Lucky 13 join Kearny’s bravest


Now there will be three.

If she makes it through training, Haley Girdwood will become only the third woman to have attained membership in the Kearny Fire Department.

A Kearny High School alumna, Girdwood was one of the 13 most recent recruits to be hired as probationary firefighters by the town’s governing body, effective last Wednesday, at a starting pay of $33,000 a year.

Also among the new faces are Steven A. Dyl, son of Kearny Fire Chief Steven M. Dyl; and George King III, son of Kearny Deputy Police Chief George King.

The others are: Matthew S. Piscal, Francis J. McAllister, Daniel P. Gurkas, Jason P. Ostanski, Edmund McKeown and Thomas J. Witt, all Kearny residents; and Jeremy C. Ho, Matthew F. Popola, Wilfredo Lopez Jr. and Robert E. Szczesniak, all of Newark.

Salaries and benefits for Szczesniak, Ostanski, McKeown and Witt will be picked up for two years by the federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) program.

Eight firefighters previously appointed in February are also being paid with SAFER funds awarded Kearny for a two-year period, according to Chief Dyl.

The 13 newbies were assigned to in-house training in Kearny through last Friday and were slated to begin their firefighter training program at the Morris County Fire Academy on Oct. 17.

Training continues through Dec. 16, after those who pass the course go on to EMT school in January, Dyl said. They should be ready for active duty by March 2017, he added.

Mayor Alberto Santos said the town plans to hire a 14th firefighter at some point. He said the town “is holding one spot open for an eligible applicant who is in active military duty overseas.”

When the rookies are ready for action, Dyl said the KFD will top out at 101 – just “one short” of the maximum strength permitted by town ordinance for the department which, over the past couple of years, has been battered by a string of retirements by veteran members.

And that pattern could well continue during 2017 when, according to Dyl, 15 members of the KFD – a combination of rank-and-file and superiors – will have logged 25 or more years and will thereby be eligible to go.

For now, though, Dyl is thankful that the mayor and Town Council have supported his request for additional personnel to fill the gap in the ranks.

It took many months to get to this point, Dyl said, given that Kearny had to sort through some 500 applications for the 13 slots. That number was somewhat narrowed to 293 after applicants took a physical exam for firefighter and then “we went from there.”

Here are some capsule bios on the new members:

Girdwood, 22, attended Atlantic University and Eastwood College, Nutley, attaining a degree in health science. She worked in medical billings for Med Assets-Precyse in Saddle River before starting her firefighting career. Her uncle, Victor Girdwood, has been a KFD member since March 1999 and her cousin, also named Victor Girdwood, was hired as a Kearny police officer in April 2015.

Dyl, who just turned 20, is a Kearny High graduate now in his third year at Stockton University where he is pursuing a degree in engineering. His dad’s reaction to his appointment: “It’s great. It makes me feel proud.” But, at the same time, the chief said, his son shouldn’t expect to coast. “He’s got to earn his way – same as anybody else. He’s got to pull his weight.”

King III, 23, a Kearny High alum, studied liberal arts at Bergen Community College for two years and worked as a security guard for River Terminal in Kearny and for the federal TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at Newark Airport. His dad said his son had taken Civil Service tests for various law enforcement and firefighter jobs. Fact of the matter is, said dad, “My dad [a onetime deputy police chief] was on the fire list before he was hired as a policeman and I’d gotten called for an interview for the fire department but I was already on the police force at the time.”

Piscal, 22, originally from North Arlington, where he serves as a volunteer firefighter, has taken fire science courses at New Jersey City University and worked for Hayes Safe & Lock in Kearny.

McAllister, 34, is a Kearny High graduate who has taken classes in finance and marketing at Montclair University and worked as an assistant manager for N.Y./N.J. Rail in Jersey City. He has served as a soccer coach at St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Jersey City. His uncle, Rab Logan, is a retired Kearny firefighter and his cousin, Paul Logan, was hired by the KFD about two years ago.

Gurkas, 23, is a Kearny High alum who has a biology degree from Rutgers University. He has worked for the Kearny Board of Education as a substitute teacher and swim coach and has served as a lifeguard for the Kearny Recreation program. His brother Joseph is a member of the KFD.

Ostanski, 28, is another North Arlington native who received a fire science degree from NJCU. A member of the borough’s volunteer fire department, Ostanski worked as a custodian for the borough school system.

McKeown, 34, is a product of Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington, and has taken courses at Seton Hall University. A former member of the East Newark Volunteer Fire Department, McKeown has worked as a KFD civilian dispatcher and as a paid firefighter in Bethlehem, Pa.

Witt, 21, is a graduate of Kearny High where he played football and baseball, and previously worked with UPS.

Ho, 23, a graduate of St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Jersey City, has a degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University. He worked as a state corrections officer at Northern State Prison in Newark.

Popola, 27, is a product of the North Caldwell public school system and earned a degree in business management from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He worked as a lumber/building materials supervisor for Home Depot and an EMT with Atlantic Ambulance Corp. of Livingston.

Lopez Jr., 22, attended the University of Puerto Rico and got a degree in exercise and sports training. He worked as a teacher’s aide/paraprofessional at Washington Academy in Belleville and as an EMT.

Szczesniak, 30, graduated from St. Joseph’s Regional High School, Montvale, and received a degree in finance from Rider University. He was an associate manager for Prudential.

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