By Karen Zautyk
On Sept. 11, 2001, a young boy stared out a 5th-grade classroom window in St. Stephen’s School, watching the smoke rise above what had been the World Trade Center. That boy, now a young man, grew up to become a member of the Kearny Fire Department. And in addition to serving his hometown, he is serving his country — as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Next week, he’ll leave both the town and the country, headed for Afghanistan on a deployment that will last anywhere from six months to a year.
But no matter how long he’s gone, he will be held in the hearts of two families — his immediate family and the one called the KFD.
Firefighter Mark Isabella Jr., 24 years old and Kearny born and raised, has been a member of the department for just 13 months, but that has been enough time for him to earn the respect of those we call The Bravest.
Last Friday, every firefighter from every company who serves on the same shift as Isabella gathered at KFD headquarters on Midland Ave. to honor him in advance of his deployment. (The only ones missing were those at the South Kearny firehouse, who had to remain down at their frontier post.)
The informal ceremony included the placing of a Blue Service Star flag decal on Engine 1, Isabella’s rig. The symbol, indicating that a member of one’s family is on active military duty, will remain on the vehicle until the firefighter comes home.
Isabella’s parents, Florence and Mark Sr., were guests at the gathering.
“As a father, I am very proud of his accomplishments,” said Mark Sr., noting that among these was Mark Jr.’s serving as a squad leader throughout his Marine Corps training at Parris Island.
The Isabellas also had words of appreciation for the KFD. “As the parents, we are truly honored and grateful for the support we are receiving from the Kearny Fire Department,” Mark Sr. said, adding, “They’re a great bunch of guys.”
Capt. Dave Kealy from Station 1 on Davis Ave., where FF Isabella is assigned, described him as “a great asset, hardworking and very enthusiastic.”
“We’re going to be real sorry to see him go, but we’re looking forward to getting him back in six to 12 months,” the captain said.
This will be the first deployment for Isabella, who has served in the Marine Corps Reserve for 4 1/2 years. He noted that he joined the Corps for the same reasons he joined the KFD: “To help people, to give something back.”
As a boy growing up, being a fireman was “a dream job,” he said. And then he made it a reality.
“I’m proud and honored,” he told us, “to have both of the best jobs in the world: a U.S. Marine and a firefighter.”
As we were leaving the farewell ceremony, Isabella’s mom, Florence, took us aside. She wanted to say something that her emotions hadn’t allowed her to express aloud in front of everyone, including her son.
“I want him to know that his mother is extremely proud of him,” she said, “and that I will miss him more than he will know.”