A year ago, Matt Kilroy wanted to make a difference in his life. At the tender age of 16, Kilroy, a resident of Secaucus who attends St. Aloysius High School in Jersey City, said he was just relaxing, doing nothing particularly noteworthy, when a thought popped into his head.
“To tell you the truth, I was sitting home and just decided I wanted to become a paramedic,” Kilroy said. “I thought it would be a good thing to volunteer. I have a lot of people in my family who are cops and firemen, so it was in the blood. I just decided I wanted to learn how to become a paramedic.”
Kilroy comes from a lineage of public servants. His mother, Diane, is the civilian police dispatcher for the Secaucus Police Department and his father, Kevin, is a member of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department. In fact, Matt, now a 17-year-old high school senior, is also a member of the Secaucus Fire Department.
“I volunteer all over,” Kilroy said. “I have no life.”
But Kilroy decided to look for an ambulance and first aid rescue squad in the area that would best fit his needs. Someone recommended the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad.
“I heard good things about the Weehawken squad,” Kilroy said. “I heard that they were all very professional and that I could learn a lot.”
So a year ago, Kilroy decided to join the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad, much to the delight of long-time member and squad Vice President Tom Cheplic.
“It was good to get someone from Secaucus, a town with a good volunteer base which understands the value of a volunteer squad,” Cheplic said. “To be honest, my first impression of Matt was that he wasn’t going to last. Unfortunately, most of the people we get to join don’t last. It’s hard to have the kind of dedication necessary in a volunteer entity. When he joined, Matt was totally green, but he was willing to learn.”
“I was there all the time,” Kilroy said. “I wanted to learn as much as possible. Plus, the people were really good to me. It worked out well.”
In fact, it worked out so well that a year later Kilroy became the recipient of the second annual Lt. Robert D. Cirri Award, given to the squad member who responded to the most calls in the calendar year.
Kilroy responded to 265 calls in 2003, earning him the honor. Cirri was the former member of the Weehawken squad and Port Authority Police Lt. who died in the World Trade Center tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Without a doubt, it’s a big honor,” said Kilroy, who unfortunately missed the awards presentation and officers’ swearing-in ceremony at Town Hall last Wednesday. “I never expected anything like this. I’m just fortunate to have good people around me, people like Jeff Welz, Tom Cheplic and Phyllis Walsh, who have been very helpful and supportive to me. I’ve become pretty comfortable with what I do and I’m secure in what I’m doing.”
Cheplic has enjoyed working with Kilroy.
“He’s been great,” said Cheplic, who took the oath for his fourth term as vice-president during the ceremony. “I wish we had a few more like him. It’s nice to be able to infuse some of the younger guys with the experienced veterans. We can’t have a squad [completely] filled with people who have been around 10, 15 years, and we can’t have them all be kids either. We need a happy marriage. Unfortunately, we’re teetering toward the veteran end instead of the younger end.”
Added Cheplic, “It really is refreshing to have someone like Matt who has so much interest. I hope I had the same interest when I joined 14 years ago and I hope that I made the same kind of impression that he’s making now.”
Cheplic loves Kilroy’s eagerness to want to take as many shifts as possible.
“The best thing about him is his flexibility,” Cheplic said. “You can call at a moment’s notice and he’s there. You can’t put a price tag on that. I can’t do that anymore. I have too many commitments. I can’t come at the drop of a dime. But Matt is good that way.”
Kilroy doesn’t know what the future holds for him. He has enjoyed his experience thus far. He wants to attend paramedic school and may pursue a career in public safety, either as a police officer or a firefighter. After all, he’s still a teenager.
“I really have no complaints right now,” Kilroy said.
“He’s getting better,” Cheplic said. “He’s getting there. There’s more he needs to learn, but there’s more that I need to learn, and I’ve been here 14 years. He hasn’t mastered everything, but he’s progressing nicely.”
The members of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad who received their awards and the officers who took the oath will also be honored at the squad’s 35th anniversary celebration later this year.
“It really is a family atmosphere,” Cheplic said. “Through the years, it’s amazing how many of us have been to each other’s weddings and become godparents for our children. We take vacations together. It’s far more than just a volunteer ambulance squad. It’s a way of life.”
2004 Squad Officers
President – Jeff Welz (24th term)
Vice President – Tom Cheplic (fourth term)
Captain – Phyllis Walsh (second term)
1st Lieutenant – Julian Brian Mera (first term)
2nd Lieutenant – Giovanni Ahmad (second term)
2nd Lieutenant – Chayanne Moya (first term)
Treasurer – Al Berg (third term)
Secretary – Wayne Lavoie (16th term)
Assistant Secretary – Yves Saad (first term)
(career call totals)
100 calls – Katherine Gribble, Salvatore Barcia Jr., Brian Mannion
250 calls – Matt Kilroy, Yves Saad, Eva Solar, Jalmir “Jim” Walsh
500 calls – Giovanni Ahmad, Mary Ciuffitelli, Julian Brian Mera
1,000 calls – Judy Cirri-Gaffey, Phyllis Walsh
1,500 calls – Maria Moro, Robert Quigley
2,000 calls – Thomas Cheplic
2,250 calls – Robert Schwartz
3,250 calls – Wayne Lavoie
2nd Annual Lt. Robert D. Cirri Memorial Award for the member responding to the most calls in a year – Matt Kilroy (265 calls for 2003)
Life Membership for 10 years of service – Joseph Burns