RAHWAY, NJ - Eddie Donnelly, President of the NJFMBA, the union that represents more than 5,000 firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers across New Jersey, announced the Tuesday passing of Israel Tolentino, 33, from COVID-19.

Tolentino, was married with two children, had one year on the job, and is now the first New Jersey firefighter to die from the virus, Donnelly said.

In an email to members Donnelly, directing his message to Tolentino, said “rest easy brother.”

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“We can’t provide him with a true firefighter’s funeral. We can’t have hundreds of firefighters at his house playing with his children and consoling his wife and family. We can’t have food sent to a grieving family and friends because no one can gather. We couldn’t spend time with him in the hospital when he took his final breaths because no visitors are allowed,” Donnelly lamented, calling that the hardest part of the loss as not engaging in those rituals is “out of character for us.” 

“We take care of our own, and while it may not be today, we will give our brother the tribute he deserves,” Donnelly vowed.

Donnelly called Tolentino’s death “the true impact of the devastating coronavirus, and a reminder of the added danger firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers, as well as other first responders and health care providers, face every shift we report for.”

Doubling down on the Union’s efforts to continue to ensure the safety of their members in the wake of the virus’ spread, Donnelly vowed to keep fighting “every single day to make sure that our members are equipped with the knowledge, and equipment, needed to keep us as safe as possible during this extraordinary time.”

“While washing hands and practicing social distancing is good advice for the general public, it is not enough for the men and women of the fire service,” Donnelly said, adding that “this was why it was imperative that we got access to information sharing related to positive COVID-19 cases, recognizing that no firefighter or EMT should have to respond to a call before being made aware of the additional hazards.”

Donnelly also put out a plea to his members to be mindful of their own physical and mental health as the battle against coronavirus continues. 

“As we look towards a brighter and more certain future, today we pray for our brother Israel, his family, and our brothers and sisters in Local 13/213,” Donnelly concluded.

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