They answer the call every time The Gong Club, volunteers for Fire Department celebrating 50 years in historic firehouse

They are based in a historic firehouse in Downtown Jersey City, are on the scene at every fire and have gotten the praises of the Fire Chief.

No, not an elite unit of the Jersey City Fire Department but just as respected – the Gong Club.

Founded in December 1950 by a group of young fire buffs, the Gong Club is a familiar sight for not only Jersey City firefighters but throughout Hudson County for their volunteer service in providing food, beverages, misting fans, cold towels, and other items to help firefighters recover from the rigors of fighting dangerous, exhausting fires.

Their work is known as rehab and the 31 members of the Gong Club are able to offer (not all at the same time) their services with the help of their Canteen Unit, which the Fire Department recognizes as Car 26 and calls upon when there is a fire of two alarms or above.

The Gong Club is a nonprofit corporation that gets its funding from payroll deduction contribution by each Jersey City firefighter and donations from the public.

On Feb. 22, the Gong Club observed 50 years stationed in the Bay Street firehouse, which served as the headquarters of the Fire Department from 1871 to 1933.

Two members of the Gong Club share their memories and observations of their work.Being there for the city’s bravest

Conni Spellman’s introduction to the Gong Club was on a date.

Spellman was going out with her future husband Patrick, who was already in the Gong Club, when she first learned about what they do. Soon, she was hooked.

“It’s now 17 years later and I still love doing this,” Spellman said. “What you do is gain an appreciation of the work these firefighters do in serving the public by seeing it up close.”

Spellman said their services, however, are not limited to the Jersey City Fire Department since they also assist the North Hudson Fire and Rescue. The Gong Club is also on call when the Jersey City Police Department has a major police investigation or there are any other disasters.

Spellman recalls one of the Gong Club’s last major operations, when the bodies of Jersey City police officers Shawn Carson and Robert Nguyen were being recovered from the Hackensack River after the emergency vehicle they were driving went off the Lincoln Highway Bridge, which spans from Jersey City to Kearny, on Christmas Day 2005.

“We served almost every day, pretty much around the clock, when that happened,” Spellman said. “It was one of the more tragic situations we [the Gong Club] had been around.”

Spellman also mentioned the uplifting endeavors in which the Gong Club participates, including community events like the March of Dimes Walk America and the three-mile Carlos Negron Memorial Run, an annual event in Liberty State Park since 1994, which is held in honor Negron, a beloved club member, who died on-duty in March 1993. Also uplifting is the respect they receive from Fire Department Chief William Sinnott.

“The chief has been our biggest fan, always touting the work we do and that appreciation goes all the way down to the firefighters,” Spellman said.

Chief Sinnott last week confirmed his appreciation for the club saying in his 42 years on the job that they are a “valuable adjunct to the fire department” and they were always a “welcome sight.”

How long does Spellman plan to be part of the club? She is not sure but at least long enough to see the club celebrate its 60th Anniversary in 2010. They call it home

The Gong Club home base at 244 Bay St. in Jersey City is not just their quarters but also serves as a bastion to the existence of the Fire Department. While the ground floor is occupied by the Gong Club, the second floor is occupied by the Jersey City Retired Firemen’s Association, and the top floor is a museum with Fire Department memorabilia.

Both locations were not open when the Jersey City Reporter visited the Bay Street firehouse to meet with Jim Fay, a two-year member of the club with many years of appreciation for the club as a dispatcher for the New York City Fire Department and a Port Authority cop patrolling the PATH trains.

He gave a short tour, pointing to the numerous photos on the walls of the firehouse from major fires over the 50 years in Jersey City and other parts of Hudson County that were attended by Gong Club members. Many of the photos were taken by the late Warren Zapp, a longtime Jersey City resident, amateur photographer, environmental activist, and one of the founding members of the Gong Club. There are also photos of Carlos Negron and other longtime member, Joseph Lovero, who died in Manhattan on 9/11.

Fay also showed off the watch desk at the front of the firehouse where historically firefighters have stood guard and listened for the alarms that let them know where a fire was taking place.

And then there’s the custom-built canteen vehicle, which has been in service since 2001.

Inside, it is equipped with a double coffee urn, microwave oven, gas-fired hot plate, freezer, beverage dispenser, and hot chocolate dispenser. And the cabinets are stocked with all kinds of hot chocolate packets, granola bars, and large-sized soup cans.

As Fay stood inside the canteen, he was reminded of why the canteen is considered such a vital component for local firefighting.

“Chief Sinnott was here [at the Bay Street firehouse] for a Christmas party and he said some prophetic words about the canteen,” Fay said. “He said, ‘It’s no longer coffee and donuts and it’s not just window dressing.’ “

Fay continued, “The firemen need nourishment and help because of the heat they are sustaining while wearing their gear. What we do is not ‘Oh, that’s nice’, it’s ‘Where are they, we need them now.’ What we do is an important part of the firefighting operation.” For more information on the Gong Club, call (201) 333-9147. Comments on the story can be sent to


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