SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ - The 200 Club of Union County honored five Berkeley Heights firefighters at the 2018 49th Annual Valor Awards luncheon earlier this month at Shackamaxon Country Club in Scotch Plains. 

Battalion Chief Chris Esposito, Captain Matt Freudenberger, Firefighter Robert Marrese, Lieutenant Jim Hintze and Firefighter Austin Bucossi were recognized for their heroic efforts when conducting a rescue in a hazardous life-threatening situation when responding to a structure fire at 104 Orion Road in Berkeley Heights on April 2017. Other first responders receiving honors were members of Cranford Police Department, Elizabeth Fire Department, Elizabeth Police Department, Kenilworth Police Department, and Plainfield Police Department.

These heroes walked in a procession led by the Union County Pipes & Drums into the banquet room filled with fellow firefighters, policemen, family members and dignitaries. Berkeley Heights Mayor Bob Woodruff, Council President Jeanne Kingsley, and councilmen Manny Couto and Peter Bavoso were in attendance.

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"We gather every year, for 50 years since 1968, with tradition and ceremony to honor and publicly recognize those men and women who have chosen a life of public service," said Brian Gallagher in his welcome address. "History teaches us that this country is filled with those that put others before self, safety and security before possessions and community and country above all. That is what makes our police officers and firefighters stand above others. The ability to unite for a common goal, to fight for a better vision, and in the most pressing times, have those willing to give of the individual for the safety and security of those they don't even know." 

Prior to the presentation of awards, Gallagher told the sold-out room, "They [the honorees] all have the same reaction -- 'I was just doing my job' -- their job at that time was a defining moment in their life -- this was their moment. And their moment had great impact on the lives of others."  

Gallagher said that each honoree received a plaque, honor bars for their uniform, a challenge coin, and a sizable check, all as a small way of saying thank you and we recognize your actions and dedications.

Berkeley Heights Fire Chief Anthony Padovano provided a brief description of the heroic actions of the five members of his department.

"On the morning of April 13, 2017 at 12:48 a.m., the Berkeley Heights Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 104 Orion Road. On arrival, heavy smoke was showing from both the front and rear of the home. Neighbors reported that two elderly occupants were trapped inside.

Firefighters from Tower 1 were directed to enter the home via the front door and conduct a search for the occupants. Upon entering the home via the front door and conduct a search for the occupants. Upon entering the home, members encountered zero visibility. While conducting a search for victims, Battalion Chief Chris Esposito located an unresponsive woman in a bed, above the fire which was located in the basement. Battalion Chief Esposito, Captain Matt Freudenberger, and Firefighter Robert Marrese removed the woman to the front lawn, where Battalion Chief Esposito and Firefighter Marrese were assisted by members of our Police Department began CPR until patient care could be turned over to members of the Berkeley Heights Rescue Squad. 

Firefighters from Engine 4 were also directed to enter the home via the front door with a hose line and conduct a search for the occupants and the fire. Upon entering the home, members encountered zero visibility. While conducting the search, Lieutenant Jim Hintze and Firefighter Austin Bucossi located the second victim on the floor next to the bed where the first victim was found. Lieutenant Hintze and Firefighter Bucossi removed the victim to the front lawn, where they were assisted by members of our Police Department, began CPR, until patient care could be turned over to members of our Rescue Squad.

The actions taken by Battalion Chief Esposito, Captain Freudenberger, F/F Marrese, Lieutenant Hintze, and F/F Bucossi by conducting a rescue in a hazardous condition above the fire, best exemplify their primary duty as firefighters to save lives. 

For their ability to recognize and act in a life-threatening situation, I am honored to present the Medal of Valor to Battalion Chief Chris Esposito, Captain Matthew Freudenberger, F/F Robert Marrese, Lieutenant Jim Hintze and F/F Austin Bucossi."

About The 200 Club of Union County: How It Began...In 1968, a group of concerned citizens joined together to form The Two Hundred Club of Union County to “recognize” the valiant efforts of police, firefighters and New Jersey State Troopers in Union County. The organization was founded to ensure that our uniformed protectors and their families are never ignored or forgotten, and to encourage them to do their best. 

Over the past three decades, The Two Hundred Club of Union County has grown to become one of the strongest organizations of its type in New Jersey with more than 393 members. The Two Hundred Club provides financial assistance to families of Police and Firefighters who have given their lives in the line of duty. We also recognize the heroic achievements of these men and women each year at our Annual Valor Awards Luncheon held each Spring.