Cape May fire chief retiring

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CAPE MAY – Cape May Fire Chief Jerry Inderwies Jr. has decided to hang up his fire gear, at least on a full-time basis, when he retires from the Cape May Fire Department on June 1.

Inderwies, 45, has been the fire chief here since 2004. 


He joined the Cape May Volunteer Fire Company in 1987 when he was still a senior in high school. In 1987-88 he took his EMT course. When the volunteer company disbanded its volunteer ambulance service, four EMTs were hired by the full-time fire department, which assumed ambulance services. 

In 1997, Inderwies was promoted to lieutenant, then to chief seven years later. 

“It’s been a very rewarding career,” he said. “I’ve helped out a lot of people and enjoyed it all the way. I’ve got a lot of good memories.”

Inderwies said he has seen a lot of changes in the firefighting profession, including making the career safer for the people who choose it. 

“We are more safety conscious today; there is more awareness, more training. We have better equipment and better personal protection equipment,” he said. 

Inderwies said firefighters receive more education than they did when he started. When he started the fire academy was 60 hours of instruction. Today it is 200 hours. Part of that instruction teaches firefighters how to protect themselves.

“Firefighters used to just rush in to fight a fire. That’s not the way we do it anymore,” he said. 

Inderwies said technology such as thermal imaging cameras allow them to identify pockets of fire in buildings that are not immediately visible. The fire department also has defibrillators, which he said have saved numerous lives.

“I’ve actually used them multiple times to revive someone,” he said.

Inderwies said other changes have been to policy, such as not allowing firefighters to stand on backs of trucks any longer. 

“How safe was that?” he said.

Inderwies said the number of fires has dropped over the years. He said in the late 1980s there was a fire every month or so. A decade later the frequency of fires diminished. 

“People have become more aware of fire safety,” Inderwies said. “We also have fewer people smoking, and New Jersey law has required that cigarettes be self-extinguishing after a minute or so.”

Inderwies said buildings are generally being built safer and have better fire suppression systems. At the same times some of the materials, such as vinyl siding and fiberglass decks, make the potential for a fire more serious. He said a mulch fire on the outside of a house could ignite vinyl siding or fiberglass decking and in minutes there could be a serious fire. 

He said news construction is often lighter and fire can spread more quickly, making a more dangerous situation for firefighters.

Inderwies said the most serious fire he saw in his career was the former Devonshire on S. Lafayette Street, March 12, 2001.

“I was on duty that day. The Devonshire was a four-story building taking up half the block. When we arrived it was fully involved. The roof collapsed in half an hour,” he said. 

Inderwies said the Devonshire was basically a total loss when they arrived, and their efforts quickly became keeping the fire from spreading to exposed houses on North Street. Inderwies said the heat was so intense on some of these houses that their paint was smoking and plastic blinds inside the windows started to melt.

Inderwies said Cape May’s fire and EMS system has saved countless lives over the years. He said emergency services can generally respond anywhere in Cape May in two to three minutes.   

“If we get a call that someone is unconscious, perhaps had a heart attack, we can get to them in two or three minutes, use the defibrillator and have them come back. I’ve seen it happen,” he said.

CMFD EMT’s also carry epi-pens (epinephrine) and now NARCAN. 

Inderwies said he is not sure what he will be doing in his retirement. He said he would remain involved with the volunteer fire company and would undoubtedly be going out on calls.

He said he would also continue to coach basketball and softball at Cape Trinity Catholic School. He became involved in coaching because of his children, ages 12, 15 and 18.


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