The desire to help others has been deeply rooted in the life of Michael Tower, who was recently named the new Department Chief of Cedar Grove's Volunteer Fire Department.
Tower has been a Cedar Grove resident for 40 years and has served with the fire department for the past 26 years, joining in August 1986.
“My father was on the ambulance unit in town and I was always drawn to helping people, but I was always more attracted to the fire service,” he said. “Helping people and helping my community is my hobby. I don't play golf, I fight fires. This is what I've decided, other than my family, to devote my time to.”
When he is not fighting fires, Tower is also a detective on the Cedar Grove Police Department. Although he assumes both roles, he does not feel his duties ever conflict.
“You always have to be available, but when I'm at work there has to be a separation," he said. "That's why there are other chiefs and officers that can fill in when one of the other officials is unavailable,” he added.
To assume the role as Chief, Tower had to complete each rank in the department including firefighter, lieutenant and captain in addition to completing numerous state-mandated courses. Prior to members of the Cedar Grove Fire Department voting him in as chief, Tower was first deputy chief.
“I'm excited and I look forward to the challenges I will now face,” he said. “When a call comes in you never know what you're going to be faced with.”
Over the years Tower has faced numerous challenges as a firefighter, but one particular night stands out in his mind.
“About three or four years ago there was a fire in Park Ridge Estates,” he recalled. Tower was part of a five-man crew fighting a basement fire in the North end of town.
“A couple of firefighters got injured and we were ordered to evacuate due to the large amount of fire,” he said.
During their struggle to exit the building, one of the firefighter's air tank alarms began going off. It signaled he was running out of air and intensified their already pressing need to evacuate.
“Once the alarm goes off you can have two more minutes of air or 15 seconds, depending on how hard you are breathing,” he said. “The best thing is to remain calm and breathe normal. If you panic, then you breathe faster and run out of air sooner.”
“As we came back up to the first floor we found our exit was blocked and we had to retreat back into the basement where the fire was most intense," he said. "Now back in the basement, where the fire had started, we found our exit was blocked there as well. We then headed back to the first floor and after a few scary moments we smashed a sliding glass door and all of us got out safely,” he added.
“Without us remaining calm, working together and staying together, it could have ended up very differently,” he said.
Tower is now responsible for the 65 members of the fire department, including 33 members of his company.
“They are a great bunch of people and we have a big mix of personalities,” he said. “It's always interesting to see how they come together."
“With each call, each fire presents something different. I want to be able to make sure to get through each event without anyone getting hurt and with all the firefighters getting out safe. I also want to maintain a high level of professionalism and maintain standards that the chiefs before me have set,” he said.
Tower was sworn into his new role Feb. 6, taking the place of John Bannon, who is now the second deputy chief of the department. Bannon was the youngest fire chief in the town's 104-year history.
“He did a tremendous job and he certainly left me some big shoes to fill,” said Tower. “He has done an excellent job and I truly feel he should be commended for his efforts and dedication to the department.”
The most appealing aspect of the job to Tower is the camaraderie, he says. He enjoys being around the other members of the department and working out in the firehouse gym.
“Our big event is playing the police department in our annual softball game,” he said.
Each year the Cedar Grove Fire Department plays the Police Department in a fundraising softball game to benefit local charities. Last year all proceeds were donated to the Wounded Warrior, a foundation established to assist injured members of the armed services.
Whether wearing the chief's hat or police detective hat, Tower is dedicated to assisting the citizens of the town he has served and lived in for the past 40 years.
“The people of Cedar Grove can be proud of their fire department,” said Tower. “We're going to continue to serve in the highest traditions of the fire service. If anyone has questions or comments they are always welcome to stop by any of our firehouses or visit our website.”
For more information about the Cedar Grove Fire Department visit cedargrovefd.org.