web analytics

Happy Thanksgiving!


More apartments eyed for Bergen Ave.

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  Carlstadt builder Ed Russo is looking to expand a residential development project already in progress in a Kearny redevelopment area at Bergen and Schuyler Aves. Russo told The Observer last month he has a contract to purchase an additional 2.25 acres of […]

NA Budget_web

Local taxes up again in borough

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  NORTH ARLINGTON –  Borough residents should be getting their property tax bills by the first week of December, CFO Steve Sanzari said last Thursday, after the Borough Council finally adopted the 2014 municipal budget. Passage of the budget, introduced back in July, has […]


Vets’ photos wanted for ‘Wall of Honor’

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  NUTLEY –  This township, which has been in the forefront when it comes to offering support and assistance and recognition to veterans, has launched yet another project to pay tribute to the men and women who have served our nation. This time, going […]


Carved in stone

    Photo by Karen Zautyk On Veterans Day, the Township of Kearny added this new memorial to Monument Park on Kearny Ave. It will commemorate local members of the armed forces who make the supreme sacrifice in the War on Terrorism. […]


A first for Kearny VFW Post


By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent 


When Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1302 elected its new commander in May, it also made local history. Jennifer M. Long, who was installed in office at the state VFW convention in June, is the first woman to head a veterans’ organization in this area.

And before any chauvinists ask: Yes, she has the credentials. Impressive credentials.

Long served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, retiring in August 2012 with the rank of Sergeant Major. Her last assignment was with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, where she spent nine months “in country” and received a Bronze Star.

While there, she was assigned to the French Army as an adviser on Afghan affairs, overseeing the equipping and training of local police and military in anticipation of the transfer of power from the French to Afghan forces.

She also served a combat tour in Iraq in 2008-09, worked security operations at Guantanamo Bay and is a veteran of the Gulf War.

Asked to comment on all that, she simply said, “You do your job.”

It was a job she said she “always wanted to do,” even though it was not something women thought of as a career at the time she entered military service.

And the job she wants to do now is revitalize the Post, recruit new members, work more closely with other vets’ groups, such as the American Legion and the Marine Corps League, and see the Post become more involved in the community at large.

Those are all among the reasons behind the first annual Octoberfest she has organized for this coming Saturday, Oct. 18. It will be held, rain or shine, on Belgrove Drive between Bergen Ave. and Afton St. from noon to 6 p.m.

In addition to all the aforementioned veterans’ groups, participants will include members of the Kearny Police and Fire Departments, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Kearny students of all ages and various civic-minded groups. “We wanted it to be inclusive, to get as many parts of the community as possible involved,” Long said.

There will be raffles and games and food and live entertainment — rock bands, blues bands, etc.

And everything is being provided to Octoberfest gratis.

“That’s the beauty of this, they’ve all donated their time and their talents,” Long said.

And speaking of donations: The primary goal of the event is to raise funds to send care packages to the 900 New Jersey National Guard troops who are deployed around the world. Also, to collect items to fill those packages.

Cash donations will be used to pay the postage, which, Long noted, “is our biggest cost.” According to the N.J. National Guard, it costs about $25 to ship each box overseas. For 900 troops, that’s $22,500.

You can also bring things needed for the packages. Among the suggested items:

• Lip balm

• Sunblock

• Moist wipes

• Bug spray – non-aerosol

• Bars of soap

• Small bottles of shampoo

• Deodorant – non-aerosol

•Powdered drink mixes

•Cereal/snack/granola bars

• Instant oatmeal – individual  packets

• Hot chocolate – individual  packets

• Small cans of tuna with  pop-tops

• Small cans of fruit with  pop-tops

• Microwave popcorn –  individual bags

•Athletic socks

•Batteries – all sizes

• Toothpaste

• Gum

• Candy

• Small boxes of cereal

• Small bags of trail mix,  peanuts, pretzels

• Books & magazines

There are various websites with care-package info, among them opshoeboxnj.org.

