PATERSON, NJ - Included in the rich history of the Paterson Fire Department are, sadly, the stories of 33 men who gave their lives protecting others. Forever memorialized on a plaque that sits in front of the Bill Pascrell, Jr. Fire Headquarters on McBride Avenue, all, as well as four active duty and eight retired firefighters that passed away since a 2019 ceremony, were honored at the annual memorial service earlier this month.

Fire Chief Brian McDermott offered opening remarks following the presentation of colors by the Paterson Fire Department Honor Guard the Passaic County Police and Fire Pipe and Drum Band and shared that he has recently had time to reflect on what it means to be grateful, for his families, both at home and in the firehouse, for the friends he has and has lost, and for still being able to work in his chosen profession. 

McDermott turned his remarks to the additional danger COVID-19 has brought to the job since it began its spread in mid March. “Fire does not follow them home,” McDermott said. “The virus does.” McDermott then announced that every active firefighter would be receiving a medal to mark their extraordinary service during the global health crisis.

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Presentations were made to the families of Firefighters Gabriel Chavez and Gerald Behnke, as well as Assistance Chief Gabriel Aboyoun, their service, as well as that of Captain Dexter M. Paul, remembered with Firefighter Bob Allen, serving as the emcee, saying that each was more than an “average firefighter.” 

“They always answered the call,” Allen said, “not just for a fire, but for anyone that needed anything. 

With their brothers properly remembered the ceremony then changed course, honoring several firefighters whose extraordinary efforts in past months saved lives. These, including Chief Brian McDermott who received the Mayor’s Award in recognition of his leadership during the pandemic, by, among other things, expanding their ambulance squad, assisting the Paterson’s Department of Health manage testing centers, and establishing a Hazardous Materials Company to respond to incidents and decontaminate apparatus, ambulances, and firehouses, all “performed to the highest standards of the Paterson Fire Department.

 Receiving awards were:

Firefighter Francisco Peralta and Firefighter Louis Dearani who, on August 1, 2019, responded to a home on Elberon Avenue where they found a two-year-old girl unresponsive after she had been pulled out of a backyard pool. Firefighters Peralta and Dearani immediately began administering care, including back slaps and suction, to remove fluids while she was en route to St. Joseph’s University Center where she later recovered. If not for the quick care and calm demeanor of both firefighters, a statement read, the incident “may have turned extremely tragic.”  

Firefighter Sean Daly and Firefighter Trevor Foudy who, on July 29, 2019, responded to 57 Madison Street to provide care to a critical patient. Upon arrival at the home, Firefighters immediately began administering care to a young female who had suffered an overdose. While attempting to load the patient onto a stretcher inside the home the two, along with paramedics from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, were attacked by a pit bull, leaving Firefighter Daly with wounds to his ankle. Despite the danger, all, additionally joined by Captain Howard Anderson, Firefighter Kevin Beekman, Firefighter Israel Rosa, and Firefighter Jordan Parchment, continued to administer care and saved the patient.

Captain Ryan Fender, Firefighter Ricky Toledo, and Firefighter Michael Oates who, on March 28, 2019, responded to a home at 30 Highland Street on a report of a sick female. Once on scene Firefighter Oates heard what sounded like a gas generator running in a first story garage. On the way to the third floor to locate the patient Firefighter Toledo detected the strong odor of exhaust and their carbon monoxide detector activated indicating high levels of the deadly gas in the home. Noticing that several residents were displaying signs of poisoning, Firefighter Oates began by assisting an elderly male and removing a 10-month old girl from the home as Firefighter Toledo attempted to alert a 19-year-old male and assist him in evacuation. Firefighter Oates then returned to the home to evacuate a 20-year-old female. All four victims, as well as Firefighters Oates and Toledo, were transported to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center where they were treated for Co poisoning. 

Captain Frank Liscio, Firefighter Christopher Tirtilli, Firefighter Trevor Foudy, and Firefighter Andrzej Kalata who, on August 1, 2019, responded to Van Houten Street where a critical patient was pinned beneath a train on the NJ Transit Rail Line. Finding the victim to be semi-conscious and suffering from the double amputation of his legs, the crew, additionally joined by Firefighters Jesus Garcia, Israel Rosa, and Derek Martinez, along with paramedics from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, provided critical care to the patient, including by administering CPR,  and transported him to the hospital where he was ultimately treated and survived the extensive injuries. The response, it was noted, was also captured live on national television as the crew was being filmed by A&E’s Live Rescue.

Receiving the Chief of Department Medal was Firefighter Daniel Daly who, on August 2, 2019, “exhibited the best of what it means to be a Paterson firefighter” when he showed an 8-year-old autistic boy who had been admitted to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center his ambulance. According to the report the boy was under the care of Nurse Margo Scudillo who was informed that the boy was fascinated by the vehicles. “The delight on the boy’s face to see the lights on and the doors open up,” the report read, “truly moved Nurse Scudillo and the boy’s parents” and prompted the boy’s father to say that no one is ever that nice to his son.

Taking part in the ceremony for the first time in 2020 were members of the Paterson Explorers Post 1, a feature that McDermott recognized as an important opportunity to help guide them to the future. "It is important that we mentor young leaders, who them the right things to do."

Among the students were Stacy Arvelo, a sophomore at PCTI and Antonio Morales, a first year students at PCCC. "Who would've thought we'd get to be a part of something like this," Arvelo said recognizing the significance of the ceremony. Asked what he took from the event Morales said that it was the value of teamwork and family. "They always work together," he said of the firefighters. "They are always there for one another."