HACKENSACK, NJ – Members of the community came together Friday to mark Arbor Day, as well as dedicate a tree to Dennis Walker, a Hackensack firefighter who died eight years ago of 9/11-related cancer.
During the ceremony, which was held at Hackensack Fire Department Engine 2’s headquarters on South Summit Avenue, a cherry tree was planted in honor of Walker, a 29-year department veteran.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Walker spent countless hours assisting in recovery efforts in Lower Manhattan. Due to his exposure to the many unknown substances at Ground Zero, Walker was later diagnosed with bladder cancer.
After spending many years battling cancer, Walker died on June 15, 2011. Walker’s passing was recognized as a line of duty death and he was added to the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Colorado.
On Friday, both Fire Chief Thomas Freeman and Mayor John Labrosse spoke about Walker and his commitment to public service. Then, Hackensack Shade Tree Advisory Committee Chairwoman Bernadette Bracken about the city’s overall efforts to beautify the community.
Mayor John Labrosse said, “A lot of our first responders did respond on 9/11, that tragic day, and Dennis was one of the ones who was there and unfortunately later came down with this terrible disease. This tree couldn’t be in a better place. This is where he spent most of his time. It’ll be a living tribute to him. Ever time you guys see it, you’ll think of him.”
Labrosse also encouraged current firefighters to pass Walker’s memory to younger generations in the years to come.
“Make sure they know what this tree is all about and tell them what type of man Dennis Walker was,” Labrosse said. “Keeping people’s memories alive is very important to us.”
A memorial plaque also acknowledges Hackensack has been recognized as a "Tree City USA" for 27 years, for its tree-planting efforts.
“Today, more than ever, we need to protect our green space,” Labrosse said. “I’m very proud of the trees that we have here in Hackensack. It’s a beautiful city and for it to have this many trees lining its streets is a beautiful thing.”
Hosted by the Hackensack Shade Tree Advisory Committee, the annual event commemorates the city’s standing as a Tree City USA.
Since 1991, the commission has marked Arbor Day by planting and dedicating a tree to a noteworthy individual or group in the city.
A few of those dedications include: “The Superhero Tree” (in honor of Fairmount School students who are committed to protecting the planet), “The Arts Tree” (in honor of programs that bring music, theater and visual arts to the city), “The Education Tree” (in honor of all students in city schools) and “The Community Tree” (in honor of those fostering a sense of community through recreation).