And when Octoberfest is over (we’ll see you there, won’t we?), Long can go back to planning other things. Like continuing to recruit new VFW members.

Post 1302 was once among the biggest in the state, Long said, but “as with all Posts, we’re up against a declining membership. They just age out.”

She added, “Younger veterans want to see more community projects. I’ll try to create such projects to bring in members.”

Then there’s the task of spiffing up the headquarters at 300 Belgrove Dr., a 19th-century structure that, Long noted, had been the administration building for the Old Soldiers’ Home.  That takes money, and money is raised via the Post bar and its hall rentals. “It’s like running a business,” the new commander said.

Fortunately, along with her military experience, she has business acumen. She is currently a financial representative with Primary Financial in Fairfield.

If you were to ask her how she manages all this varied responsibility, we’d bet she’d say, “You do your job.”

Latest snafu for troubled district

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


For the past few years, it has been nothing but Sturm und Drang at the Belleville public school district.

In late 2012 the superintendent of schools resigned in the wake of several lawsuits by former subordinates charging him with sexual harassment and discrimination.

During 2013 and 2014, angry teachers lambasted the school board for spending $2 million on an elaborate security system instead of fixing broken computer equipment and replenishing instructional supplies and the teachers’ union head narrowly avoided being fired for “conduct unbecoming.”

This year, the state assigned the district a fiscal monitor who initiated an administrative shakeup after a preliminary finding that the district may have overspent $4 million.

Then, last week, came the coup de grace: the district had its phones disconnected by the provider, Clarity Technologies Group. Calls to the main number were answered by a recording that said: “The number you have dialed at the Belleville school district has been suspended due to nonpayment.”

That recording played several days before the phones were switched on again by Clarity – which, according to state monitor Thomas Egan, had turned them off after a dispute “over what we’re being charged.”

In early 2013, the school board contracted with Clarity to provide phone service for $10,000 a month ($120,000 annually). As part of one contract package, it also agreed to pay the firm $1.9 million to install a security system and $240,000 to oversee its IT technology.

Egan said the Belleville school district – like many others – participates in a federal program that helps local districts “enhance phone technology” and reimburses local districts for the cost of phone service under an “E-rate provider” formula keyed to the number of free and reduced meals it provides its students.

It turns out, Egan said, that Belleville is “not eligible to get any of our E-rate reimbursement because Clarity is not recognized as a bona fide E-rate provider by the federal government which they made representation to the board that they were.”

In June, the district, at Egan’s direction, stopped paying Clarity for alleged “poor performance” under its multi-tiered contract and had planned to go to arbitration until Clarity killed phone service, prompting the district to post on its website a list of cell phone numbers assigned to each of its school facilities – a move that Councilman (and former BOE member) Joseph Longo ridiculed as “moronic” and oblivious to the issue of “public safety” for students and staff.

Egan said last week he’s getting another phone vendor, which he described only as “an affiliate of Verizon” and “vetted by the state,” to install a new phone system.

Clarity President/COO Bruce Kreeger said that the Belleville district “failed to pay its bill for six months and their service was suspended. [Late last week] they made a payment and their service is back on.” He declined to say how much the district paid but noted that the check was dated May 4.

Kreeger said it was his understanding that because “Belleville’s financial situation was very bad,” the monitor had been holding up its payments Even so, he said, Clarity “didn’t shut off access to the internet, and made sure that 911 emergency, inter-office and interschool communication systems were still on. Our concern was that students would be protected.”

Asked about Egan’s assertion that Clarity misrepresented its E-rate provider qualifications, Kreeger said that Clarity is a properly licensed E-rate provider. He said the district has failed to file the proper paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission to qualify for federal E-rate reimbursement.

According to Kreeger, the district owes Clarity about $269,000, of which $61,000 is for “phone and internet” service and the balance is for “outsource IT support, parts and supplies,” including fixing all the district’s printers.

