WAYNE, NJ – Al Piombo is the former Chief of Wayne’s Preakness Volunteer Fire Company #4 and still volunteers to battle fires in Wayne. Lately, Piombo has been sidelined as he fought his own personal battle with the coronavirus which hit him hard in early April.

This is not a story with a sad ending, though.

After fighting COVID-19 for more than a week in two different hospitals, Piombo was released to recover at home. Good news is rare nowadays, so it was natural that Piombo's brother-and-sister volunteers from all five Wayne Fire Companies and from the Wayne Memorial First Aid Squad arranged a drive-by parade to celebrate his victory, honor his return and share in his joy.

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Every Wayne firetruck, rig and ambulance available came slowly down Piombo’s street on Sunday afternoon with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  Neighbors spilled out of their houses at the sound and came to the road to wave, snap pictures and record the moment. 

“The parade was awesome!” said his Piombo's wife, Sue. She stood next to her husband as he sat in the sunshine in front of his house, thin and still pale, but smiling and happy. “This is the best medicine he could ever receive,” she said.

Piombo was overwhelmed with emotion and saluted his brethren as they drove past. “He considers the firemen his family, too,” his wife said.

“What started as a touch-and-go situation, under the care of some amazing health care doctors and nurses, resulted in a very happy outcome with Al now at home and on the mend,” said Ron Johnson who was there to capture the event in photography.

Wayne Fire Commissioner Bob Minarick took part in the parade, and afterword said: “Decades ago Al and I were officers during the same timeframe. Now he is one of the veterans who the rookies look up to for their leadership. I’m glad we will still get to spend time together both socially and volunteering as firefighters.” 

For Minarick and several of the firefighters, this day could not have been more of a contrast from the day before.

“Yesterday, companies 1, 2 and 5 were involved in a funeral procession and final alarm for a good friend and firefighter from Little Falls who succumbed to the coronavirus,” said Minarick.  He was talking about Little Falls Fire Department President Michael Burke who was laid to rest yesterday.

For the Wayne firefighters, these drive-by parades have usually been for the bad reasons: for funerals or to support hard-hit nursing homes. On Monday, Wayne Fire Company 3 will part of another funeral procession for a retired Paterson firefighter and former Company 3 member who succumbed to the Coronavirus.

This parade was a celebration of life, a tribute to overcoming the odds and surviving.

“Thanks to the expertise of our front-line healthcare professionals we got to experience what the residents expect from us as first responders,” said Minarick. “That is to put themselves into the hands of others and be delivered safely through a tragic time.”

Minarick summed it up well: “I would say this is as good as it gets.  For once, as we drove away, we were as happy as the people we did this for.”

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Mr. Piombo needs a few days to recover his strength.  Once that happens, he has agreed to an interview with TAPinto Wayne…Stay Tuned.

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