For many years, Charles D. Kerr — known by most as Chuck — served the Kearny Fire Department as its chief fire inspector. When there was a fire, chances were you’d see him at the scene, hard at work, looking to determine why a fire happened.
In 2011, he was named the Firefighter of the Year at the Kearny FD.
He was involved in so many things in the community, it would be difficult to recall them all.
But the life that was Kerr’s was cut short — way too short — when the Kearny resident died at home on Sept. 24, 2018.
He was just 58.
Steven Dyl, the chief of the Kearny FD, took time to reflect on his friend’s life.
“Chuck was appointed to the KFD on Oct. 6, 1984, and assigned to Station 3 Tour D,” Dyl said. “He rose to the position of Chief Fire Inspector, where he ran the Bureau of Combustibles, until his retirement on July 1, 2012 after over 27 years of service.
“Chuck returned to serve the Town of Kearny as a Public Safety Telecommunicator in August 2013 until his untimely death. ‘Charles D’ was well known throughout the town for his community involvement. He was also well known in the fire service and for his constant training and his love for the fire service in general.
“Our condolences are with the Kerr family of during their time of need. ‘Charles D,’ you will be sorely missed and loved by all those you touched. Rest in peace.”
And in a brief 58 years on earth, did he ever touch the lives of countless people. But you would never know it, because while he did so much to help others, he never sought the spotlight. He never wanted recognition. All he ever seemed to want was to do good things — to help people who were in need.
Many years ago, when this newspaper was involved with the Kentucky Care project, Kerr, who was a master at packing away moving trucks, offered his services to help pack the tractor-trailers that would travel from Kearny to Kentucky filled to capacity with donations of furniture, clothing, toiletries and the like for the less fortunate of Appalachian country.
“He was so good at what he did,” The Observer’s Lisa Feorenzo recalled of Kerr. “He knew just what to do to make those trucks immaculately packed and safe for the long trip to Kentucky. He did it all, but never expected anything in return. He was that kind of person. So helpful. So willing to be there for the sake of the needy. Never did he want anything in return. Never did he seek the spotlight.”
Just how well-loved was Kerr? When the Kearny FD announced Kerr’s untimely death on its Facebook page, nearly 200 people paused to offer lasting tributes to him.
One of them came from Eileen Eckel, the Third Ward councilwoman who, for many years, has been the council’s fire committee chairwoman.
“(Chuck was) a wonderful human being and the quintessential firefighter,” Eckel said. “His dedication and love for his profession and his community will always be remembered.”
Retired Firefighter Michael Kaywork was another.
“Chuck was unique. Chuck was a good friend. We were friends before the FD,” he said. “We traveled for many things as firefighters together. Chuck would help whenever needed. R.I.P. Brother. You will truly be missed, Chuck.”
As a journalist, I got to work along-side Chuck many times in the late 2000s. Vividly recall his saving a pup from an apartment over a fire at the Sip and Dunk coffee shop on Kearny Avenue. He was always an active participant with confined-space training. But of it all, one thing stuck out more than anything else.
Whenever I’d write fire recaps, I’d often include in the stories when police officers rescued residents from buildings before the fire department arrived on scene.
Following one of the stories, Chuck came up to our old Kearny Avenue office and asked to see me. I could tell from the get-go — he wasn’t happy.
“Of course the PD made the rescues, they’re always going to be on scene before we are,” he said. “Why don’t you recognize my guys for actually putting the fire out? They put their lives at risk.”
By no means was Kerr making light of the PD rescues. He had the utmost respect for the police and the work they do. He was simply noting the obvious that I often overlooked. If we were going to highlight the work of the PD — highlight the work of the FD all the same. It stuck with me to this very day.
While I hadn’t seen Chuck for nearly a decade, in late June, I just happened to bump into him at KFD Headquarters whilst working on a story about 4th of July fireworks. In Chief Dyl’s office, in he came — and he picked up as if not a day had passed since last we spoke.
On June 29, I sent him and email to thank him for all he taught me about the fire service. And, I sent photos I’d taken of him over the years. On July 2, I got a reply that would be the last email I’d get from Chuck.
“Thanks Kevin, I appreciate your kind words,” he wrote. “It’s easy to work with someone who knows about and cares about the integrity of their work, which was the case with you. Keep up the good work. Chuck.”
Little did he know he truly describing himself, something he’d never do knowingly.
Whether it was as Chief Inspector or as a dispatcher or a volunteer, all he ever did was good work. He only did it with integrity and care.
Our town, our fire department, our community, our world, will never be the same again without Charles D. Kerr.
May he forever rest in peace.
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.