Battalion Chief John A. Alston, Jr.

A professional firefighter who is fulfilling his lifelong dream will be the guest speaker for a gala later this month. “A Tribute to Firefighters” will be held on Friday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren County Armory Civic Center. 

Battalion Chief John A. Alston, Jr., who has strong connections to Warren County, has been a member of the Jersey City Fire Department in New Jersey for 30 years. He is a published author, blogger and trainer and holds a degree in communications from Kean University in Union, N.J.

Over his career, Alston has been lead instructor for the Union County Fire Academy in Linden, N.J., and in Jersey City has been administrative aide to the chief of department, safety officer, public information officer, and chief of the fire academy.

He is a 10-year veteran of Jersey City’s Heavy Rescue Company, which responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11, and he currently commands the First Battalion, which covers the middle third of the city including the Holland Tunnel to New York City, Ellis Island, Liberty Park, City Hall, five fire stations, 10 fire companies and more.

Alston has been a fire service instructor in subject areas including emergency response to terrorism, incident response to terrorist bombings, command and control of high-rise incidents, strategies and tactics for initial company operations, heavy rescue, and advanced flammable liquids. He was branch director for mass evacuation and sheltering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

His volunteer work includes being a medical team member for the Kenya Education Project, logistics team leader for a food pantry, and chairperson with the American Red Cross Health and Safety Committee.

As a child, Alston spent his summers in Warren County. His father, John Alston, Sr., was born in Littleton, and his grandparents, Hattie Dunston and Walter Alston, were from this area. Alston said he has many relatives living in and around Warren County, including the Rev. Sidney Alston, Sr. from Louisburg.

Alston’s great-grandfather, Cary Alston, was one of the first black jurors on a court case in Warren County.

Alston said he has been interested in firefighting since he was a child. He lived near a firehouse in New Jersey, and one day, when he was 4, he asked for a ride when a fire truck stopped in front of his house. He rode around the corner to the firehouse, which would later be his first assignment, and said it was then that he was “bitten by the bug for which there is no cure.”

Getting hired as a firefighter was a waiting game that took several years, Alston said. Following college, he taught public school for two years and worked in television for a short time while he waited to hear from the fire department. On Feb. 22, 1985, he received the letter saying he was hired and would be sworn in the following week.

“For some reason, all my life I knew I was supposed to be this,” he said. “God gives you the desires of your heart.”

When he first started his career, Alston said he would go to fires every tour.

“Now, we’re not finding people in beds and by windows like we used to,” he said. “The trauma part of the job is down.”

Today there is more technical rescue, he said, including elevator emergencies and dealing with chemicals, and there is more to the job than just fighting fires, such as code enforcement, training, and medical divisions.

Alston described firefighting as providing a sense of service and being part of something bigger than yourself.

“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “On the volunteer side (such as the departments in Warren County), there’s no better sense of satisfaction than serving your community with like-minded people.”

For people interested in the fire service, Alston’s advice is to get in a busy firehouse, take every course the fire department offers, then take the instructor courses in order to be both a certified firefighter and credentialed to teach.

“The best part of the job is you’re never going to work the same every day,” he said. “Every day is different.”

Alston gives credit to an “understanding wife,” Cheryl, for his being able to devote so much of his time to the fire service.

“I couldn’t do it without her,” he said.

The Alstons have two grown sons, the younger of which was also bitten by the fire bug.

 McKissick-Melton to give keynote

Also speaking at the gala will be Dr. Charmaine McKissick-Melton of Warren County. She is an associate professor of the Department of Mass Communication at North Carolina Central University in Durham and former interim chairwoman of the department.

Also, she has been associate professor and chairwoman of the Department of Journalism & Media Studies at Greensboro’s Bennett College. 

She worked for 10 years in radio and TV sales and management.

McKissick-Melton is the youngest daughter of the late Floyd B. McKissick, Sr., a judge and Civil Rights activist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Radio, Television and Film from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in Speech Communication from Northern Illinois University. 

McKissick-Melton’s awards include the Coca-Cola Minority Fellowship at The University of Notre Dame and the Lyman T. Johnson Research Teaching Fellowship at the University of Kentucky. She recently received the Teaching Excellence Award from N.C. Central. 

She is married to Tyrone Melton and has two sons. 

Gala tickets

The gala is sponsored by Heritage Cultural Farm and the Warren County Training School-North Warren High School Alumni & Friends Association as a kickoff to the second annual African-American Cultural Festival in downtown Warrenton the following day.

The semi-formal evening includes dinner and live entertainment by the Nu Epiphany Band. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling Herman Alston at 919-702-3701, or Mable Slade at 252-257-5121. (Download event flier above, left, under Related Documents.)

The Warren County Armory Civic Center is at 501 US Hwy. 158 business east, Warrenton.

For more information on the African-American Cultural Festival on Saturday, Sept. 19, go to africanamericanculturalfestivalnc.com. (Download event flier above, left, under Related Documents.)