Egan said it was also the lack of IT support that prompted his decision to hold up Clarity’s payment. During a severe heat wave at the end of August, Egan said, the district’s computer system crashed, taking down its business, payroll and special services software, preventing it from processing purchase orders and vendor payments. School employees had to bring in their summer pay stubs so that W2 records could be manually calculated and guidance counselors had to reconstruct student scheduling and special needs records for the middle and high schools. “

It caused havoc,” Egan said, and it happened because “Clarity never backed up any of those systems on a separate server.” Egan said Clarity blamed the district for the foulup and, ultimately, both parties agreed to submit the dispute to arbitration, but, “two weeks later, they pulled the plug.”

Meanwhile, BOE President John Rivera, who faulted Egan for allowing the phone shutdown to happen, said: “The monitor came here four months ago and we still don’t have an [accounting] of the district’s financials. He pretty much thinks he’s running the district and he’s put us between a rock and a hard place. … I still don’t know if we’re solvent or if we’re losing money.”

Egan said he’s “had to postpone” that auditing process “because the business records weren’t available,” but added that he’s in the process now of “preparing all the financials to be sent to Trenton.” He said he anticipates he’ll be asking the state to provide a loan to the district of “in excess of $4 million” to balance its budget.

‘Tried to usurp my powers’

Among the legal actions targeting Mayor Robert Giangeruso is a lawsuit filed by the Morristown law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman on behalf of Police Chief James O’Connor.

O’Connor, whose suit was filed July 29 in Bergen County Superior Court, alleges that on May 13, the township improperly amended its police regulations “to strip [the police chief] of his statutory right to assign subordinate officers” by mandating “that no officer holding a rank higher than lieutenant may be eligible for off-duty jobs.”

What’s more, O’Connor’s complaint said, “The Mayor has a history of interfering with the day-to-day operations of the police department. Mayor Giangeruso routinely summons [the chief’s] subordinates to his office without the Chief’s knowledge; rides in police vehicles; directs police personnel away from their duties to chauffeur him; directs police personnel to attend meetings without the Chief’s input; and attempts to direct the day-to-day duties of police personnel without notifying the Chief.”

As a particularly egregious example of what the chief characterizes as interference, the complaint said that Giangeruso directed O’Connor to assign, as a “political patronage reward,” a particular police superior to a series of jobs, first as “the narcotics guy” and to provide him an SUV-type vehicle but without the standard GPS; then as a “street crimes unit;” and then, “property maintenance” overseer – “a function not even within the purview of the police department.” Giangeruso then “promoted this [superior] to … Deputy Chief, over [O’Connor’s] objections, as a way of thanking him for his assistance in getting the Mayor re-elected” and “to help his pension.”

“The Mayor has essentially used this [superior] as his personal chauffeur for the past nine years, requiring him to be at the Mayor’s beck and call and taking him outside the accountability of the police department chain of command,” the complaint said.

– Ron Leir 

Out as police director

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


For the past nine years, in deference to his lengthy prior service with the Lyndhurst Police Department, having retired as deputy chief, his colleagues on the township governing body have accorded Commissioner Robert Giangeruso oversight of the Department of Public Safety.

Now, however, that is no longer the case.

At a special meeting held Sept. 29, the township Board of Commissioners voted to redesignate Mayor Giangeruso as director of the Department of Public Affairs and Commissioner John J. Montillo Jr. as director of the Department of Public Safety.

Voting for the switch were Commissioners Theodore Dudek, who remains in charge of Revenue & Finance; Matthew Ruzzo, who stays on as Public Works director; and Montillo. Commissioner Tom DiMaggio (Parks & Recreation) abstained and Giangeruso voted against it.

The vote followed a 45-minute private meeting.

