Throughout life, everyone is on a journey to find what it is that they love doing, what they were meant to do, what gives their life purpose. For some, this could take most of their lives to recognize but Bill Bergen did not have to search long before discovering his unwavering passion for firefighting. Unfortunately, this local Hoboken resident has recently passed away, but not without leaving his mark on the city. This Hoboken Fire Department Deputy Chief demonstrated his dedication to the Mile Square community in a multitude of ways and for that, the Mile Square will always be grateful. Read on to learn about the life + dedication of Bill Bergin, retired Hoboken Fire Department Chief and founder of the Hoboken Fire Museum.
A true born-and-raised Hobokenite, Bill was born in the Mile Square and raised on 1st and Jefferson Street. Just a few feet away from the firehouse headquarters, Bill was persistently fascinated with the lives and jobs of the firefighters who worked up the block from his home. Every moment he had between school and dinner time was spent helping the firefighters with chores or chasing the fires side by side with the fire truck on his bike.
“I got to know them personally. They gave me a cut-off from a rubber coat, so I had my own coat. I guess it started then. Most times, if the fire engines went out, the kids in the neighborhood went down to the firehouse and slid down the poles. Of course, back in those days, when firefighters were coming back from an alarm, they rang the bell. We’d hear the bell coming and we’d take off before they got back, ” said Bergen via Hoboken Historical Museum Chapbook, The Firehouse – Recollections of Bill Bergin.
Growing Up in Hoboken
Like most who were born and raised in Hoboken, Bill grew up playing sports. He took after his father “Bad Bill” Bergin, who played baseball for the West New Yorks in 1931, alongside Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and was later inducted into both the Hudson County Baseball Hall of Fame and the Old Timers Basketball Hall of Fame. However, it was football that stole Bill’s heart, as the game forces you to constantly be on the move, think quickly and play rough. It came naturally to him to be quick on his feet and know exactly what to do in any situation despite obstacles.
Despite attending school on a football scholarship to Wagner College, Bill left and enlisted for three years in the army. He passed the firefighter test while serving and put in an application for an “early out,” so he may be excused from the army to pursue his career at home.
His Career as a Firefighter
His first day on the job was on a Monday in 1960. Bill was first stationed at The Observer Highway Firehouse. Every rookie knows that being the new kid on the block means you’ll be the target for a good old-fashioned prank or two. Within weeks of eating together, sleeping under the same roof, cracking a few jokes, and fighting fires side by side, Bill became a part of the firehouse family. Later, he became the union president for the department for 16 years. In 1987, Bill was sworn in as Deputy Chief and retired in 1992. He then went on to serve as the city’s public safety director from 2007 to 2009.
Establishing the Hoboken Fire Museum
Around 1979, Bill noticed that many of the guys were interested in preserving the history of the department and he hit the ground running. He and members of the department landed on one of the original Hoboken firehouses on 213 Bloomfield Street from the early 1800s, now known as the Hoboken Fire Museum. All of the renovations were done by members, as well as curating the first wave of photos and artifacts. Most of the photos were found in the backrooms of the firehouses ready to be thrown out. Soon, residents began dropping off different artifacts that they found when they moved into their homes or that were passed down to them over generations. The museum quickly became Bill’s second home. He welcomed visitors with open arms for a fun, unique experience, with a side of his quick wit and cheerful knowledge of every artifact on display.
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Bill took tremendous pride in preserving the fire department’s rich history, just as he took tremendous pride in serving his town as a firefighter. Most people are not lucky enough to live their wildest dreams and keep that dream alive even after retirement. Bill Bergin’s entire life revolved around the fire department and if you had the pleasure of knowing him, you would know that he would not have had it any other way.
In light of his passing, if you would like to share a memory of Bill Bergin, you can comment or message the Hoboken Historical Museum Facebook page. They will be putting a memory book together in his honor.
Bill, thank you for your service!