KEARNY – Thirteen new probationary firefighters, including the fire chief’s son, are now riding KFD rigs.
Although they completed their training and were assigned tours as of Feb. 18, the recent snowstorm delayed their official swearings-in and pinning of KFD badges until last Tuesday at a Town Hall ceremony.
This year’s class matches the size of the unit that graduated in September 2015 – the biggest since the class of 2005 with 10 members, according to Chief Steven Dyl.
Eight recruits were hired in early 2016 but two of those are already gone.
Dyl told The Observer that the most recent appointees were named from a state Civil Service certification list that came out in March 2016 and that list is “good for three years.”
And that’s a good thing since Dyl is already planning to ask the town to hire more before the list runs out to replace an ongoing surge of anticipated retirements.
By May 1, the chief figures to be “six short” of the department’s 102-member Table of Organization – the maximum number of personnel allowed by town ordinance – due to a combination of retirements, one resignation and one termination.
Beyond that, Dyl said, 12 additional spots could be vacated by KFD members eligible for retirement.
As a result of the thinning of the ranks, currently 38 of the department’s 68 rank-and-file members each have “less than two years experience” with the department, he said.
“That’s almost 50% of our available firefighter staff [not including fire superiors],” Dyl said.
The newly-hired firefighters who took their oaths of office last week were:
■ Mathew Piscal, recipient of the class Academic Award, is a former lieutenant with the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department and the holder of a degree in fire science from NJCU.
■ Haley Girdwood, the third female member of the KFD, has a degree in health science from Eastwick College, Nutley. Her uncle Victor is a KFD captain.
■ Jeremy Ho, who studied criminal justice at Rutgers University, previously served as a state corrections officer at Northern State Prison, Newark.
■ Francis McCallister, who attended Montclair State University, was an assistant office manager for NY/NJ Rail LLC and coached JV soccer for St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Jersey City.
■ Mathew Popola, who has a business management degree from FDU, was a lieutenant with the Roseland Volunteer Fire Department. He previously worked for Atlantic Ambulance and as department supervisor for Home Depot.
■ George King III, who has a liberal arts degree from Bergen Community College, previously worked for the TSA and as a security officer for River Terminal, Kearny. His dad is KPD Deputy Chief George King.
■ Wilfredo Lopez Jr., a graduate of Hamilton High School, Fishers, Ind., previously worked as a personal trainer and as a teacher’s aide at Washington Academy, Belleville.
■ Daniel Gurkas, who has a biology degree from Rutgers University, was a substitute teacher with the Kearny Board of Education and a lifeguard with Kearny Rec. His brother Joseph is also a member of the KFD.
■ Steven A. Dyl, a Kearny High School alumnus, is studying engineering at Stockton University, Galloway Township. His dad is Fire Chief Steven Dyl.
■ Robert Szczesniak, who has a finance degree from Rider University, was a Prudential Financial associate manager and a member of the Saddle Brook Volunteer Fire Department. His dad is a former chief of the Hasbrouck Heights Volunteer Fire Department.
■ Jason Ostanski, who has a fire science degree from NJCU, was a volunteer firefighter for North Arlington and a custodian for the N.A. Board of Education.
■ Edmund McKeown, a graduate of Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington, previously served as a member of the Bethlehem, Pa., Fire Department and as a KFD dispatcher.
■ Thomas Witt, a KHS graduate, previously worked for UPS and has been active with the Kearny Generals and Kearny Little League.
Several of the new hires will have their salaries and benefits paid through a federal Staffing for Adequate & Emergency Firefighter Response (SAFER) grant awarded Kearny. It provides funding for two years with the stipulation that the town takes over that obligation in the third year, according to the chief.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Dyl said that given “a lot of new faces” now in the department, he’s relying on the remaining veterans to “making a support network grow” by “taking the new guys under their wing.”
The chief said he was impressed by the new group’s solidarity. “I haven’t seen this strong of a bond in a while,” he added. Of the 13, Dyl said seven are “lifelong Kearny residents” while the rest have “relocated to the Kearny area.”