MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Who doesn’t like a free lunch? The offer to participate in the “BBQ for Badges” at Arbor Terrace Mountainside went out to first responders throughout the area a few weeks ago and, as expected, police officers, firefighters and EMTs dropped in from 11 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

And, no one should be surprised that each group that spoke to TAPinto was called back to duty to take care of a situation in their town – before their dessert arrived. Really!     

The barbecue menu included ribs, barbecued chicken legs, coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, hot and cold beverages, and a buttered roll – plus a choice of desserts. 

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Westfield Patrol officers Tiffany Kenny, a four-year veteran of the force, and Joe Habeiche, in his eighth year, ordered sandwiches when they first arrived and later shared a plate of food from the barbecue menu. They cleared their plates and deemed all the food delicious.

They were joined by Mary Bitting, a Red Cross volunteer from Summit, who had dropped into Arbor Terrace to talk about some programs offered in the fall. Senior Care Counselor Maria Owens invited her to stay and have lunch with the first responders. She ordered the ribs and sides, and a few minutes later, Westfield Patrol Officer Mike Pollock joined the trio – he, too, ordered from the barbecue menu.

As patrol officers one of their duties is to drop by the schools and to walk through them. The Westfield schools have a full time officer in the High School and two full time officers in the Middle School.  

At a nearby table Summit Fire Department Deputy Chief Con Nelson and Battalion Chief David Guida ordered a regular lunch. Nelson enjoyed sliced chicken over salad, while Guida favored a sandwich with chips.

Nelson has been with the Summit Fire Department for 32 years, Guida for more than 24 years. Both men responded to New York City with the Summit Fire Department on 9/11 and covered a firehouse in The Bronx for a few days.

Nelson said he appreciated the invitation to the barbecue, especially at this time of year. “It’s important for September 11 to be remembered every day,” and an event like the barbecue is “a way for this organization to recognize first responders,” he said. 

Guida called it a “dual purpose” lunch.

Nelson elaborated, “This is a way for us to meet other first responders, to put a name to a face,” faces they might see at a fire or other incident.

Before they could order dessert, their phones went off, and they were dispatched to a car fire on Route 24, in Summit.

Not long afterwards, as Westfield officers Kenny, Habeiche and Pollock were waiting for dessert to arrive, their radios went off and they were dispatched to a Springfield Avenue address.

Bitting stayed and enjoyed her ice cream -- in this instance, it paid to not be a first responder.

Westfield Police Patrol Officer Frank Moya, a 21-year-member of the department, arrived after his fellow officers had left. He called himself “a street cop. I like to be out on the street with the people.”

He said he was happy Arbor Terrace Mountainside held the BBQ for Badges and appreciated their interest in honoring first responders. The Italian American Club puts together a barbecue every summer at the Manor Pool and, while it is not specifically for first responders, “We are always invited,” he said.

A few minutes later, Westfield Fire Department Deputy Chief Anthony Tiller and Lieutenant Michael Duelks, an EMT with the Fire Department, arrived for lunch. They joined Moya, ordered barbecue and shared some stories.

Tiller, who has been with the department for more than 24 years, said the best part of his job is “giving back to the community. It feels great” to be able to do that. He said he drove the department’s first rig into Manhattan on 9/11 and, with other Westfield firefighters, covered a firehouse in Brooklyn for two or three days.  

Duelks, when asked if he always wanted to be a firefighter said, “My father was a Westfield firefighter ... We grew up with the department … It was something I always wanted to pursue.”  After 15 years in the department, he said he still loves being an EMT with the department.

As for Moya, he said he was “almost born in a police car” so it must have been his destiny. It’s a good story and one his friends hadn’t heard – check with him for the full details.

The barbecue received high marks from all the diners, much to the delight of Arbor Terrace Mountainside Chef and Dining Director Roberto Reymoso, who stopped by every table and checked on whether everyone was enjoying their meal.

Reymoso answered a lot of questions from Tiller, Duelks and Moya about the food, during a discussion which began with a question on whether the food is all prepared in house. Yes, it’s all made at Arbor Terrace – there are three restaurants in the facility and the staff knows what everyone can and can’t eat, whether they have allergies and, eventually, their personal likes and dislikes, he said.

There’s also a self-serve bistro that’s open 24 hours a day, where people can pick up a snack, cold drinks or make coffee or tea, he said. It’s right next to an area with a TV, so early risers or night owls can always find something to eat and entertain themselves.  

He handed the men the dessert menu, but just as they were deciding what to order, they received a call and within moments were on their way.

This was the first BBQ for Badges held at Arbor Terrace Mountainside, there was a sign-in sheet and a pamphlet on tips for first responders on how to deal with dementia and Alzheimer's patients during an emergency. The plan is for this to be an annual event and an even larger turnout is expected next year, especially when the word gets out on the delicious food.

Arbor Terrace Mountainside offers quality, state-of-the-art senior living and memory care. Arbor Terrace Mountainside gives residents the freedom to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. Independent, assisted living - we don't believe in labels. Instead, we believe in giving seniors the best service, no matter what you need.

Services Offered: Assisted LivingDementia & Memory Care - The Bridges Neighborhood

Arbor Terrace is located at 1050 Springfield Avenue in Mountainside. For more information, call 908-386-4179