Forgotten book yields surprise

'The' book.

‘The’ book.

KEARNY —

This is a story about a book. 

A very small book.

With a very limited audience.

A book that, although nearly 75 years old, probably also has very limited monetary value — even on some online auction. However, to members of two Kearny firefighter families, it is priceless.

It is also the story of quirky fate and coincidence and being in exactly the right place at the right time.

The tiny tome about which we write has the unintriguing title “Rules and Regulations of the Fire Department of Town of Kearny, New Jersey.” It dates to Nov. 11, 1942. At one time, every member of the KFD was issued a copy. This particular one belonged to Firefighter George P. Rogers Sr., who was on the job from about 1925 to 1955. His signature is on the title page.

Sometime in the ‘50s (time period just a guess), the department stopped issuing the individual handbooks, replacing them with reference volumes, one for each KFD station.

What sort of rules and regulations were in the little book? At a minimum: Hundreds. Everything from the Fire Chief’s insignia (“Five crossed trumpets with bells projecting beyond the mouthpieces and gold-plated”) to how firefighters should conduct themselves (“They shall not use obscene, immoral, disrespectful, impudent or improper language to superiors, equals, citizens or subordinates.”) 

We asked current KFD Chief Steve Dyl what rules the current in-house reference books contain, and he noted that unless something had been specifically and officially revoked or revised, most of the regs remain the same.

When George Rogers was retiring from Station 2 on Kearny Ave., he gave his old handbook (we shall never know why; perhaps it was an out-of-print keepsake even then) — to a younger fireman, Danny Taylor, who kept it for a couple of decades. 

Then in 1977, Paul Rogers, grandson of the book’s original owner, joined the KFD.

Paul remembers, “An older fireman, Danny Taylor, hands me a book one day. ‘Here, Paul. You might like to have this,’ is all he says.  I’m young. I’m a kid. I couldn’t care less about rules and regulations. It meant nothing to me.”

[Editor’s note: We know Paul Rogers, a gentleman and, today, a scholar. We are certain that he did, indeed, care about rules and regulations. But as “a kid,” he likely just didn’t want to have to read them.]

“I didn’t open it,” Paul continued. “I threw it in my locker, and I never thought about it again for 25 years.” (And because he didn’t open it, he never saw his grandfather’s signature. And he never saw the notecard Taylor had signed, which read, “To Paul: Thought you’d want this.”)

Fast forward to 2002. Paul is now retiring. He is emptying out his locker at Station 2. And who just happens to be standing next to him at the time?  A young fireman named Andy Taylor — the son of Danny, the man who had given the book to Paul a quarter-century before. 

“In the locker, I see this little book,” Paul said. “‘Andy, do you want this?’ I ask. And he takes it. I didn’t even remember it came from his father. Handing him that book meant nothing to me. I was just cleaning out the locker.” 

But that night, Andy called Paul at home. The conversation went something like this:

Andy:  “Thank you, Paul! Thank you!”

Paul: “What are you talking about?”

Andy: “Did you ever open that book? It came from my father! Your grandfather gave it to my father when he retired!”

And that was the first time Paul Rogers, in possession of a little treasure for many, many years, knew anything about its history and its connection to his own grandfather. The poor book had just languished, forgotten, in a locker all that time. 

Paul said Andy couldn’t believe that Paul had not intentionally given it to him because of the family connection. 

Thinking back over the years, Paul realized how callous he must have seemed to Danny Taylor, who had basically been making a formal presentation to him. 

“Danny probably thought ‘Paul’s a jerk,'” he said.  

Andy Taylor, still serving at Station 2, now has his own two sons on the job.  Stephen joined the KFD in July 2015, and Andrew Jr. has been a member of the Englewood FD since January 2014. The Taylor family tradition continues.

Recently, we met the three Taylors at Station 2, where Andy formally presented the book to Stephen (because he’s the one on the KFD; no slight to Andrew Jr.). 

Paul Rogers was there too, still in wonder about how the keepsake had managed to find its way to the very people who would treasure it. And still regretful that he had not opened it and thanked Danny Taylor all those years ago.

“I wish the man were alive so I could tell him I’m sorry,” Paul said.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent