Secaucus has a new fire chief

Joseph Schoendorf takes over from Chief Carl Leppin III

Former Fire Chief Carl Leppin III
Former Fire Chief Carl Leppin III

The Secaucus Fire Department has a new fire chief. The SFD chooses a new chief every two years, which means former Fire Chief Carl Leppin III has passed the position to his successor.

Leppin joined the department as a Junior Firefighter with Engine 4, Ladder 1 in 1996 and later transferred to Engine 3. He said he couldn’t be happier about his decision.

After the first few responses to fire calls, he felt “there is no sense of accomplishment better than this,” according to the town’s newsletter. This fueled his enthusiasm and led him to be tapped Captain and Lieutenant three times each.

Leppin is also the town’s Construction Official, which he says is intertwined with his role as fire chief. Knowledge of construction codes informs his ability to navigate fire safety systems.

When Leppin took over as chief in 2018, he had goals he wanted to achieve. His list included equipment and facility upgrades, robust recruitment, enhanced training, modernizing standard operating guidelines, and focus on the newly formed Marine Division, now part of the NY-NJ Regional Fireboat Taskforce.

With the support of Mayor Michael Gonnelli and the town council, he supervised the procurement of grants for a state-of-the-art rescue boat, new engine for Marine 2, new gas meters, and the COVID-19 PPE grant. Leppin is especially proud of the new rescue boat and improvements to the Marine Division, which he says, “more than paid off the investment, having been used for many marine rescues, including fires and stranded boats.”

In the last two years, the department procured a new generator for Engine 1, approved fire alarm systems for Tower 2 and Rescue 1, purchased and upgraded extrication tools for Ladder 1 and Rescue 1, and completed upgrades to Rescue 1 buildings.

Gonnelli and the town council approved the purchase of some 14 sets of gear a year. Gear expires every 10 years and must be replaced. Old gear is donated to countries that need it.

Work is in progress to replace the engine at Engine 2, and the standard operating guidelines were updated.

New recruits

“All these upgrades and equipment are useless if we don’t have firefighters to use them,” Leppin said.

Extra efforts made by ex-chief Raymond Cieciuch and Donald Cieciuch over the last two years added 46 more to the team, including 12 Junior Firefighters, 17 Auxiliary Firefighters, one Probationary Firefighter, and 16 Firefighters. New sessions for marine, extraction, high-rise and intercompany training ensure that all fire personnel are prepared for any emergency.

Leppin frequently reminds firefighters to “never stop learning, and never to be afraid to ask questions.” As he passed the baton to new chief, he shared this advice: “Be proactive and think ahead, so decisions are made not just for today but for the future as well.”

Leppin thanked all members “for entrusting me with this position and allowing me to serve as Fire Chief. I thank incoming Chief Joe Schoendorf and Battalion Chief Fred Schneider for their tremendous support. I wish them, as well as incoming Battalion Chief Larry Marciano, the very best.”

Schoendorf was sworn in at a ceremony on Jan. 5. He will lead the all-volunteer department until 2023.

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