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      Salt Stories

      Chief Jon Prachthauser

      Chief Jon Prachthauser

                Deputy Chief Jon Prachthauser, also known around the firehouse as “Prock” and “The White Bullet” was born in Morristown, New Jersey. He grew up in Parsippany, NJ before he eventually moved back to Morristown. Chief comes from a family of firemen. His cousin is Chief “Big Al” Huelsenbeck (ret.) from the Wilmington, Delaware Fire Department (You can read about him in our first Salt Story post). Chief Prachthauser began his fire service career as a volunteer for the Morristown Fire Bureau in December of 1985. When he started, PASS-devices were an uncommon sight, while long-coats and pull-up boots were the norm.  It did not take long for him to fall in love with the job and when he found out that he could make a living as a fireman, Chief Prock took the civil service exam. In February of 1989, Jon Prachthauser was officially on the job as a paid fireman for the city of Morristown, New Jersey. As a fireman, his favorite assignment was being the tillerman on a truck.  Jon spent eleven years as a fireman before being promoted to a Captain in October of 2000. After thirteen years, he was promoted to Deputy Chief in February of 2013. On December 31st, 2017, with 32 years of volunteer and paid service to the city of Morristown, chief Jon Prachthauser retired.

      A very cold night at the Elm Street fire

                Over a career in the fire-service spanning 32 years, Chief Prachthauser saw a great amount of change to the job. In his opinion, the greatest change that he witnessed over his career were the vast improvements to PPE. When asked about his first set of gear, chief remembers “going down to the cairns factory on his first day to pick up a turnout coat”.  It was an old long coat with metal clips to hold it closed. Chief remembers hearing about a firefighter killed in Patterson, NJ in a grocery store fire. After hearing that crews were unable to find the downed fireman, Chief Prock bought his own PASS-device that “you actually had to turn on” unlike our automatic devices that turn on with the air pack. The worst change that he has seen over his career is the lack of practical experience due to “fire duty being down”. It’s “very good for the residents” but the gradual decline of fire activity has lowered the amount of opportunities for our new generation of firefighters to gain practical on-the-job experience.  “It’s not that they can’t do the job, it just will take longer to get the experience”. In Chief’s opinion, the best way for our new generation of firefighters to gain the experience that they might not be receiving fast enough on the job is to “go to school” and “take all the classes that you can”.

      Second alarm fire on Court Street

                Chief Prachthauser has taken his fair share of classes over the course of his career. He highly recommends taking classes at the National Fire Academy, where he has personally taken half a dozen residential classes, and over a dozen weekend classes. “The instructors there are second to none and the relationships that you build there will last you a lifetime”. Chief Prachthauser continues to stay in contact with two firemen (Honolulu FD and Seattle FD) that he met at the National Fire Academy. Chief has trained with NYPD’s ESU unit while putting together a civil disturbance plan for the city of Morristown. He had nothing but high praise for the training he received from NYPD ESU. Chief spent 3 and a half days at Texas A&M University for a foam school where they went in depth into everything you could ever learn about foam. He also had the opportunity to flow foam in just about every situation using all possible methods in state of the art props built to give firefighters real situations where foam operations would be paramount. Being extensively educated on foam applications was very important for chief because his fire district was near a major airport.

      Stretching a line as a Deputy Chief on the last fire of his career. It happened to be just a few houses down from his. One of his firefighter brothers from Honolulu, HI Fire Department  was staying at his house.

                One of Chief’s most memorable runs was as a volunteer fireman when a leer jet flipped over at the airport with two people inside. He remembers “jumping up onto the rear step of the engine” and going toward a plume of smoke that he could see from a mile out. As they arrive on scene, the police officer on scene started to tell his crew that “everyone was dead inside the plane”. Unwilling to quit that easily, he started to get a good knock down on the fire and was able to get closer to the plane. Chief could hear someone yelling from inside the cockpit. He started chopping into the cockpit with an axe, pulling away parts of the plane with each swing. After making a hole just big enough for him to squeeze through, he entered the cockpit and grabbed a person. After realizing that he grabbed the live victim he thought to himself “thank goodness I got the live one”. That victim survived and fully recovered. Another one of his most memorable runs was a church fire in May of 1999, while he was acting captain for the tour. At around 0600, they received a report of a church fire and as him and his crew mad their way toward the fire, they could see a column of smoke from 10 blocks away. He was in command of the fire for over 20 minutes before the chief arrived. The stone church was built in the late 1800’s. “Not many people get to run a working church fire” and that’s why he will always remember that run.