There was no substantive discussion of the move during the public portion of the meeting but one source familiar with the matter said that the township insurance risk manager had advised the commission that Lyndhurst was facing a big hike in its insurance fees or being dropped from its South Bergen JIF (Joint Insurance Fund) coverage because of pending litigation against the township and Giangeruso in his capacity as public safety director.

Several lawsuits and/or notices of intent to sue allege that Giangeruso has interfered with the management of the Lyndhurst Police Department and, as a result, those accusations – though not to this point proven – expose the township to potential payouts that could stem from negative verdicts and/or settlements from these lawsuits, the source said.

One way around this dilemma, the commissioners were advised by their lawyers, is to remove Giangeruso as public safety overseer and place him in charge of some other municipal department, according to the source.

The Observer filed an OPRA request with the township in hopes of reviewing correspondence between the risk manager and local officials to learn more details on the subject but the request was rejected on that grounds that, “Information which is a communication between a public agency and its insurance carrier, administrative service organization or risk manager office are not disclosable.”

The Observer also called Philip Bogle, the insurance risk manager for Lyndhurst, for further enlightenment but he declined comment.

When the commissioners emerged from their private caucus for the vote, they did briefly debate the proposed resolution making the departmental switch.

The Observer wasn’t at the meeting but had access to a tape recording made by the Township Clerk. “Where do we go from here?” wondered Commissioner Montillo, to which Commissioner Dudek responded, “We have to do the right thing for the people of Lyndhurst: redesignate public safety and public affairs.”

A skeptical Commissioner DiMaggio griped: “This is something that has been thrust on us at the last minute. I’m not sure if there are other options. Now we’re in this situation. I know I’ve done everything I could to save this township money. I need some time to think about it. Especially something serious as this.”

And Mayor Giangeruso registered his displeasure, saying, “I’m notifying the Attorney General. This is an illegal meeting – [the department redesignation] was never put on the agenda. I’d like an open vote for the public meeting Oct. 14.”

Township Attorney Richard DiLascio reminded the mayor that the vote on the proposed resolution was being taken in open, public session.

DiLascio, who, in May 2012, stepped down as mayor with a year to run in his term in favor of Giangeruso, found himself a target of the new mayor’s wrath as Giangeruso fumed about his ex-running mate landing a new job as the attorney for both the township and school board and, in Giangeruso’s eyes, trying to control things with CFO Robert Benecke.

“It’s nothing personal, Bobby,” DiLascio told the mayor. “It’s to protect our insurance. You got legal advice. The board [of commissioners] is making a decision in conjunction with your risk manager and the JIF.”

“I want to know why the [police] chief’s not being asked to step down,” Giangeruso asked.

“Because he’s not part of our insurance agreements,” said DiLascio.

During the public portion of the meeting, on the advice of counsel, the commissioners – not without some grumbling from Giangeruso and DiMaggio — unanimously authorized holding a Columbus Day Celebration on Oct. 12, “subject to the approval of the selection process in naming the vendors by the [township’s] purchasing agent and CFO.” DiLascio said case law involving events held on municipal property dictates that the township take steps to ensure “that it doesn’t look like we pointed our business to a particular [vendor]. For next year, let’s put out an RFQ (Request For Proposals] and then we’re in compliance.”

Open House at KFD headquarters


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


Do you know why last week, Oct. 5-11, was national Fire Prevention Week? We didn’t, either.

But we learned the reason thanks to the Kearny Fire Department’s second annual Open House, held Sunday from noon to 4 at its headquarters.

One of the guest participants in the program was Dave Kurasz of the N.J. Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, who explained to the kids and adults gathered on Midland Ave. that Fire Prevention Week is always held the week in which Oct. 8 falls, marking the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

(He told us that it also marks the anniversary of an even worse fire, of which we had never heard. To find out more, see our Thoughts & Views column on p. 6.)

Kurasz was there with a Fire Sprinkler Burn Trailer, in which occurred a short but dramatic display of how quickly sprinklers can douse a blaze. Picture windows on three sides of the vehicle gave the crowd an up-close, and safe, view.

