BAYONNE, NJ - What started as an idea by BCB Bank to celebrate Bayonne's 150th anniversary turned in to a massive celebration of local, county, state, and federal first responders, and a day of fun that attracted hundreds of Bayonne families to 16th Street Park on Saturday.
The event, billed as First Responder Day, Tom Coughlin, BCB's CEO said, started as the brainchild of Pamela Sclafane and "snowballed" once the word got out about it and public safety organizations from far beyond Bayonne offered to participate by conducting demonstrations and putting their vehicles on display for residents, young and old, to take a closer look at.
Among the highlights was the landing of helicopter co-piloted by New Jersey State Police Sgt. First Class Pat Balunis and Trooper Sam Mantle. Children raced towards the field as the helicopter circled and made it's landing, with four boys, Nicholas, Matthew, Cagney, and Lucas agreeing that the flying visitor was "cool" and "awesome."
"This is a big crowd," Balunis said as he welcomed everyone to come closer. "It's nice to see everybody."
Offering her unsolicited gratitude for the work of the the men and women being celebrated at the event was Laura Oliver who said that "we love our first responders." Her granddaughter, also Laura, showed at eight years old she also knows how important police officers and firefighters are to her community.
"They help people by getting bad guys and bring water to put out fires," she said.
Following a brief ceremony to officially kick off the day, during which Mayor Jimmy Davis said that "Bayonne is well respected because of our first responders," guests dispersed to more demonstrations, a beer garden, a play area, to watch the first responder softball tournament, or to cast their vote in the chili cook off.
If the helicopter was the most exciting demonstration of the day the live training operation by Bayonne firefighters Rick Joynt and Gus Cammano was undoubtedly the one that got everyone's blood pressure pumping. Demonstrating immense bravery and strength Joint, tethered with a variety of ropes, harnesses, and hooks pulled himself more than 50 feet into the air where he hung as his colleague Cammano lowered himself from a bucket hight atop a 100 foot ladder to help bring him back to safety.
The demonstration by Tower Ladder 2 and Rescue Truck 1, Captain Brian Kaczka told TAPinto Bayonne, is a reminder that their job entails a lot more than fighting fires and responding to health emergencies. Adding that the training necessary to perform the rescue might never be put to life in a real life situation, they always need to be prepared to answer any call, he said.
"We never want to show up and be doing something for the first time," he said.
Visiting Special Agent Dylan Wiggins of the ATF was Nathaniel, 9, who got a chance to try on a ballistic vest and helmet. Both were "heavy" the boy said before offering that he feels "safe" by knowing the first responders are in his community.
It is Nathaniel's feeling of security, as well as that of others they serve, that Wiggins said they strive for in doing such community related events.
"We work for the community and we like to interact in the community," Wiggins said. "We want to be a part of the pulse of a community, we want residents to feel comfortable contacting us," he added calling it a "comprehensive" approach to law enforcement.
With the day drawing to an end, BCB Bank announced as the winners of the chili kick-off, and the Port Authority Police softball team handed the trophy as champions of the six-team tournament, Coughlin seemed satisfied with the way the day's event turned out.
"These are the good guys," he said surveying the parking lot filled with emergency vehicles. "Bayonne is safe and secure because of all of them."
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