By Ron Leir
Every time he’d pass the Midland Ave. firehouse while walking home from St. Stephen’s School, Sean Brady’s heart started to pump in earnest.
“As kids, we used to get tours of the firehouse,” Brady recalled last week. “That was where the dream began.”
Last Tuesday, Aug. 6, the dream became a reality as the 27-year-old took his first step on the ladder to becoming a career firefighter when the Kearny governing body appointed him as a member of the Kearny Fire Department, effective Sept. 9, at a starting salary of $33,000 a year.
At the same meeting, the mayor and Town Council also authorized the Fire Department to submit a new application for a federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant to hire 15 additional firefighters. They also agreed to hire three new police officers.
Although the town had planned to hire three new firefighters, Brady was the only applicant remaining on a state-certified appointment list with 30 names
Officials said the others were eliminated because they were either no longer interested, had gotten other jobs or failed to satisfy residency or background checks.
Now, the town will ask state Civil Service to certify a new appointment list so that it will be in a position to hire more firefighters if money is available to do so.
A Newark native who spent his early years in Kearny before his family moved to Monmouth County, Brady said he joined the Fire Explorers, sponsored by the Boy Scouts, while attending Middletown North High School, which offered a sort of apprenticeship to firefighting.
It also led to an opportunity for the real thing when he was accepted as a member of the Middletown Township Fire Department, which is considered “the world’s largest all-volunteer fire department” with 11 firehouses and some 600 members.
After a two-year stint with the volunteers from 2004 to 2006, Brady enlisted in the Navy with the idea of becoming eligible for a college education after military service. He was shipped overseas, seeing combat action during two deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq and was then assigned to South Korean for a third tour, completing his service in 2010. His volunteer experience came in handy while going through aircraft and shipboard firefighting training with the Navy. After returning to the U.S., Brady signed up to study fire science at New Jersey City University and took the test for firefighter.
Although he went through the Fire Academy as a volunteer firefighter in Middletown, Brady said he’ll still need a more advanced level of training required by Kearny. He’s scheduled to begin that training Sept. 16 at the Middlesex Fire Academy in Sayreville and finish by mid-November. After that, he’ll take 160 hours of EMT training to qualify as a full-fledged firefighter.
In hopes of getting a helping hand from the federal government, Mayor Alberto Santos and the Town Council ratified a recommendation by Fire Chief Steven Dyl to try – for the third time in three years – to pry loose money from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to add 15 firefighters at an annual cost Santos estimated at $900,000 which, he said, would have a “significant impact” on the town, once the two-year grant covering salaries and benefits expires.
“We desperately need this,” Santos said. Both the Police and Fire Departments are “well below” the levels set by the town’s recommended Tables of Organization, he added, “but we haven’t been able to do much due to our budget constraints.”
Currently, Dyl said, the Fire Department is operating “at a bare minimum of 15” personnel per shift but if he can count on filling the three slots the town budgeted for in 2013 (including Brady) and if the SAFER grant comes through, “I will have 23 per shift” and that should be sufficient to ride with four people per apparatus.
As for the mayor’s concern about absorbing the costs for the extra firefighters, Dyl said that with the number of retirements in the department projected between now and 2017, coupled with a somewhat lower pay scale for new hires, as provided in the last labor contract, the town should realize enough payroll savings so as not to overwhelm taxpayers.
Meanwhile, the town now has three new police officers who will undergo a two-day orientation Sept. 16-17 before heading to the Passaic County Police Academy for six months’ training, according to Police Chief John Dowie.
Dowie, who welcomes any help he can get, said: “I’m down 22 [from his T.O.] between rank-and-file and superiors. Of the 13 people who left last year, half were superiors.” Asked about promotional opportunities, Dowie said: “I’m awaiting results of the state sergeant’s test which was given in June and we have existing lists for captain and lieutenant which will expire in less than a year. A new test for captain will be given in September.”
The rookies hired last Tuesday are: Daniel Esteves, Kevin Arnesman and Jordenson Jean.
Esteves, 30, an alumnus of Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington, and William Paterson University, has been working as a meter reader for Public Service Electric & Gas. A nephew of the mayor, Esteves is a member of the Kearny Board of Education and now becomes the third Kearny cop on the BOE, joining Deputy Chief George King and Det. John Plaugic.
Arnesman, 31, originally from Kinnelon and now a Newark resident, has served as a Class 2 officer with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and currently is a security manager for the Gateway Group in Newark. He has a B.A. from Montclair University.
Jordenson, 28, born and raised in Newark where he graduated from Arts High School, is an employee of Lab- Corp, Montclair. He was licensed as a medical assistant at Sanford-Brown Institute.
In other public safety news, the governing body authorized the purchase of three 2014 Ford Explorers (Police Interceptors) from Charles Winner Inc. of Cherry Hill for $79,707 under state contract, along with radio and computer equipment for the vehicles, and agreed to buy a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe for $29,828 from Day Chevrolet Inc. of Monroeville, Pa., to replace the vehicle used by Chief Dyl.