Ever since Matt Lubin was a sophomore at Union Catholic, he wanted to become a fireman. Now, 17 years after he graduated from UC, Lubin is making a huge impact as a Lieutenant in the Cranford Fire Department and the Emergency Management Coordinator.
Here is our Alumni Spotlight Q and A with Lubin.
Tell me about your journey from graduating Union Catholic in 2004 to where you are now. Did you go right into the Fire Academy after high school or into college?
Yes, I graduated in June and joined the Cranford Fire Department over the summer. I started the Fire Academy in August right around the same time as starting my freshman semester at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City. The Fire Academy followed the traditional semester schedule and wrapped up about a week before my first final exams. It was quite a busy first semester, with the Fire Academy at night and on weekends and managing a full time course load at college
Where did you go to college, and what did you major in?
I attended Saint Peter's College (now University) in Jersey City N.J., graduating in 2008 with a B.A. in Criminal Justice and a minor in Political Science. Initially, I was pursuing political science and business as a major but switched to be more aligned with pursuing a public safety career. That said, I never lost my interest in business and policy and as such I took as many courses as I could in those fields. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this part of my college background would be highly influential in my current job at the Fire Department and my position on the Pension Board. Following Saint Peter's, I attended graduate school at Kean University and received a Master of Public Administration degree.
When did you decide you wanted to become a fireman, what was it that made you want to become a fireman, and when did you start volunteering?
UC is actually directly involved with this answer. I was a sophomore sitting in biology class in what was then the freshman wing on the morning of September 11th when a unforgettable announcement was made alerting us to the attacks. At the time, my family was very concerned for my father, who worked in Lower Manhattan and commuted through the WTC PATH station. He happened to be delayed that morning and took a different train. But the impact on that day in our region, and at that age, made a significant impression on me. I became interested in pursing a fire service career and started volunteering at a local EMS agency, as well as participating in a youth program with the fire and police departments in town.
Have you always been with the Cranford FD?
I've always been with Cranford FD. I started as a volunteer firefighter in August 2004 and was hired as a career firefighter in December 2008.
What do you love the most about being a fireman?
No two days are the same, and I always loved the "Can do" attitude of the fire service - you learn how to triage needs and figure out ways to get to the desired outcome, whatever it is.
In my current role, I spend the vast majority of my time collaborating and interacting with a wide variety of stakeholders, from the peers in all levels of government, to downtown businesses owners, to our local school district staff, to architects and engineers and attorneys, and I'm always learning something from these relationships.
When did you become Lieutenant, and how long have you been the Emergency Management Coordinator?
I was promoted to Lieutenant in May 2015, and I was appointed as the Emergency Management Coordinator in January 2017.
Can you explain what your job responsibilities are as a Lieutenant, and what your responsibilities are as the emergency management coordinator?
My primary role as a Lieutenant is serving as the Township's Fire Official (also known as Fire Marshal in some towns). I'm responsible for implementing and overseeing all fire code enforcement, fire investigation, and community risk reduction programs in the Township. This includes a comprehensive inspection program, a fire permitting program, a plan review program of proposed land use applications, a public education and outreach program, and our fire investigation activities. I also provide management of other Department operations as delegated by the Fire Chief.
As the Emergency Management Coordinator, I coordinate the programs, projects, and staff from many different Township entities which focus on the core emergency management functions of preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. In a active emergency, the Coordinator has broad authority under the law to make decisions and take actions needed to protect lives and property. It's truly a role of developing relationships and coordinating many moving pieces when a crisis or disaster arises.
How long have you been the fire liaison for the state pension system, and what are your responsibilities as the fire liaison?
In 2018, Governor Murphy signed a bill into law which transferred the management of the Police and Fire Retirement System to an independent Board of Trustees made up of Police, Fire, and Management representatives. This was likely the single most significant piece of legislation signed in my career. I was elected as the Active Fire Trustee on the Board and began in February 2019 when the new Board came together for the first time. We joke around that we're a "start up", but essentially it's true. We're building out an organization for our over 85,000 active members, retirees, and beneficiaries which make up all law enforcement and career fire personnel in the State. As Trustees, we are responsible for directing and providing oversight over all aspects of the fund operations. I'm extremely excited to have been part of this from the ground floor, so to say. On the Board, I sit on the Investment Committee responsible for directing the investments of over $32 Billion dollars of fund assets.
I also sit on the Audit Committee and I Chair the Regulatory and Legislative Committee, which is responsible for promulgating regulations, bylaws, and working with the Legislature on pending bills. The Board in whole meets monthly to review and make determinations on applications for disability retirement, review appeals and court decisions, and make determinations on a whole host of active member and retiree issues. We also manage a mortgage and loan program for our members and a group term life insurance program. It's a very time and labor intensive position, but I'm so grateful to be a part of it. The asset transfer process provides exposure to some novel and complex issues, and is an opportunity to work alongside some very accomplished professionals and firms. I always thought this was a perfect intersection of my financial and business interest and my fire service career.
What was it like dealing with Hurricane Ida? I heard you did a great job updating the Mayor and giving briefings and much more. Can you explain what that whole process was like for you?
I don't think anyone in North Jersey anticipated the speed and extent to which conditions deteriorated that evening. My OEM team met earlier that week and during the day to take our normal storm preparations for what was forecast to be a 3 to 6 inch rain event over a 12 hour period. Cranford received over 9 inches of rain in about 4 hours. I estimated that 90 percent of our roads were impassable due to flash flooding during the height of the rainfall. I was with our OEM team in our Emergency Operations Center coordinating the initial response - it was quite a challenging experience to be keeping track of hundreds of water rescue incidents in the early stage.
Especially when teams are all over the town and you're trying to form "the big picture" from the EOC. And as the flash flood emergency began to subside, the Rahway River began to exceed its banks and flood residential neighborhoods. By that point, roads were still largely impassable and it was far to dangerous to do anything but urge residents to shelter in place if it was safe to do so. The river finally crested around 6am the following morning and we transitioned to focusing our water rescue resources on evacuating residents from their homes.
By the end of it, I would say we were lucky to be spared of any fatalities or injuries. Our water rescue teams, which are made up of dual-role firefighters and police officers, worked tirelessly and very collaboratively. It certainly made the task of coordinating the response much easier. It really reminded me of the quick evolution and thinking in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis (though flooding and water rescue was a familiar playbook for our teams, Covid was an entirely different animal to manage).
You’ve already accomplished so much, Matt. What do you foresee as your next step in the Cranford FD?
I'm excited for the evolution of our Department and town over the next several years. My next steps would be to test for promotional positions as they become available.
In what ways do you feel your education and experiences as a student at Union Catholic helped prepare you for where you are now?
Without a doubt my UC experiences taught me that there are a lot of great people to surround yourself with and that opportunities can come in all sorts of forms. I think it really instilled a sense of community and of service as well. This was further fostered in my college choice, which I was led to largely as a result of my experience at UC.