Photos by Karen Zautyk & courtesy of PSE&G

Photos by Karen Zautyk & courtesy of PSE&G


One of the fascinated onlookers was 2 1/2-year-old Izabella Perez-Bambino, held securely in father Jose’s arms. The toddler’s mom, Tania, noted that the family lives around the corner from fire HQ and, at Izabella’s insistence, “Almost every day, we have to take a walk to see the firetrucks!” Tania is a school nurse in Union City, but somehow we think her daughter is planning a different career.

The afternoon’s demos also included a “Jaws of Life” automobile extrication and the always-popular dousing of paper flames by youngsters manning real firehoses.

And all through the program, the children got to try on helmets and bunker gear and clamber aboard trucks and engines and even the KFD’s new fireboat. And they went home with plastic helmets and nifty backpacks.

Photos by Karen Zautyk & courtesy of KFD

Photos by Karen Zautyk & courtesy of KFD


For the adults, there were tables full of literature on fire safety. Even PSE&G was there (and, by coincidence, the MetLife blimp).

KFD Chief Inspector John Donovan was distributing free smoke detectors and small flashlights, invaluable in helping one exit a smokefilled home. Also invaluable was his advice: “Get out and stay out. Because nobody gets out twice.” Remember that, please.

The Open House was both educational and fun, and perhaps the best part was that the public, particularly all those children, got to meet the firefighters whose chosen duty it is to protect lives, even at risk of their own.

17 heists & 19 years


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


A Newark man who committed 17 armed robberies, including heists in Kearny, Belleville and Bloomfield, has been sentenced to nearly 19 years in prison, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced last week. The crime spree took place within a six-month period from December 2012 through May 2013.

The 225-month sentence for Bobby Dawson, 31, was handed down last Wednesday, Oct. 8, by U.S. District Judge William H. Walls in Newark federal court. Dawson had previously pleaded guilty to one count each of armed carjacking, conspiring to commit Hobbs Act robberies and discharging a firearm during one of those robberies.

In addition to the prison term, Dawson was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $72,518 in restitution.

The local crimes had occurred at Shoppers Express in Belleville, which was robbed Feb. 2, 2013; Krauszer’s Deli in Kearny, on Feb. 10, 2013; Krauszer’s in Bloomfield, hit twice, on Feb. 13 and March 29; and Belleville News & Food, April 17.

The other hold-ups were in Newark, Linden, Paramus, Maplewood, West Orange and Verona. Most of the targets were delis, groceries or convenience stores, but gas stations, pharmacies, fast-food restaurants and a liquor store also were hit, authorities said.

Kearny investigators were apparently among the first to recognize the pattern after two bandits held up Krauszer’s on Kearny Ave. at gunpoint, tied up the clerk and two customers with zip ties, and escaped with approximately $5,000 in cash.

Within days of that heist, KPD Sgt. Charles Smith and Det. Ray Lopez, noting similarities in the robbers’ descriptions and MO, had linked the crime to at least three others in Belleville, Bloomfield and Newark.

According to Fishman’s office, Dawson and his conspirators robbed each of the 17 establishments at gunpoint, taking cash, cigarettes and other items. In 15 of the heists, zip-ties or duct tape were used to restrain the victims.

In the robbery of a Maplewood store, Dawson fired a .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun at a clerk, but the man escaped injury.

The carjacking occurred on New Year’s Day 2013, in Newark, where Dawson and others brandished multiple firearms to subdue the driver of a Mitsubishi Gallant. Dawson was apprehended May 30, 2013, by special agents of the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, which had taken over the case that month following investigations by state and local police.

The arrest was due in part to evidence from the April 17 hold-up at Belleville News & Food, 111 Newark Ave., where Dawson reportedly pointed a gun at the clerk’s head before fleeing with $2,000 from the cash register.

