WAYNE, NJ – Long-time Wayne Township Fire Official and volunteer firefighter, Greg Velardi had his last day of work before retirement on Thursday and as he walked out of Town Hall for the last official time, he was surprised by his firefighter family who came to honor his service to the town.
“I was going to leave early, but my wife said that my nieces were coming with balloons,” said Velardi.
His nieces were indeed waiting for him when he walked out the doors, but so were sixty or so fellow Wayne firefighters lining the walkway and crowding the front of town hall (at six foot intervals and wearing masks). As Velardi came out, they broke into cheers and the fire trucks, ambulances and police cars that lined the parking lot blared their sirens and turned on their lights.
“It was overwhelming,” Velardi told TAPintoWayne later. He choked up and through his emotions could barely say: “It makes me so proud to be a member of the Wayne Fire Department. We’re all brothers, and we all stick together.”
Velardi began his service to Wayne when he volunteered for Wayne P.O.L Fire Company #2 in 1979. He was hired by the Township in 1986 as a fire inspector and in 2002 was promoted to Fire Official.
“His job was to protect the entire community of Wayne including residents and everyone who worked here and shopped here,” said Wayne Fire Commissioner Bob Minarick. “From Midnight to 8:00 a.m. that’s about 55,000 people. From 8:00 a.m. to midnight that can be close to 300,000 people, and he was tasked to keep them all safe.”
“As Fire Official, I oversaw all the fire inspections for the entire township, commercial and residential,” said Velardi. “The Fire Bureau makes sure that all the properties are following code, have the proper equipment that is in working condition and maintained.”
Current P.O.L. Fire Company #2 Chief Steve Toth has been friends with Velardi for 37 years. “He was in the company when I joined,” said Toth, and tears sprang to his eyes as he spoke to TAPintoWayne after the surprise. “He’s got a heart of gold. He makes sure the Fire Department gets the support they need from the fire bureau. He makes sure that the codes are followed, and the rules are followed that keep all of us safe, including us firefighters. We’re all one big family, and he wanted to keep all of us safe.”
“I remember when Greg joined the township many, many years ago,” said Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano. “He has served the Township well and has kept us all safe as our Fire Official. Greg comes from a family that for multiple generations has volunteered their time in the Fire Department and First Aid Squad. Wayne is a better place because of Greg Velardi and the Velardi family.”
The Velardi family has a long and distinguished history as First Responders. Beginning with Life Member Gregory “Hank” Velardi Sr. who devoted 64 years of service to P.O.L. Fire Company #2 and the residents of Wayne Township. Hank passed in April 2019 at the age of 89.
Greg and his older brother Frank Velardi are Hank’s sons. They are also both considered Life members and are both former Chie’s of Company #2.
Greg's three nephews are Ex-Captain Timothy Velardi, Exempt Member Paul Velardi and Current Captain Robert Velardi. All five Velardi’s are currently active members of P.O.L. Fire Co. #2 in Wayne.
This first responder family doesn’t end there. Frank and his wife Gillian are also members of the Wayne First Aid Squad. Their sons are Paul Velardi (27) a Police Officer with the West Caldwell PD. Paul’s twin brother Tim Velardi is an FDNY Firefighter on an Engine Company in the Bronx and 23-year-old Robby Velardi is an FDNY EMS Medic stationed in the Bronx.
“I want to thank everyone who participated,” said Velardi. “All the chiefs, the Commissioner, all the firefighters. I want to thank everyone who cooperated with me over the years: the Mayor, the administration, the business administrator. They were phenomenal and let me pursue whatever I had to pursue.’
Velardi’s parting message to all his firefighter family: “Stay safe and be careful out there,” he said.
Rich Boonstra is stepping into Velardi’s large shoes as the next Wayne Fire Official. Velardi gave him high praise: “Rich worked with me for the last 18 years. He’s a good guy and quite capable of handling the position.”