A man was working for a PSE&G subcontractor in North Arlington and one of the special shoes he wore to keep him from sinking into the mud of the Meadowlands came off. He wound up sinking into the mud waist deep.
In another case, a South Kearny fire was moving so quickly that one deputy chief, without hesitation, used his body to prevent the only way for other firefighters to escape the out-of-control blaze from closing — and completely trapping them.
Another helped rescue a car-crash victim nowhere near Kearny — having completed a grand total of one tour of duty ever on the job.
All of the men and women of the Kearny Fire Department who were involved in these three incidents were honored last week at the KFD’s annual Meritorious Acts Review Board dinner at Boystown, as were two civilians who contribute to the department and the department’s Firefighter of the Year.
Sinking in the mud
It happened last summer and its consequences could have been dire. But because of the quick thinking of the KFD — they train for moments like this one constantly — a man who fell waist deep into mud in the Meadowlands in North Arlington survived to tell his story.
It was the KFD who rescued the man even though it happened in another municipality.
On scene that day were Deputy Chief John Harris, Capts. John McCaffrey, Art Bloomer, Joe Mastandrea and Ed Ryan and Firefighters Luke Schappert, Nelson DaSilva, Kevin Becker, William Crockett, Sean Brady, Joseph Ferraro and Darell Szezypta.
They worked together using an 18-foot roof ladder to reach the victim and pull him to safety on a Stokes basket. For their tireless work, all of Group 4 were cited as a unit.
Merit Citation Rating 2
Stephen Yerkes was driving on the Garden State Parkway in Lakewood last year when he came across a car crash. His instincts as a firefighter kicked in immediately and he pulled over, got out of his vehicle and helped set up and complete an extrication.
But there was something quite unique about what Yerkes did.
“Firefighter Yerkes represented the Kearny Fire Department in an exemplary way that day,” Mastandrea, the emcee of the awards dinner and member of the selection committee that chose the award recipients, said. “And on that day, he was just one tour into his career as a firefighter.”
A life-saving Deputy Chief
Robert Osborn has always been a hands-on superior officer. His genuine care and concern for his fellow superior officers and firefighters on the KFD is palpable whenever he’s at the scene of a fire — or crash — or rescue.
So it came as little surprise to most that last year, during a rapidly spreading fire, he was responsible for preventing either the death or serious injuries of numerous firefighters.
The fire in question spread so quickly that just 10 minutes from the time of the first call to the KFD about the fire, emergency evacuation tones were sounded to get everyone out of the fire. Shortly thereafter, there was a small explosion — and Osborn knew for sure everyone had to get out.
As all of this was happening, however, the one remaining way for all inside to get out — a horizontal door — was about to close and trap the guys inside.
Instinctively, Osborn threw himself under the door leaving just enough space for everyone — including the deputy chief himself — to get out unharmed. Had he not done so, everyone inside would have been trapped — and who knows what might have later ensued.
For his bravery that day, Osborn was awarded the Class A Life Saving Award.
“We are all very proud of you for what you did that day,” Mastandrea said of Osborn.
Firefighter of the Year
Mike Kaywork joined the KFD in 1991. So it should come as no surprise the firefighter of 25 years, slated to retire next month, was the department’s top honoree. He was selected not just for his work on the job — but for what he also does on his own time.
“Whether it’s a senior picnic, the Santa parade, representing the department at line of duty death funerals, Mike is there,” Mastandrea said.
Mastandrea also pointed to Kaywork’s involvement in community-based projects well away from Kearny.
For instance, in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region, Kaywork traveled to Mississippi to help rebuild there.
Year later, after a massive storm hit in Joplin, Mo., Kaywork was there to help rebuild four playgrounds for the children of Missouri.
“It’s just the kind of guy Mike is,” Mastandrea said. “We will miss Mike when he retires.”
Department Appreciation & Media Awards
The KFD also recognized two civilians who contribute to the department on a regular basis.
Donna McClure, of Happy Time Day Care, Kearny, was recognized with the Department Appreciation Award and The Observer’s own Ron Leir was recognized with the KFD’s Media Award.
“We always know Donna’s watching us — or watching out for us,” Mastandrea said of McClure.
Meanwhile, Mastandrea spoke of his gratefulness for Leir “always getting the story right,” and for taking most opportunities for painting the KFD in a positive way.
Leir has been a reporter for The Observer since 2009; before that, he spent more than 37 years as a reporter and editor at The Jersey Journal, from which he retired the same year he came to The Observer.
Before the awards were doled out, Kearny Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, the department’s council liaison, addressed the crowd of 100-plus gathered for the awards dinner.
“I see so many new faces, all while we’ve lost seasoned veterans (to retirement),” Eckel said. “We lost 450 years of (combined) experience with the retirements, so we know how important it is to rebuild this department.”
Eckel also noted that at present, 40 of the 68 rank-in-file firefighters have two or fewer years of experience.