North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Eric Inauen, a former Union City resident who now lives at the Jersey shore, retired this month after having been full-time firefighter for 38 years.
Inauen was a star basketball player at Union Hill High School and at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. But in 1970, he turned down an opportunity to play professionally and instead joined his hometown’s fire department.
He credits his neighbor, then-Union City Fire Chief John Provede, with being the driving force behind his decision.
“He was like my mentor, one of them,” Inauen said last week. “He talked me into it. He told me that ‘We are looking for guys, and you have athletic ability.’ I thought I’d try it.” Inauen also said he felt a little burned out after so many years of playing basketball.
Provede was killed three years later in a fire on 48th Street in Union City.
‘Like coaching a team’ Inauen was promoted to captain in 1978 and deputy chief in 1997. In 1999, fire departments from five towns were merged to form North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, and Inauen became the regional deputy chief.
Inauen said he applied the fundamentals of teamwork to how he led his firemen.
“It is almost like coaching a team,” said Inauen. “When there is a fire, I want the team to do well. If one person does not do their job, it is like building blocks, the whole thing tumbles down.”
Inauen said that he always tried to do his best. He expected the same from his platoons.
“My philosophy was ‘Just give me all you got,'” said Inauen. “I felt like they did that for me, and I was always proud of them for that.”
Inauen also said that the most rewarding part of his job was helping people in the community.
“When they call us, they are usually in trouble, and we try to help them any way we can,” he said.
“He gave one hundred percent to the firefighters and the citizens of the region,” said Chief Brion McEldowney.
One fiery night Inauen said that of all the fires he fought during his career, he will never forget the night of Dec. 2, 2001, when the county struggled to put out three four-alarm fires in Union City, one four-alarmer in North Bergen, and a three-alarm fire in Jersey City.
“We just ran out of firefighters with all the fires we had going on at the same time,” said Inauen. “We were really caught. It was a really tough night.”
The fires left 76 adults and 34 children homeless, and arsenic was found on the sites of two of the fires, according to published reports.
“We had arsonists setting the fires,” said Inauen.
Firefighters from all over the county and even from New York City worked together.
“I was so proud of all those guys that fought with us that night,” said Inauen. “They really broke their tails. They really worked hard.” He also said that a few firefighters had to be treated at a nearby hospital for injuries.
In recognition of his outstanding leadership during the crisis, Inauen received the Command Award from North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue.
“I was in charge of a lot of stuff that night,” said Inauen.
Recognized statewide During his career, Inauen also served as president of the Union City Fire Officers Association and became a life member of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association and the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.
Inauen said that though he would miss his job, it was time for him to retire.
“For me, it was always an exciting job,” said Inauen. “It was always a challenge.”
He also said that he is not sure what he will do with the additional free time.
“I usually get involved in local organizations and working with the community,” said Inauen. He is currently on the board of the Toms River Basketball Association and occasionally visits local elementary schools to teach kids about fire safety.
He lives with his wife, Linda. The couple has three grown sons: Mark, David and John.