tabletop exercises with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in an effort to prepare for a variety of situations they may be called upon to handle. “Everyone was unsure of the seriousness of the virus but we had to continue to service our community who rely on us for a variety of services. We didn’t have the luxury of working remotely,” said the chief. He recounted how much anxiety this caused among his members. Nonetheless, they had to work through the uncertainty.
Since the firefighters also handle first responder calls for the town, they were in constant contact with the public and were facing an internal battle of trying to keep enough PPE in stock when supplies were scarce. The vendors were backlogged and agencies throughout the nation were all simultaneously competing for basic medical supplies. This caused much apprehension as personnel were facing possible exposure to the virus at every scene, including countless DOAs and CPR calls. “Hospitals were constantly diverting patients to different medical facilities because they were overwhelmed ,” added Chief Venezia. “Our crews were often tired and scared but they did a terrific job and kept reporting for duty ready to handle whatever the day brought them.”
As the nation slowly gets back to normal, Chief Venezia says that he got through the toughest times by following the constant guidance and communications from OEM, CDC, NJ Department of Health and State Fire organizations. He kept his members fully informed of the latest guidelines to keep them safe and wasn’t afraid to modify departmental policies and procedures as necessary. The Chief also continually reminded his members of the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association’s mental health hotline and urged them to take advantage of this benefit if they felt a need for support.
To cope with the overwhelming demands, the Chief said he would exercise most days of the week and lean on friends and family for support. He urges any first responder to seek help and use available resources to cope with stress and not to be afraid to admit to feeling overwhelmed or anxious. This helped him cope with those days when things were going really bad and hope seemed far away.
The department members got through the worst of the pandemic and, aside from some lingering concerns, are feeling like things are getting back to normal. Several members were out sick after contracting the virus and all but one have returned to work. The chief says that this experience has reminded him that the work of first responders can never be seen as routine and you have to always be prepared for the
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic we are reminded of the difficult demands placed on first responders and the need to ask for help when we need help. We can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves. We are here to support you. Our RISE: NJ First Responder COVID Hope and Healing Helpline is available 7 days a week 8am-8pm at 833-237-4325. Let’s RISE together!