Security video captured the robbery and an image of the suspect removing his mask before leaving the premises, authorities said. In addition, the store’s video had footage of a man resembling Dawson apparently conducting a reconnaissance of the shop the previous day.

Two fellow conspirators have pleaded guilty in connection with one or more of the crimes. In August, Jamar (“Rhino”) Darby, 27, of Newark also received a 225-month prison term. Antwon Yarbrough, 27, of Newark reportedly was due to be sentenced last month, but no further information was available.

Among the law enforcement agencies credited by the U.S. Attorney for their work on resolving the case were the Belleville Police Department, Kearny Police Department and Bloomfield Police Department.

One back to work, one exiting?

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


For a decade – until his firing — Brian Doran was a maintenance employee for the Kearny Board of Education – even though, as someone with a non-violent criminal record, he wasn’t supposed to be working there.

Now it appears he’s coming back to work.

And the district’s chief administrator who fired him may be on his way out, permanently.

Doran’s initial hiring never became an issue – until after Frank Ferraro was appointed superintendent of schools in December 2012.

By the fall of 2013, Ferraro had received confirmation from the state Department of Education’s Criminal Review Unit that Doran had been arrested twice in Kearny in 1993 and once in Clifton in 1995, for DUI and marijuana use, all resulting in guilty pleas, which left Doran “permanently disqualified or ineligible for employment ….”

On Sept. 24, 2013, Ferraro terminated Doran, prompting Doran’s attorney (and cousin) Mathew Doran, in October, to sue the Kearny Board of Education and Ferraro in an effort to get his cousin reinstated on the grounds that Ferraro violated his client’s rights as a tenured school employee by failing to present the case against him before his dismissal; that Ferraro violated board policy by terminating without a board vote; that Ferraro and the board violated state law by failing to get his client’s consent for a background check; and that they violated his right to due process by failing to allow him to respond to the criminal allegations.

Moreover, the attorney noted, on Oct. 10, 2013, his client’s criminal record was expunged by Hudson County Superior Court Judge John Young Jr.

Meanwhile, in January 2014, the board placed Ferraro on an involuntary paid leave and in August 2014, it voted to bring tenure charges against Ferraro, alleging that he improperly discussed Doran’s personnel record with his mother and misrepresented his job credentials.

All this activity culminated last Thursday with the board voting 6-0 – James Doran Jr. (Bryan’s uncle) and John Leadbeater were absent and Dan Esteves left early – to approve a proposed settlement of the Doran lawsuit with Bryan Doran and the state Department of Education by permitting Bryan Doran’s reinstatement to his old job at his old salary.

Board attorney Ken Lindenfelser said the settlement was recommended by the board’s Jersey City special counsel, Genova, Burns, Giantomasi & Webster in consideration of the overall uncertainty about the Doran situation: that the DOE apparently never ran Doran’s prints when he was hired; that Doran disclosed his criminal background when he was hired; and that Doran kept working because no one told him not to.

Lindenfelser said that Carl Carabelli, manager of the DOE’s Criminal Review Unit, has signed off on the settlement agreement but that before it can take effect, it must be sanctioned by the state Commissioner of Education.

Also, Brian Doran would submit himself to a criminal background check to ensure he’s had a clean record since his last known criminal act.

If the Commissioner does approve it, Brian Doran will agree to release the DOE and the Kearny BOE from any future liability.

One issue that remains unsettled, Lindenfelser said, is whether Doran could pursue a demand for back pay for the time between his termination and reinstatement.

Meanwhile, Ferraro is scheduled for his tenure charge hearing Oct. 28 in Newark before state arbitrator Gerard Restaino unless he happens to get a new job.

According to an online report filed Oct. 8 by Times Warner Cable News, Ferraro is reportedly one of two finalists for superintendent of the Central Valley School District in Ilion, N.Y.

“We’ll see what happens,” Ferraro told The Observer. “I’m keeping my options open.”



