WILDWOOD – While most shore towns roll up their Boardwalks and lock their hotel doors after Labor Day, the city of Wildwood was teeming with visitors when more than 30,000 firefighters converged in the city Sept. 17 – 20 for the New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention.
What began in 1975 as a small gathering of firefighters on Wildwood’s Maxwell Field has grown into a world-class exposition that encompasses the entire city. The convention has become an annual rite of the shoulder season for this seaside city and has proved to be a boon for local businesses, said Commissioner for Revenue and Finance Pete Byron.
“The economic boost this weekend brings to the city is approximately $10 million,” said Byron. “The hotels and motels are full, the restaurants are full and the Boardwalk activities are open.”
With firefighters from throughout the nation in attendance, Byron said in addition to the economic impact the convention brings to the city, the city also sees a positive impact in national brand exposure. “People are able to see the city as a great place to have a convention of this magnitude.”
For local firefighters, the convention offers a chance to meet their brothers in service from other departments. Classes, seminars and apparatus displays offered during the convention offer participants the chance learn new methods and strategies.“For our firefighters, it’s a chance to learn,” said Wildwood Commissioner Tony Leonetti, who oversees the city’s Department of Public Safety. “The educational aspect of it is a large part of the convention,” Leonetti said. “Our guys are always learning. They thrive on it.”
The firemen’s convention has a long history with Wildwood. According to Mayor Ernie Troiano, the convention has been held in the city for the past 41 years and is scheduled to return through 2020.
“We’re a great community,” the mayor said. “Our fire departments on the Five Mile Island go out of their way to entertain our brothers and sisters from the rest of the state. We try to give them an experience that they really enjoy. There are a lot of things for them to do here – especially the beach and the Boardwalk.”
Troiano, a life-long resident Wildwood resident, recalled as a child once the Labor Day weekend was over the city would go into a virtual hibernation until the following Memorial Day weekend. With events such as the firemen’s convention, the shoulder season brings more people, and more revenue, to the city.
“The shoulder season, in some regards, is bigger than the regular season in certain months,” Troiano said. “The economic impact is through the roof.”