By Karen Zautyk
As they do annually, members of the Kearny Police Department and Kearny Fire Department have selected two of their own — one cop, one fireman — for a special honor based on the individuals’ overall performance during the previous 12 months.
And the just-named winners (the envelope, please) are: John Fabula, 2012 Policeman of the Year, and Thomas Atwell, 2012 Firefighter of the Year.
(In case you’re wondering, we flipped a coin to decide whom we’d profile first, since both men are equally deserving of their awards.)
Officer John Fabula, chosen by a vote of the PBA Valor Committee, has been a member of the KPD since 2007. In 2012, he earned two departmental Exceptional Duty Awards, both involving his disarming — without injury — knife-wielding individuals. These were separate events, occurring within five days of each other last March.
The first happened on Chestnut St., where the officer was confronted and threatened by an armed suspect who was wanted in two other jurisdictions.
The second took place at a Davis Ave. residence, where a man was threatening suicide, but Fabula “reasoned with him and then rode in the ambulance with him to get him treatment and counseling,” KPD Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer.
In July, Fabula earned the KPD’s Life Saving Award after he responded to a Forest St. home where he found a 67-year-old man lying on the floor, unresponsive and not breathing.
The officer immediately began CPR and continued the efforts until the ambulance arrived. He was commended by the EMS, which noted, “With your help, we were able to get a pulse back.”
Overall in 2012, Fabula responded to and completed 556 jobs, including 82 arrests, Dowie noted.
Born and raised in Bayonne, Fabula is a “Blue Blood,” the son of retired Jersey City Police Officer John Fabula and Mary Ellen Fabula. He graduated from St. Peter’s Preparatory School in 2003 and, in 2007, earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from Kean University. He joined the KPD as a patrolman that same year and was assigned to the 2-10 tour, which he still works today.
Fabula also volunteers his time to serve with the Kearny Police Honor Guard and serves as road marshal for the annual Police Unity Tour, a ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., honoring officers who have died in the line of duty.
Firefighter Thomas Atwell, a KFD member since 1990, has been named Firefighter of the Year twice before: in 2005 for a fire rescue on Wilson Ave., and in 2007, for a rescue in Edison while offduty. He shared the award both years with FF Mike Golon.
Selected again by the department’s Meritorious Act Review Board, the recommendation for the 2012 honor cites Atwell’s work during and after Hurricane Sandy. While the storm revved up, raged and waned, he put in more than 38 straight hours on the job responding to emergencies in Kearny. But his storm-related work wasn’t over.
In December, The Observer profiled Atwell’s post-Sandy recovery efforts, coordinating volunteer repair work done by members of the KFD and other fire departments. At his insistence, we didn’t use his name in the story. He wanted no special credit.
Sorry, Tommy, but we’re naming you now, since those efforts are among the reasons for your third Firefighter of the Year award.
As the recommendation reads, in part, Atwell “led a group of firefighters throughout the state, helping citizens in need” due to the hurricane damage.
“They responded to all areas of the state,” from the shore towns up to Little Ferry, helping with flood-ravaged homes. The volunteer workers included not only KFD members but also firefighters from Toronto, Mississippi, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Atwell has since been named project coordinator by the N.J. State FMBA for its “Sandy Ground Project” of Normandy Beach. The goal is to build 26 playgrounds in hurricane-devastated communities in memory of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre.
Atwell’s award also cites his on-duty work in Kearny, specifically during a February 2012 fire at 187 Brighton Ave. While firefighters were searching the second floor for victims, “conditions began to rapidly deteriorate,” and an evacuation was ordered.
Two firefighters “became disoriented and were caught in a fireball.” Atwell was able to grab both and lead them to a stairwell. All three suffered injuries, luckily minor ones, but regrouped and continued to fight the blaze.
“Firefighter Atwell acted in the true tradition of the Fire Service,” KFD Chief Steven Dyl stated, adding, “I am proud to have him as a member of the Kearny Fire Department.”