Kearny’s Bravest & Finest

KEARNY – American Legion Post 99 was the setting Friday night, April 21, for its awards ceremony honoring Kearny’s Firefighter of the Year and Police Officer of the Year for 2016, each of whom is chosen by committees of their peers, which makes the selection all the more meaningful.

This year’s program was especially notable for two reasons: The honorees were a rookie cop (who has been a fireman) and a fireman who has just retired after 26-plus years on the job. And both come from families with long histories in their respective departments.

We’ll start with the “newbie,” who obviously has already more than proven himself in his chosen career. Police Officer Richard Poplaski Jr., who grew up in New Milford, decided upon that career in public safety right after his high school graduation in 2009. He earned his EMT and Firefighter 1 certification and served as a volunteer with the West Milford FD and First Aid Squad.

In 2011, he moved to Kearny, joined this town’s EMS and within two years rose to the rank of lieutenant. In July 2015, he was hired by the Kearny Police Department and attended the Bergen County Police Academy. At the graduation ceremony in December of that year, he was presented with his diploma by his grandfather, retired KPD Detective Ed Poplaski, and his father, Lt. Richard Poplaski Sr., a current member of the force.

This third generation KPD Blue Blood completed his training and began work with the patrol division in April 2016. And by the end of the year, he had garnered four commendations for his EMT skills, including saving the lives of three people.

The PBA Valor Committee honored him with three Life Saving Citations, a Certificate of Merit — and voted him 2016 Policeman of the Year.

The 2016 Kearny Firefighter of the Year is Andrew Taylor (who also won the award in 2009).

Born and raised in Kearny, he was appointed to the KFD in May 1990 and served his entire career — which spanned more than 26 years — at Station 2 on Kearny Ave., retiring two months ago.

Described by the KFD as one of the department’s great senior firefighters, Taylor was known for taking probationary firefighters under his wing.

His way of teaching,” a department statement noted, wasn’t just through words. He led by example.”

Taylor was a member of the Hudson County Task Force that responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terror attack.  And during his career, he earned numerous citations from the KFD. He serves as secretary to the Kearny Firemen Relief Association, vice president of the Kearny Exempt Firemen’s Association and is actively involved in community service.

The honoree’s late father, Danny, had been a Kearny firefighter for 30 years, and Taylor’s own sons are now on the job:  Andrew Jr. has served with the Englewood FD since 2014 and Stephen was appointed to the KFD in 2015.  

Taylor was chosen 2016 Firefighter of the Year by the KFD Meritorious Action and Review Board due to his actions through his career and the example he set for our new firefighters to follow.”

At the VFW program this year, four additional awards were presented, to Post members for their commitment and service to the organization. Honored were Anthony Capitti, former Post  99 commander; Korean War veteran George Dittman, steward of the flags; Len Twist, captain of the Color Guard; and Jim Pecora, Post and County Adjutant.

One other, especially moving, thing about Friday’s event: It offered evidence yet again of the sense of “family” and the mutual appreciation and respect that exist among the uniformed services wherever they serve. Both Kearny Police Chief John Dowie and Fire Chief Steve Dyl made it a point to note the tragic on-duty death of N.Y.C. Firefighter William Tolley the previous day.

“Keep him in your hearts,” Dyl asked the audience, “for his death is a reminder that you just never know, because there is no routine call.

Said Dowie, “Firefighter Tolley’s death is a reminder of the dangers faced by all public safety services. Routine is never ‘routine.’”

Hopefully, the civilian population will remember that.

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