By Ron Leir
These days, Kearny is paying attention to its public safety personnel rosters.
Just a few weeks after hiring six new cops, the Kearny governing body voted last week to authorize promotions in both the Police and Fire Departments.
The Town Council named four fire captains and two police captains to fill slots vacated via retirements but in both cases, they are viewed by department heads as only temporary reprieves as the wave of departures by veteran employees continues.
Nonetheless, an SRO crowd of relatives and fellow bluecoats and firefighters and well-wishers jammed the Town Hall assembly chambers to celebrate the occasion.
Mayor Alberto Santos characterized the elevations in rank as “overdue” and lauded the recipients of the new ranks as “deserving of the honors they’re receiving.”
Those honorees are: Police Capts. Anthony Sylvester and Timothy Wagner; and Fire Capts. David Russell, William Solano, Andrew O’Donnell and Arthur Bloomer.
All go on the town payroll, as of April 1. The police captains will earn an annual base pay of $141,519 and the fire captains will take home $103,637 a year in base pay.
Police Chief John Dowie recalled that when he was elevated to captain, he was assigned to “train the new guys” after they had completed Academy training. “They were my little team,” he added. Guys like Sylvester and Wagner.
“Six made rank, three received Cop of the Year awards, two made detectives – not a bad batting average for my team,” Dowie said. Dowie called Sylvester, a 20-year veteran, “the Comeback Kid,” who, he noted, “a year ago, was down on his feet [due to a serious health issue] – the New England Patriots’ comeback in the Super Bowl paled in comparison.” That issue aside, however, Dowie said that Sylvester has never been one to shirk from his police duties; in fact, he always wanted to go where the action was, even as a superior officer, gladly taking on “a lot of night tours.”
“He never asked out of work – he always helped out,” the chief said.
And even while serving as a desk lieutenant, Dowie said, Sylvester may have been “stuck inside answering the phone,” but he still functioned as an able field commander under pressure, like the night a call came in to HQ at 10 p.m. that a man had kidnapped a mother’s two babies and headed out of town.
Organizing the moving pieces “all fell to Tony” that night, Dowie recalled, and by 5 a.m., the suspect – and the infants – were traced through a cellular phone to North Bergen.
Dowie also credited Sylvester with overcoming enormous odds by organizing a motorcade to rescue motorists stranded in South Kearny by Superstorm Sandy.
Wagner, who joined the force in 2001, has developed into what Dowie characterized as “an outstanding street cop and investigator,” having also served in tactical services and as an EMT.
Wagner applied those investigative skills to help track the accused killer of a Kearny Ave. jeweler through the DNA taken from a burglar’s tools that matched the murder suspect, Dowie said. And he has been commended for the work he has done while assigned to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Homicide Squad.
“Timmy’s the kind of guy who seeks out any type of training, sometimes on his own dime, and currently he’s going for certification as an arson investigator,” Dowie said.
He’s also in training for the Police Unity Tour, a four-day bicycle trek in May designed as a fundraiser to heighten awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
Wagner is now assigned to the department’s Internal Affairs unit.
On the Fire Department side, Fire Chief Steven Dyl commended Russell, who was hired in early 1999, as “the type of guy who always does what you ask and then some.”
As part of the Rapid Intervention Crew, Russell and his crewmates responded to a Harrison fire that erupted during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March 2013 and helped rescue five members of the Jersey City Fire Department who were assisting at the fire scene. And, in 2007, Russell received a commendation for giving CPR to a fire victim.
Solano, a member of the department since 2000, is another firefighter “always willing to help,” Dyl said. Currently assigned to Fire HQ, Solano is a member of the Swift Water Rescue Team. He was awarded a citation for his work during Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
O’Donnell, who joined the department in 1999, was named 2013 Firefighter of the Year in recognition of his work in helping rescue two individuals trapped at a Devon St. fire. He was also cited for his work during Super Storm Sandy. And he received an exceptional duty citation in connection with dousing an early morning Laurel Ave. house fire. He has also served as a contract negotiator for the local FMBA.
Bloomer, a KFD member since 1988, “comes from a true firefighter family,” Dyl said. Bloomer’s grandfather, Knowlton Pierce, became Kearny’s first career fire chief in 1921 and Bloomer’s two sons Andrew and Sean and daughter Danielle are members of the Brick Fire Department.
Bloomer helped set up the KFD’s ambulance program, is a certified SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) repair technician, has helped design three KFD rigs and serves with the KFD’s Technical Rescue Team.
On his off-time, Bloomer is an instructor with the Fire Department Institute Corps in Indianapolis and is a member of the N.J. Task Force 1, which performs urban search and rescue service. He served at the WTC site after the 9/11 attack.
Dyl said that all of the new captains will be facing “a pretty serious challenge” in the upcoming months because, “by July 1, we’re going to have a combined 345 years of [firefighter] experience walk out the door.”
Between February and July, 13 members of the KFD will have retired, leaving the department three short of the 25 captains recommended under the department’s Table of Organization, Dyl said. By July 1, the department will be down to 78 members – far short of the 102 called for by the T.O., he said.