The following is courtesy of the Gloucester Township fire companies:
As we celebrate Father’s Day this year, the firefighters of Gloucester Township gives a special thank you to all dads who volunteer to keep Gloucester Township lives and property safe and encourages more to do the same by learning about the many volunteer opportunities available at FirefightersofGloucesterTwp.org.
Michael Riccardelli, Jay Johnson and Harry Woods have each helped keep Gloucester Township lives safe for decades. As volunteer firefighting dads, they understand the importance of helping save lives and property and want to pass that tradition of service onto future generations. Their stories show that anyone can become a volunteer with the Blenheim, Chews Landing, Erial and Glendora fire companies and help make a difference.
Michael Riccardelli: The fire company is a family
You wear a lot of hats when you’re the fire chief at Glendora Fire Company, including sometimes the company dad. Just ask Mike Riccardelli.
“Being a fire chief is like being a father to all the guys,” Riccardelli said. “Sometimes you’re their dad, their psychiatrist, their mechanic and sometimes just an ear for them to vent to.”
Riccardelli, 54, knows how important it is to create a family atmosphere at the fire station. He’s been with Glendora since his family moved to Gloucester Township in 1969. Shortly after, his mom, Theresa, was encouraged to join the fire company, as a ladies auxiliary volunteer and eventually became the auxiliary president. Riccardelli’s father, Joseph, joined soon after as a volunteer, followed by his older brother, Stephen.
Riccardelli was practically raised at the firehouse from a young age. His father would go to the station and cook meals for the crew after work, often bringing his son with him. By 1989, Riccardelli had begun moving up the command ladder and was a line officer. In 1995, he became Glendora’s fire chief.
Today, Riccardelli is helping to raise the next generation of his firefighting family. His oldest daughter, Lisa, 26, was 16 when she started helping at the station. His son, Michael, 21, also became a member at 16 and still volunteers as a firefighter.
“All of my firefighters are like my kids,” Riccardelli said. “We’re a family. There is nothing better than volunteering. Somebody’s got to do it. It’s something you feel inside you when you give back to the town. It’s rewarding. You’ll feel good about what you do.”
Jay Johnson: Passing on a tradition of service
For almost 24 years, Jay Johnson, 41, has helped keep the Gloucester Township community safe as a volunteer firefighter of Chews Landing Fire Company.
For the last six years he’s served as the company’s president and says he’s excited by the idea of passing on his love of community service to his son, James, and to the new volunteer members of the station.
Johnson comes from a line of firefighters before him. His dad, Jim, and uncles were volunteer firefighters with the Mt. Holly Fire Company. Growing up Johnson helped his dad, who worked as a general contractor, respond to fire calls. Johnson can remember one call where his dad helped put out an apartment fire, while he handed cold water bottles and slices of watermelon to the other volunteers.
“As soon as I was of age to join the fire company myself, I joined,” he said. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Today Johnson, who currently serves as a captain at the station, continues to pass his knowledge and tradition of service onto his son James, 18, who has been a volunteer firefighter himself for the last two years and who just completed the fire academy in May. Much like his dad, James also grew up around the station and the other firefighters. “Any place I would go he would go with me,” Johnson said. “He always had an interest.” Now that James is able to drive, Johnson said he’s able to come to the station a lot more often.
“I’m proud that my son also wants to do this,” Johnson said. “I would hope he encourages his children to do the same-either in the fire or another branch of service. I hope it continues on. I hope the family name will still be known as helping the community that they serve.”
Harry D. Woods: Joining a team
Growing up right around the corner from a firehouse in Pennsauken, captured Harry Woods’ imagination. He can remember running to the corner whenever he heard sirens to watch the fire trucks rush by on their way to an emergency.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said.
Today, the 49-year-old husband and father of two sons, volunteers at Glendora Fire Company where he serves as a fire official for the station with Gloucester Township. He’s also a full-time EMT in Voorhees Township.
Woods knew he’d found the right fit when, during his interview at the station, the members there asked him if he played softball because they needed another member for the Camden County Firemen’s Softball League team. While he didn’t play softball, he did play baseball and quickly took over the starting spot in outfield for the team.
“I took to the fire company pretty early,” he said. “It’s a family. Some of my closest friends are in the fire company.”
When he’s not helping to save lives, he and his wife, Jennifer, are raising their two sons, Nicholas, 18, and 17-year-old Matthew. Nicholas joined as a member of the station when he turned 16, and has plans to study fire science and the EMT program at Camden County College after high school.
“I thought it was great. I was happy for him and glad he joined,” said Woods, who surprised his son by presenting him with his fire school graduation certificate instead of Riccardelli. “It was a good experience; he was surprised.”
Woods is glad that his legacy of helping others will continue on in his family and he encourages others to do the same. “You won’t regret becoming a part of this team,” he said.
There’s a volunteer role for you
Becoming a volunteer firefighter in Gloucester Township helps keep lives safe, Riccardelli said.
“From volunteer firefighters, junior firefighters, volunteer associate members and ladies auxiliary members, there is a volunteer position that fits your talents,” he said. “No previous experience is required. The training and equipment are free. Learn new skills, have some fun and see how you can become part of a second family.”
Go to FirefightersofGloucesterTwp.org to start the process. Firefighting is our passion. Volunteering is our tradition. Make it yours.