Whitehead documents the Kearny FD

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

When I was still living in Florida, perhaps two years ago, I remember one day when I had heard there was a fire somewhere in Kearny. As I often do when learning about a fire, I took to YouTube to see if there was a video of the blaze. That time, there absolutely was. But it was shot by someone whose name I didn’t recognize at first.

It was Skyler Fire.

At first, I thought it was someone playing on the name “Schuyler,” spelled differently from what we’re all used to. But that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, it actually someone’s name. Skyler Whitehead, a kid in his late teens who, quite often, would be found at the scene of a fire somewhere in Kearny and occasionally in another town.

Occasionally, he was at the right place at the right time, capturing video of some of the KFD’s roughest calls. He almost always had a great vantage point — and because of it, and because who wouldn’t want their work featured in a newspaper, Whitehead would allow us here at The Observer to take screen shots of his videos to use in the printed pages of the newspaper and on our website.

I got to know Whitehead over the last two years, and now, he’s our official fire photojournalist. If there’s a fire and he’s around — you’ll see his work in this newspaper.

“I have been shooting for about 3½ years,” Whitehead said. “I enjoy shooting fires because departments can use it for training. Also, it’s good to take some awesome shots of the brother firefighters.”

You’ll notice Whitehead just referred to the people he shoots as “brother firefighters.” That’s because it’s his hope in a few years to take the NJ Civil Service exam to become a firefighter. And he doesn’t exactly keep it a secret — not only does he want to be a firefighter, he wants to be on the KFD.

Several members of the KFD have taken Whitehead under their wings. And it was pretty evident a few weeks ago when the department hosted their annual awards dinner at the old Boystown. Chief Steve Dyl thanked Whitehead for providing some of the photos the department used for a slideshow during the ceremony. And several high-ranking KFD officers sang his praises.

Whitehead did the same for some in the KFD.

“There are a few (influences) from the KFD, but first I would have to say is Deputy Chief Joseph Viscuso,” Whitehead said. “He is very encouraging … I look up to him as a role model. He’s very easy to talk to and I know he is always there for me.”

But it’s not just Viscuso.

“Another person from the KFD who has been an influence in my life is Deputy Chief Robert (Ozzie) Osborn. He is an awesome chief and he can tell you some crazy stories about past fires and incidents. I caught a couple crazy fires while Ozzie was working command. But the thing is. the whole KFD is a big influence to me — everyone one of them — from Tours 1-4, They’re all awesome firefighters and awesome human beings.”

Over the last 3½ years, Whitehead says he’s seen some of the most intense fires one could imagine. But one sticks out more than the rest.

“The most intense, craziest fire has to be a South Kearny job on Second St. that went to a third alarm. Osborn was working. A call came in on a report of tires burning, and when Engine 4 started responding, they saw smoke from their headquarters. The fire went to three alarms. Flames were shooting out the front of the building. It was incredibly intense.”

Now, Whitehead isn’t on the job yet — he’s a few years away from that at least — but he’s already got someone in his life who looks up to him and who loves the art of being a firefighter — and all that comes with it.

“My brother Rocco who is 3½ has been watching me since I started doing my videos — and now he is enjoying it,” Whitehead said. “He knows a lot of stuff about the fire trucks. He loves going to the fire house and tell the firefighters what trucks are what and they are amazed at what he knows.”

Truth is, we’re pretty amazed at what Skyler does on a regular basis. At his age and at this point in his life, he could be doing things a lot of teens do that isn’t quite wise. Others choose drugs. Some choose to drink on weekends. But not Whitehead. This is one kid who has his head on his shoulders firmly — and who’s going to ultimately make a difference in this community.

I know I consider myself fortunate to know him. At at one point or another, I have a sense most will be able to say the same, too. If you happen upon a fire scene and see someone with a video camera in hand, say hello to Whitehead. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Quite a Food Truck Festival

This is a bit late — it’s been a few weeks since I wrote a column — but I wanted to give one more congratulations to Det. John Fabula, of the Kearny Police Department and all who joined him with PBA Local 21 to make the first (of what will hopefully be many) PBA Food Truck Festival a wild success.

Fabula and his team worked tirelessly for weeks to set the event up — and it drew an estimated total of 10,000 people from all over New Jersey and other states.

Every single story I’ve heard from festival-goers was positive. And everyone seemed to say they hope there are more. Also, recall, all of the proceeds from the festival go to either the KPD’s contingent of riders in the 2016 Tour de Force 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride (one that takes police officers from the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., to the World Trade Center in New York and that is expected to end on Sept. 11, 2016).

Well done, John and all.

Have a great week. See you back here in three weeks.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.