To the editor: 

It was with a heavy heart that I read the Sept. 17 article “Sober house rattles residents.” I personally know and work with Charles Valentine and I have seen firsthand the good work that he does in the lives of those he and his wife, Lisa, serve. All I could think when reading the article was, “They don’t know Charles.”

I certainly understand the desire of the residents of Kearny to feel safe, and to provide a safe haven for their children. As the mom of two small children, I understand this passionately and with vehemence. That is why I must write in support of Charles, Lisa and Valentine House. Charles has centered his life around doing the work of Jesus by helping the forgotten, the underserved and the broken. And who of us does not have a broken part in our lives? Who is not in need of some love, compassion, and a helping hand occasionally?

I implore you: Give Valentine House and the men who live there the chance you would hope to have yourself, or the chance you might hope for your child, your father or your brother. Because that’s who’s living there: someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother.

Kerry Connelly 

Community Involvement Coordinator 

The LIFE Christian Church 

West Orange 

Thoughts & Views: The day that saw hell on earth


Oct. 8, 1871, was a really bad day for the American Midwest.

As we learned Sunday at the Kearny Fire Department’s Open House (see story p. 3), national Fire Prevention Week is held the week of Oct. 8 to mark the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

That historic blaze (which was NOT started by Mrs. O’Leary’s much-maligned cow) broke out about 9 p.m. on the 8th, consumed much of the city on the 9th, and more or less burnt itself out on the 10th, with a little help from a rainstorm.

In the 19th century, Chicago was primarily a city of wood. Not only most of its buildings, but also its sidewalks and many streets were wooden. Add to that all the tarred roofs, and a three-month drought, and numerous lumber yards and coal yards within the city limits, and strong winds blowing the embers hither and yon, and the fact that the Chicago Fire Department’s equipment amounted to 17 horse-drawn engines, and it’s a wonder the flames didn’t spread to Milwaukee.

When it was over, 300 people were dead, more than 100,000 were homeless, and 17,500 buildings were in ashes. The death toll is likely inaccurate, since there was speculation that people jumped into the Chicago River to escape the flames, drowned and were never found, and others may have been completely incinerated.

As for the O’Learys, although the blaze is thought to have begun in or near their barn, the tale of a cow kicking over a lantern while being milked has been debunked. First of all, cows are usually asleep at 9 p.m. But in any case, the Chicago Tribune reporter who originally wrote the bovine story finally admitted in 1893 that he had made the whole thing up because it made good copy. (For shame.) To this day, the actual cause is unknown.

Now, as devastating as the Chicago fire was, it could not hold a candle to another conflagration on the very same day. But aside from those living in the area, relatively few people have ever heard of it, although it claimed more lives than any fire in U.S. history.

In Peshtigo, Wisc., a logging town, woodlands were being cleared by small, controlled fires. But on Oct. 8, 1871, a cold front swept in with strong winds that, according to Wikipedia, “fanned the fires out of control and escalated them to massive proportions. A firestorm ensued.”

Described as “nature’s nuclear explosion,” a firestorm is a tornado of flames.

One book, “Firestorm at Peshtigo,” cited “a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles wide, traveling 90 to 100 mph, hotter than a crematorium.”

Though the blaze began in a forest, it spread over 1.5 million acres and consumed 12 communities. The death toll, at minimum, was 1,200, but some estimates are as high as 2,500. Many victims were buried in a mass grave, because there was no one left alive to identify them. And yet, Peshtigo is now forgotten.

That’s the history lesson for today.

Spare a thought for all fire victims. And all firefighters.

– Karen Zautyk 

‘Candy bar’ suspect arrested: NPD blotter


A young Nutley man has been arrested as the suspected intruder who surprised an elderly woman in her apartment on Oct. 7.

At 3:48 p.m., Nutley PD responded to the Senior Housing building on William St. on a report of an unknown man in a woman’s apartment.

Police said the 93-year-old tenant told them that when she entered her fourth-floor apartment, she was confronted by a white male in his early 20s who handed her a candy bar and fled.