      Chief Prachthauser at USAR training

                Chief Prachthauser was heavily involved with USAR. Chief “liked going to fires but loved tech rescue”. The USAR team that he was a part of trained extensively at the Naval Engineering Facility on Lake Hearst until all training was moved to Newark, NJ Fire Department. One of Chief’s most memorable tech-rescue runs was an explosion in Elizabeth, NJ where a house was completely gone as a result of a gas explosion and the structure next to it was severely damaged and unstable with occupants trapped. The team was able to shore the building to conduct searches and ensure that all occupants were safe. Even in retirement, he still speaks with many of the people on the USAR team on a regular basis.

      Cousins Chief Prachthauser and Chief Al Huelsenbeck (you can read about him in our first Salt Story) at Randall's Island, NY

                When someone asked Chief Prachthauser if he was ready to retire, he said "short of a ship fire, I've checked every box on my list and we don't have a port". In retirement, Chief is "absolutely enjoying life". He has been a piper for over 20 years and now has more free time to practice and enjoy spending more time with his family. Chief Prachthauser has been playing with the Essex County Emerald Society band. The "reason I got into the band was to make sure that every fireman and police officer has pipes playing at their funeral". Every morning he walks by the firehouse that he worked in for so many years. The biggest thing he misses about the job is the kitchen table and the conversations that happen around it. It's nice to know that he can always stop in and have coffee with the crew. "It is the greatest job in the world and I wouldn't trade it for anything".

      "The White Bullet" nickname came from Chief's ability to beat the crews to almost any fire in his Dodge Durango chief vehicle. Since he only lived a few blocks from the main station, the crews would always see "The White Bullet" flying past the station while they were getting dressed.

                Chief Prachthauser has some fantastic advice for our new generation of firefighters and aspiring firefighters. "Don't get complacent and treat everyday like it is going to be the big day". "Make sure everything is ready to go and then go have your coffee". Don't forget the basics because at the end of the day "the greatest thing that we can do is put water on the fire". 

      Chief wore his original Cairns turnout coat for the last month of his career. For those of you cigar smokers out there; Chief's favorite cigar is a Macanudo Prince Phillip Meduro

      It was a pleasure to speak with Chief Prachthauser. He has a world of experience and stories to share. He is truly a fireman's fire chief. Thank you for sharing your story Chief!

      Chief Prachthauser marching in the 2019 West Orange St. Patrick's Day Parade

      Chief Prachthauser invented a fire tool that is in production with Fire Hook's Unlimited called the Blackmaxx. The Blackmaxx is a forcible entry hammer.

      Chief Allen "Big Al" Huelsenbeck

      Chief Allen "Big Al" Huelsenbeck

       

      As a fifth-generation fireman, Chief Allen Huelsenbeck stems from a long lineage of service. Known to his peers as Big Al, Chief Huelsenbeck was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey as the oldest of 7 children. Chief’s father was a civil defense fireman and his grandfather was a Captain in Elizabeth, NJ. As a child, he remembers his grandfather coming home from the firehouse after his last day of 28 years of service. Some of Chief Huelsenbeck’s siblings also followed their family tradition of service. His sister was a lieutenant with the Kodiak, Alaska Fire Department. One of his brothers was a fireman and another one of his brothers served in the United States Coast Guard as a Damage Control Chief. Chief also has two daughters that were EMTs. A close cousin Deputy Chief Jon Pratchthauser from Morristown N.J. recently retired as well. 48 years ago, Chief Huelsenbeck moved to Wilmington, Delaware. In 1972, he was hired as a fireman for the city of Wilmington. When he started, there was no such thing as RIT and accountability, a radio for each person, or SCBA and masks for every man. This was the three-quarter boot, canvas coat, and metal helmet era of firefighting. When asked about not having a mask or SCBA on the fireground, chief replied “it made you a great fire survivalist”. Chief Huelsenbeck spent 8 years as a fireman, 3 years as a lieutenant and 3 years as a captain before he was promoted to Battalion Chief at the age of 35. For 25 years, Chief Huelsenbeck would work as a battalion chief. Toward the end of his career he was promoted to Deputy Chief of Operations. He spent around 2 years in this position before retiring in 2013 with a total of 41 years of service to the city of Wilmington.

      A large assortment of firefighter badges

      These are some of the badges and shields that have been worn by Chief and the members of his family. 

