CLARK, NJ – The Clark Fire Department was full of surprises during a heartfelt dinner thrown by firefighter Robert “Bobby” Hendricksen and his mother, Helaine Searles, to thank the CFD for their help after Searles was in an accident last spring.
In April, Hendricksen was driving his motorcycle when he was struck by a car that ran a red light, resulting in multiple spine fractures, two broken kneecaps, a fractured skull, a nearly-severed foot and more.
“My doctors thought they’d have to amputate my foot,” Hendricksen said. “I was pretty messed up.”
Hendricksen spent nine weeks in the hospital and was visited regularly by members of the CFD, but it was Chief Frank Cerasa who went above and beyond. Cerasa delivered cases of food and drinks, arranged transportation, assisted the family financially and worked with the town council to set Hendricksen up with the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association Relief Fund.
“They’ve gone beyond any expectation you could ask of your family,” Hendricksen said. “You join the organization and they tell you it’s a brotherhood, but once you get to see it, it’s something else. They were beside me the whole way.”
The fire department extended their services, buying dinner for Hendricksen’s entire floor one night, visiting multiple times per week and delivering his uniform to motivate him through rehabilitation.
“One thing that really sticks is when the Chief and the Deputy Chief took me outside the hospital and told me ‘we’re not only here for Bobby, we’re here for your whole family,’” Searles said. “Those little words meant everything. They carried us through his recovery.”
Friday night’s dinner was planned by Searles and set up with the help of Hendricksen’s younger sisters, Nicollette and Jessica Hendricksen. Bobby’s father, Robert Hendricksen Sr. and grandmother, Gail Mulligan, attended the dinner as well.
“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Nicollette said of the accident. “It’s still hard to see the changes, but it’s amazing that the CFD was there, because I couldn’t be.”
Nicollette, who lives in Florida, flew to New jersey immediately following the accident and again to attend the dinner. She postponed her wedding, scheduled for October, so her brothercan enjoy it.
“I called her, said ‘I think your brother’s dead’, and hung up on her,” Helaine said. “He was unresponsive. I couldn’t think.”
Nearly five months later, Hendricksen is progressing further than his doctors expected him to. Althought he’s still in rehabilitation for his foot, he hopes to become an active firefighter by December.
“He’s a great guy,” said Chief Cerasa . “He’s one of the best we've got. One of the few who’s dedicated and caring.”
Cerasa insisted the dinner was too much. He was unaware that Searles and Hendricksen arranged for a resolution by the State Senate to be presented to him by Councilman Steven Hund, thanking him for his service.
“From the town council, we appreciate everything that you do and the time you put in for us,” Hund said.
In return, Cerasa and the rest of the CFD presented Hendricksen with a Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket, since his first jacket was destroyed in the accident.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hendricksen said, fighting back tears. “It’s better than the one I lost.”
The room, full of firemen, friends and family, burst into applause as Hendricksen tried on the jacket.
“If you do it again, the next one’s on you,” one guest joked. “But we hope that you don’t.”
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