Fete Finest & Bravest ‘All Stars’

KEARNY — American Legion Post 99 was the setting Friday night for an annual ceremony honoring the best of the best among the members of Kearny’s uniformed services.

The award recipients, chosen by a vote of their peers, were: KPD Detective Michael Andrews, Police Officer of the Year for 2015, and KFD Firefighter of the Year 2015, Michael Kaywork. Both have extensive, and impressive, resumes, so be aware, dear readers, that what we highlight here can tell only part of their stories of service to the community.

Andrews, selected for the honor by the KPD Valor Committee, joined the township force in 2007 after serving as a N.J. corrections officer. His first Kearny assignment was walking a foot patrol from 2 to 10 p.m.  At Friday’s ceremony, Police Chief John Dowie recalled, “I’ve seen a lot of cops come and go on foot posts, but Mike had a knack like I’d never seen before, an exceptional ability to get out there and get to know the people.”

Andrews received his detective shield in 2012 and was assigned to the Vice Unit, where he continues to work. As a KPD officer, he has been involved in more than 1,200 arrests and 400 narcotics investigations. “During that time,” the Valor Committee noted, “Mike has removed an incredible amount of drugs and weapons off the streets.”

Dowie told the audience at the Legion, “When you make a lot of arrests, and you’re not getting a lot of complaints and not losing a lot of court cases, you’re doing something right.” And the chief added, “I always say that Mike is going to be reincarnated as a drug-sniffing dog.”

Other evidence of Andrews’ doing something right: In 2015 alone, he received a Unit Citation, an Exceptional Duty Citation and three Narcotics Citations.

Lt. Richard Poplaski noted, “I have been doing the Valor Committee for 24 years now, and for probably the last five years, Mike has been the runner-up for this award. We actually started calling him ‘the bridesmaid.’ Every year, he would be right there and someone would just sneak past him. But that isn’t the case this year.”

Andrews, although born in Belleville, was raised in Kearny, where he was a soccer star, playing with the Kearny Recreation League, the Thistle Football Club and as a member of the 1999 Kearny High School State Championship Team. Citing the soccer credits, Dowie said, “I think that’s why he has never lost a foot chase.”

The detective and his wife, Linda, have two children: a son, Carter, and a daughter, Cameron.

Firefighter of the Year Michael Kaywork was selected by the KFD Meritorious Acts and Review Board “for actions throughout his career and for his service to the community.” That career dates to 1991 and will come to an end on June 1, when the honoree will be retiring.

Kaywork began his KFD work at Station 3 and is finishing it at Station 4, having served at most of the department stations and as a dispatcher. He has also been long involved in community service projects. As the Review Board explained, “Mike is a quiet person who keeps to himself. He keeps out of the spotlight. But behind the scenes, he is a very busy person. Mike is always there when you need him.”

Locally, Kaywork has participated in the Senior picnics, the Santa Parade, the annual Toys for Tots Motorcycle Run and the Elks’ Motorcycle Miracle Run, which raises money for underprivileged children. He has also represented the KFD at line-of-duty funerals from Chicago to Boston to Washington, D.C.

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Kaywork traveled to Mississippi multiple times to rebuild storm-damaged homes and, as a member of the State FMBA team, to construct playgrounds for children in the stricken area.

This eventually evolved into the Sandy Ground/Where Angels Play project. As part of that program, Kaywork helped build 16 of  26 playgrounds in the Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Northeast, each named for a victim of the 2012 Newtown, Ct., school massacre.

Kaywork also spent “countless hours” helping repair or reconstruct homes at the Jersey Shore after Sandy struck, and he traveled to Joplin, Mo., to assist in tornado-recovery efforts there.

As KFD Chief Steve Dyl noted, “When you need a job done, it’s done,  thanks to Mike.” More recently, that job included the task of getting water to a tanker fire on the Turnpike, in an area where there was no water supply. And more than one human being can thank Kaywork for saving their lives, be it a river rescue or from choking to death.

At Friday’s ceremony, Dyl also shared an animal-life-saving story [which your animal-loving correspondent appreciated]. The chief recalled when Kaywork, fighting a township blaze, heard one of the human evacuees shouting, “My cats are in there!”

“He went in and he searches and finds them,” Dyl said. [Finding a cat in a smoke-filled, flaming building is no easy task. They tend to hide.] “And when he came out, he had all three cats clinging to his turnout gear. Their owner had to literally pry them off.”

Kearnyites, feline and otherwise, should wish Kaywork and his wife, Nancy, a most happy retirement.

And Kearnyites should also heed the words spoken by Mayor Alberto Santos at the conclusion of the awards program. “Every time you hear a siren,” Santos said, “that’s a Kearny firefighter or police officer putting themselves in harm’s way to protect you.”

So true.

Remember that, please.

[Editor’s note: There will be two more programs honoring Andrews and Kaywork — this Saturday at the Kearny Knights of Columbus, and May 6, at VFW Post 1302.]

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