      During his 41-year career, Chief Huelsenbeck saw an immense amount of change. He was a part of the first generation to wear hoods and Nomex turnout coats. When asked what he thought the greatest change to the fire service was throughout his career, he responded “the mandatory mask rule” because of how many firefighters he believes it has saved over the years. It wasn’t a totally smooth transition as a lot of firefighters pushed the limits of the mask and SCBA and began to go deeper into fires than ever before. In his opinion, the worst change has been the gradual decrease in staffing numbers since he started. Today you are expected to do more with less and it wouldn’t hurt to have more firefighters on the fireground. Chief Huelsenbeck saw the vast changes made to the incident command system over his career and he was always open to testing different techniques and trying new things to see how he could improve the way he commanded a scene. His generation “did not fight fires from a car”. Chief is a huge proponent of education and he was the first firefighter in Delaware to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Fire Service Administration from the University of Maryland. “You have to be good with your head as well as your hands in this line of work". Of all the change he saw over his career, Chief says that the one thing that will never change is “how you learn things” by being around the senior firefighters and listening to what they have to say. “You learn what you need to learn in the fire academy and then you go to your company and learn the way that you really do it”. Chief was also highly involved with change as an integral part of committees for NFPA 1405 (Land-Based Fire Departments That Respond to Marine Vessel Fires) and 1005 (Standard for Professional Qualifications for Marine Fire Fighting for Land-Based Fire Fighters).

      Chief Huelsenbeck has fought countless fires over the 41 years that he spent as a firefighter for the City of Wilmington. As a young firefighter, Chief was able to work as a chief’s aide occasionally which allowed him to gain a great amount of experience that would help him in the future as a battalion chief. As a firefighter and a company officer he gained a large amount of firefighting experience during a time where vacant residential houses were constantly burning. As a battalion chief he commanded around 10 large operation high rise fires, 6 large ship fires, countless hazmat situations, extrications, and technical rescues. 2-3 story road dwellings made up a large amount of the residential structure fires that he fought and commanded over his career. One of his most memorable fire operations that he commanded was a fire on a 575-foot-long ship known as the Centaurus Ship Fire that involved a fire in the engine room. This was the first large ship fire that he was in command of and where he learned how to operate fire scenes in that type of atmosphere. If you watch the video*, you’ll understand the massive size of these ships and the complexities of fighting fire aboard them. You’ll also be able to see a younger Battalion Chief Huelsenbeck at work. Unfortunately, while in command of a different fire, Chief Huelsenbeck lost one of his men to a cardiac related LODD. Throughout Chief Huelsenbeck’s career, he has been the recipient of many awards, with one of them being the VFW’s lifesaver award for being in command of a fatal high-rise fire where over 200 occupants were rescued. “It wasn’t me, it was my men” was the response from Chief Huelsenbeck when asked about the award. Speaking of his men, Chief was described by one of his firefighter brothers as “a great leader and a well-respected fireman”. These are only a few examples of the experience and reputation that Chief Huelsenbeck has gained over the course of a career stretching more than 4 decades. This is the type of experience that you do not gain in a classroom, only on the fire-ground.

      Some of you probably saw the photo of a fire chief smoking a cigar on the scene of a structure fire. The cigar smoking incident commander in the photo is Chief Huelsenbeck. He explained the significance of smoking a cigar on the scene of a fire. When Chief Huelsenbeck was in command of a fire scene, his crews knew that “if the old man was smoking a lit cigar” then he was “celebrating the fact that we got it”. This didn’t mean that the job was done or that they could pack up and leave but it meant that they were on the right track and were doing a good job. This was a tradition started by Chief Huelsenbeck’s friend and former Chief of Wilmington FD Sean Mulhern. In case you were wondering; Chief’s favorite cigar is a Rocky Patel Gordo.

      In retirement, Chief Huelsenbeck stays busy. He is a life member of the Elsmere Fire Company and the Christiana Fire Company. The Christiana Fire Company is a very busy combination fire department that ran 10,772 medical and 3,574 fire runs last year out of 3 stations. Chief is also the president of the Tri-State Maritime Safety Association. This association provides training for maritime disasters with the most memorable being the Panama Canal Fire Department and responds to these calls as a Marine Incident Response Team to provide support for command and logistics. It was awesome to speak with a man who is so involved in the job even after almost 50 years in the fire service. The kind of leadership, fireground knowledge, humility, and sheer saltiness that Chief Huelsenbeck has acquired does not happen overnight. Attaining that level takes years of hard work, dedication and passion for the job. When asked about his career in the fire service, Chief replied “I liked it when I started and loved it when I left”.

       Chief Allen Huelsenbeck of Wilmington Delaware Fire Department speaking with a fellow firefighter on scene of a call.

      It was fantastic to talk with Chief Huelsenbeck about his experience in the fire service. I learned so much in just the 2 hours that I spoke with him. I hope we can all be at least half the fireman that Chief Huelsenbeck is.

       

      *https://youtu.be/euvepNi6UCo

      The Meaning Behind Salt Stories

      Three quarter boots, Canvas coats, Metal helmets. These are things that the new generation of firefighters have never experienced. The past generations of the fire service paved the way through hard work, fire, blood, sweat, and salt to bring us to where we are today.

       

      This blog will consist of real firefighter stories, firefighter history, interviews, and more.