2nd-generation NJ FF, 29, becomes youngest chief in VFD's history
Amwell Valley Fire Company Chief Max Jason will head the department with his father, Bob Jason, as deputy chief
EAST AMWELL TOWNSHIP, N.J. — For Bob and Max Jason, family is a volunteer fire department located in a small New Jersey town.
“It’s just a big extension to your family,” Max said. “That’s what it is.”
“It’s like a big brotherhood,” Bob said. “We’re all there for each other all the time.”
Bob and Max spoke figuratively to highlight the camaraderie between themselves and the 40 or so members of the Amwell Valley Fire Company. But between them, the words can only be applied literally.
Earlier this month, Max Jason, 29, became the youngest chief in the history of Amwell Valley Fire Company. He will lead the fire department with help from his father, Bob, a two-time former chief currently serving as deputy chief for the Ringoes-based station.
Bill Davis, a member of the fire/police division of the department, described the father-and-son leadership duo as “a rare moment in time” not only for the department, but for first responders everywhere.
“A lot of kids would love to have that — we grew up together, I’ve raised you as a firefighter, and now look at you,” Davis said. “Now you’re the chief of it, you’re the youngest one in the history of the fire department, and your father is now an assistant chief working right underneath.”
“It should be something that’s memorialized in time,” Bill said. “It’s a great thing, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Max knew from an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Amwell Valley Fire Company, stating that he was “always around it, some way or another.”
“I’ve been around it my whole life pretty much, whether or not I was with him — my mother was with the Ladies Auxiliary, so we’d also bring him food,” Max said. “It was very interesting and fascinating to me. Everything that went on, how it happened — I always enjoyed being around. So it was kind of second nature to jump into it and go.”
Max became a firefighter for the department in 2008, roughly 27 years after his father, Bob, first joined.
“I wanted to do something to help out,” Bob said.
While expressing pride in his son’s decision to also dedicate his life to servicing the East Amwell community, Bob labeled one of the most difficult days in the department the first time he saw Max walk into a burning building.
“I was running the pump on the engine, and it kind of made my stomach knot up a little bit,” Bob said. “You always think about it because you watch the guys going in: there’s always a possibility of something going wrong ... But he came out and everything turned out fine.”
Both Max and Bob balance full-time jobs with working at the fire department, which they said amounts to roughly a 10-hour commitment each week — pending on the call volume, which averages to around 150 to 200 calls each year.
According to Bob, who served as chief of the department from 1995 to 1997, and again from 2002 to 2004, the fire company has “changed a lot” in the four decades he’s served on it.
“We’ve gone from being considered a little group of farmers .. to actually being respected as firemen now,” Bob said. “Some of the older guys had the habit of just showing up in their work clothes and never using the equipment that they needed, and now we’ve gotten past all that to where everybody puts on their turnout gear and all their protective equipment.”
While acknowledging that he hasn’t “seen as big of a change as my father,” Max said he’s also seen the department improve in his 13 years on it.
“We’ve gained a lot of respect from our mutual aid companies, our surrounding companies, just for how we’re doing things and who is showing up and our knowledge,” Max said.
“And it all goes back to we do a lot more training that we used to,” Bob added.
This past year alone, the department has had to adapt to more changes than usual. The coronavirus pandemic forced volunteers to place limitations on training and response procedures in order to adhere to health and safety guidelines while on call.
However, both Max and Bob pinpointed their greatest challenge moving forward to be increasing the number of volunteers for the department.
“We don’t have the membership that we truly need. We could always use more,” Max said. “We’re working with the person that handles our social media. He also just developed a whole new website for us that just went live a few days ago ... just doing that kind of stuff will help, and then we’re going to start discussing more ways to bring in members in the coming weeks.”
Noting that 2021 marked his “time” to hold the position of chief, Max expressed his preparedness to lead the fire department he’s known his entire life.
And his words were reiterated by the reason that he has.
“He’s grown leaps and bounds over the time that he’s been in (the department) ... more than some other members have,” Bob said. “And his knowledge is, at this point — I think it’s surpassing some of my knowledge.”
“I’m just trying to do the best I can, and hopefully I can do something just as good or better than what (my father) has,” Max said. “That’s just what I look to do.”
(c)2021 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.
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