After reviewing video surveillance at the scene, police determined that the man had entered the building, while trailing an unsuspecting resident, then proceeded to the fourth floor apartment.

Two days later, police arrested Stephen Nemec, 21, of Nutley, on a burglary charge. The suspect told police he was looking for a friend who lives on the fourth floor and accidentally entered the woman’s apartment.

Police said Nemec admitted following a resident into the building that requires a key to access.

Nemec was taken to the Essex County Jail after failing to post 10% of his $25,000 bail.

In addition to 37 medical calls and 13 motor vehicle accidents, police also responded to the above incident and others, listed below, during the past week:

Oct. 4 

Someone entered an auto parked on Oak St. and rummaged through the interior, taking several items, the owner told police. Police said there was no sign of forced entry.


Two separate fraud incidents were reported to police. A Rhoda Ave. resident said that someone had opened an American Express account using her identity and made a $200 charge on the account for which she is being held responsible. A Washington Ave. resident told police that MoneyLoan.com had notified them they were approved for a $3,000 loan and, after calling to cancel, someone kept hanging up on them, until, finally, someone answered and said they’d cancel the plan for a fee of $69 which the victim sent. Police said MoneyLoan. com is a site name for sale.

Oct. 5 

Someone broke into a Race St. garage by removing the lower part of the rear side window and stole several tools, police said. The victim noticed a tool case on the ground and realized several of the tools were missing.

Oct. 6 

Someone burglarized an auto parked on Highland Ave. and removed the owner’s black leather wallet with a bank debit card and driver’s license, along with a $120 Panasonic subwoofer, (which police said they later recovered from a Bloomfield arrest). The owner told police he had trouble locking the vehicle’s driver’s side door following an accident.


While conducting a motor vehicle checkpoint on Franklin Ave., police said they observed a white Nissan Pathfinder with an expired/rejected inspection sticker whose driver, Darneil D. Morgan, 20, of Paterson, had an active warrant from Woodland Park. Morgan was released after getting a new court date in Woodland Park.


A Grant Ave. resident reported an attempted fraud after getting a call from a man who identified himself as a “Kevin Brown from the IRS” who claimed the resident owed $3,247 in back taxes from 2010- 2011 and told the resident to pay that amount in cash within the hour or face arrest.

Oct. 7 

An unlocked car parked on Ohlson Ave. was entered and its rear seat contents, along with the glove box, were ransacked, the owner told police.


A Cathedral Ave. resident came to HQ to report a fraud. They said their bank froze their compromised checking account and opened a new one and issued a new checkbook. Then, the resident said, someone claiming to be “Tina” with the bank told them that in order to open a new checking account, they needed to make a cash deposit of $5,000 and that a courier would be sent to their home to collect the money. The resident said that a woman, about 5-feet-four, who said she was “Ms. Walls” came to their home and collected $4,000 in cash in $100 bills. Police contacted a bank representative who told them that the bank would never send a representative to a client’s home to pick up cash. Detectives are investigating.


A Chestnut St. resident called police to complaint that ivy being grown by a neighbor near a retaining wall that separates both properties had spread across their entire backyard, including both sides of their residence. Police advised them they can remove any ivy on their property.

Oct. 8 

Police responded to a Franklin Ave. location on a report of someone driving a maroon Chevrolet Suburban in an erratic manner. After stopping the vehicle, police said they spotted a hypodermic needle and several envelopes that the driver was allegedly trying to hide between her legs. Police said the driver, Stephanie Jankin, 24, of Nutley, was combative and refused to comply with officers’ orders. Jankin was arrested on charges of possession of suspected heroin, possession of hypodermic needle, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest and was also ticketed for alleged violations of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of CDS and maintenance of lamps. After failing to post $5,000 bail with no 10% cash option, Jankin was taken to the Essex County Jail.

– Ron Leir