Dennis Hulse was really looking forward to the 2020 high school baseball season.
Hulse, the Kearny native, has spent the last nine springs as the head baseball coach at nearby St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford. The Gaels are the defending NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state champion and had a majority of the key personnel from that state championship squad returning this season.
Hulse is a retired member of the New York Police Department, having spent nine years at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. He currently serves as the Dean of Discipline at St. Mary’s.
About two months ago, Hulse, a divorced father of two daughters (Brynn, age 10 and Bailey, age eight), made a call to a friend who serves as the director of security at a local major hospital. Hulse has maintained his license to carry a firearm, so he thought he could secure a part-time shift as a security guard at the hospital.
Because of privacy issues, the hospital and its location will not be identified.
“I knew that I had some free time during the week, so I reached out to my friend to see if I could work a night or two,” Hulse said. “It was just a chance to earn a little more money. I still had my firearm license, so I thought it was a good idea.”
Then, all hell broke loose. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic grew in epic proportions, throwing the medical profession into chaos, including the situations at all local hospitals.
Hulse’s part-time job instantly became a full-time devotion, having to man two different positions for eight hour shifts seven days a week.
“Everything has been crazy,” Hulse said. “The hospital is a testing site for the coronavirus, so I spent eight hours a day monitoring that. Then I spend the next eight hours manning the front door of the ER (emergency room).”
It’s at the front door of the ER that Hulse’s job becomes especially trying. It’s also there that coaching his baseball team is the furthest thing from his mind.
“It’s really an emotional job,” Hulse said. “Of course, no one is allowed visitors, so I have to make sure no one gets through. It’s very hard to tell elderly people that they can’t see their loved ones. They don’t have a realistic frame of mind, especially when someone is sick or dying.”
The work in the hospital emergency room is no doubt emotionally draining.
“We’re doing our best,” Hulse said. “The nurses and doctors are all in PPE (personal protective equipment). Most of the time, I’m wearing a mask.”
Through that mask, Hulse has seen the full gamut of emotions – the kind not necessarily seen on a baseball diamond. Hulse has definitely witnessed the horrors of the devastation caused by COVID-19.
“I see it every night,” Hulse said. “We have the regular patients coming in, ranging from the simple sprained wrist to stomach aches. Those patients are sitting in the ER for like six, seven hours. The patience on those people wears off quickly and they want to know when they’re going to be seen.”
But of course, those entering the emergency room with severe coronavirus symptoms have to receive priority.
“The doctors and nurses are taking on the brunt of it,” Hulse said. “They’re by themselves. I have to keep the calm in the ER.”
And of course, that includes the makeshift ER in the hallways adjacent to the general location. Wherever a gurney and a bed can be placed, that’s where it goes.
Sure enough, not everyone can be treated and saved – and the body bags have been brought in, one after another, to accommodate the deceased patients.
“The original morgue has been completely full for weeks,” Hulse said. “There have been two additional trailers brought in to hold more bodies.”
And the bodies keep piling up, because local funeral homes can’t keep up with the barrage of the deceased.
“It’s really sad to see,” Hulse said of the parade of body bags heading to the temporary morgue. “These people are dying without any family members with them. I’ve seen dead people before as a cop. But this is tougher, because I see the nurses crying and the families crying. I see people lying in the ER dead. It’s really sad.”
Because of the quarantine, Hulse has been living out of a local hotel where he just goes to shower and sleep for maybe four hours a day, then goes right back to the hospital for another emotionally-packed day.
“I haven’t seen my daughters in a few weeks,” Hulse said. “This is my job now and they need me.”
And since finding another armed security guard these days is next to impossible, Hulse has to remain on call at the hospital.
“We have only two armed guards and you need to have one at all times,” Hulse said.
Since the school is closed, St. Mary’s doesn’t need its dean of discipline these days. So Hulse can concentrate on serving the hospital.
“The school has been awesome with me and very understanding,” Hulse said. “I think everyone realizes that I can’t bail on my boss now.”
Hulse remains in contact with his team through text messages.
“We have an older team, so they all understand,” Hulse said. “They’re all staying positive. I get the chance to see how they’re doing. They’re all doing something to remain in baseball shape. We worked extremely hard in the offseason to get ready, so come March 1, we were off and running.”
The team features Sal Verlingo, a junior third baseman from Nutley, and Christian Figueroa, a junior shortstop from North Arlington.
So for now, Hulse is doing his best juggling his life as a security guard at a high volume local hospital.
“I would much rather be coaching baseball,” Hulse said. “But if doing what I’m doing is helping the hospital out, then I’m doing my part. Just having the presence of a security guard there gives them a sense of calm, a sense of relief. I think it makes people feel good if I can offer some guidance.”
And when a coronavirus patient leaves the hospital to go home, the hospital plays a special song and the nurses and staff on hand give the patient a standing ovation.
“When I hear the song, then I know we’ve all done our job,” Hulse said.
Kearny native Dennis Hulse, shown here as the head baseball coach at defending state champion St. Mary’s of Rutherford, has spent the last month working on the emotionally packed front lines of a major New Jersey hospital as an armed security guard. Photo courtesy of Dennis Hulse
Kearny’s Dennis Hulse, who led St. Mary’s of Rutherford to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state championship last year, has been working as a security guard at a local New Jersey hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of Dennis Hulse
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”