January 15, 2019 6 min read
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.
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