SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Heroic actions, along with longtime volunteerism, were recognized earlier this week by the South Plainfield Borough Council and Fire Chief Thomas Scalera.

At a Sept. 26 meeting, friends and family gathered in borough hall as fellow residents, police officers, and fire department volunteers were presented with Life Saving Awards in recognition of their heroic rescue efforts this year. During the meeting, Charles Siedenburg and Robert Harding were also honored for 50 years of volunteerism to the South Plainfield Fire Department.

Life Saving Awards

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Harrison Avenue resident Usama ‘Sam’ Ghanem, Jr. and his sister Crystal were honored with Life Saving Awards for their heroic efforts in rescuing neighbor Linda Rudy from a house fire on Feb. 28. 

Just after 11 p.m., Crystal heard an explosion and noticed a fire at her neighbor’s home. She called 9-1-1 while her brother ran across the street and kicked in the front door. Although heavy smoke pushed Sam back, he did not give up and proceeded to the left side of the home. Through a window, Sam found Rudy lying face down near her basement steps. Risking his own life, Sam forced the side door open and pulled Rudy out of her burning home. Fire, police and EMS on scene then transported Rudy to the hospital. 

South Plainfield Fire Lt. Andrew Kolenski and South Plainfield Police Lieutenant David DeLair were also both presented Life Saving Awards for their efforts in rescuing an unconscious male from Spring Lake.

On May 19, Lt. Kolenski answered a knock on the fire department door and was informed by a female passerby that a man had fallen off the culvert and into the mouth of Spring Lake near Plainfield Avenue. After radioing for assistance, Lt. Kolenski ran from the firehouse and saw a man floating face up in the water. The man was not responsive or breathing and Lt. Kolenski, along with Lt. DeLair, worked to pull him ashore where members of the South Plainfield Police and Fire departments began administering basic life support.

South Plainfield Firefighters Joe Abbruzzesse and Mike Pellegrino and South Plainfield Police Officers Brian Zielinski and Mark Hollain, along with Plainfield Fire Lt. John Reed and New Jersey State Correction Officer Bryan Bostick also received Life Saving Awards for their heroic efforts in saving Donna Verdutis from a Florence Place house fire. 

On May 26, nearby residents Reed, a former captain of the South Plainfield Fire Department, and Bostick, a former New Market firefighter, both arrived on the scene to find occupants trapped within the burning structure. Together with Firefighters Pellegrino and Abbruzzesse and Officers Zielinski and Hollain, the men worked to pull Verdutis out of a downstairs window just as the upstairs window blew out and the fire flashed over them; unfortunately, Verdutis’ 83-year-old father Robert passed away in the blaze.

“For the firefighters and police, it has often been said you guys are running into danger when everyone else would like to run the other way and, 99 percent of the time, that is the case. We expect that of you guys, yet we still are amazed what the members of the fire department and police department are able to do,” said Mayor Matt Anesh. “For the residents who stepped up to help when others were in need, regardless of what your background is, is truly amazing and something to be proud of.”

Councilman Derryck White added, “Seeing how our citizens and first responders have aligned with the same mindset of reaching out and serving others really speaks to what our community is about and what makes us so different from other communities. We really look out for each other.”

50 Years of Volunteerism

Friends, family and fellow firefighters also gathered Monday evening to honor to longstanding members of the volunteer fire company. Both Charles Siedenburg and Robert Harding entered the South Plainfield Fire Department in 1966 and are currently celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

According to Scalera, who has known both men since he was just three years old, when Siedenburg and Harding joined the department, things were much different. Back then, said the chief, there were no air masks, dual lines were used for working fires, and there were open cabs on engines. “A lot has changed since then,” said Scalera.

Siedenburg began his career in fire service in Roselle and relocated to South Plainfield shortly after. Over the years, he rose through the ranks and became Deputy Chief, serving during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Siedenburg was the recipient of the Chief Hamilton Medal for firefighter of the year in 2008 and he was also appointed the company’s Sergeant-of-Arms, a rank he still holds today.

Harding was the recipient of the Chief Hamilton Medal for firefighter of the year in 1999 and, two years later, was honored for his heroic rescue of a victim from a sprinkler pit.  Today, he remains a very active participant in numerous state affairs pertaining to volunteer firefighters.

In addition to awards, both Deputy Chief Siedenburg and Firefighter Harding also received 50-year service badges for their uniforms from Gary Stephenson, president of the department’s executive board.

“The Borough of South Plainfield would like to congratulate the both of you and wish you nothing but the best as you continue to service our community,” Scalera said in honoring the two longtime firefighters. “Thank you for you service.”

Anesh added, “Fifty years of service is definitely an achievement and, on behalf of the entire governing body, the Borough of South Plainfield, and the surrounding communities, congratulations and thank you …” 

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