Kearny patrolman Robert Turkowsky has been a Secaucus resident for the past 33 years. He said that an incident in late November between him and Secaucus volunteer firemen caused him to file an investigation report with the Kearny police, where he is an eight-year veteran.
“All I can say, since the incident is under investigation, is that I filed the report immediately with the Kearny police – about 20 minutes after the incident,” Turkowsky said last week.According to sources familiar with the investigation, Turkowsky said that he was cursed at and threatened by firefighters when he wanted them to move a vehicle parked in the street. The town of Secaucus has become involved because the town’s insurance company said that since the north end firehouse is already under investigation due to another alleged incident, the town must investigate this new matter as well.
Attorney hired by town
Mayor Dennis Elwell said he found out about the alleged incident on Dec. 22. “Turkowsky reached out to a someone in the community, and they gave me his number,” said Elwell. “I called [Turkowsky] and then found out about what happened.”
Elwell said that he spoke with the three fire chiefs, but got conflicting stories from each one. The Secaucus Fire Department fire chief is Raymond Cieciuch, the deputy chief is Robert Parisi, and battalion chief is Mike Gonnelli.
Elwell informed Town Administrator Attorney Anthony Iacono and Town Attorney Frank Leanza about the alleged incident. Leanza said that when the town’s insurance company was informed of the situation, the town was told to hire an outside investigator.
A special closed meeting was called on Dec. 23 by the Town Council to discuss “personnel and possible hiring of law firm.”
A resolution was passed on Dec. 27 to hire John Fahy to provide the town with legal services. Fahy, who was the Bergen County prosecutor from 1990 to 1995, said he was in the process of conducing the investigation and would speak with the three fire chiefs and members of north end firehouse.
“I have appointments to speak with the pertinent parties this week. The investigation should be completed by the end of the month,” said Fahy.
Cieciuch and Gonnelli said they could not comment about the incident since it was under investigation. Alleged incident
The alleged incident occurred around 4 p.m. on Nov. 27 at the north end firehouse during a Christmas Tree sale. The north end firefighters conduct the sale every year as a fundraiser for firehouse social events, according to sources close to the incident who did not want to be named.
They said that Turkowsky, who was off duty, was teaching his 7-year-old daughter to ride a bike on the sidewalk along Paterson Plank Road. A Department of Public Works truck was blocking the sidewalk by the firehouse. The little girl swerved into the street to avoid the parked truck, they said.
Turkowsky asked Captain Chuck Snyder to move the truck, the source said. The firefighter agreed, but when Turkowsky stood by to make sure the firefighters made good on their promise, trouble started.
According to sources familiar with the investigation, Turkowsky alleged that a younger firefighter started to curse at Turkowsky, who still had his daughter in tow.
Then, according to sources, Turkowsky told police that another firefighter came over and allegedly threatened to fight him. Eventually, Turkowsky was surrounded by a group of five swearing firefighters, Turkwosky told police.
There are over 20 members in the north end firehouse.
Captain Snyder did not return phone calls from the Hudson Reporter staff.
The firefighter who was accused of making the threat said he could not comment.
Kearny police officials said they could not discuss the incident at this time because it is under investigation, but did say that an investigation report had been filed with their department in November by one of their officers.
Back in July, two gay men filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the Secaucus Fire Department harassed them for over two years without town officials doing anything about it. The men lived next door to the north end firehouse and said they were harassed even after they moved out of town.
The suit has not yet been litigated.
That lawsuit names the Secaucus Police Department, past Fire Chief Frank Walters, Town Administrator Anthony Iacono, Mayor Dennis Elwell, and 30 unnamed individuals as defendants.
Elwell said the goal of Fahy’s investigation is to make clear not only what happened in November, but to show “these guys [the chiefs] that they need to look into these allegations immediately, do it professionally, and inform either myself, the town attorney, or the town administrator of the incident.”
Elwell said he should have been notified of the incident sooner.
“I don’t know what the investigation will reveal,” Elwell said, “but right now I have four different stories – three from the fire chiefs and one from the investigation report [that Turkowsky filed]. From our perspective, the problem is not so much the incident but that we did not find out from the fire chiefs until a month later that it occurred.”
Elwell’s administration has been at odds with some members of the volunteer Fire Department for over a year, over a number of investigations and issues.
In 2001, the Secaucus Fire Department was featured in an award-winning series by Hudson Reporter senior writer Al Sullivan, who wrote about alcohol abuse in the firehouses, which are used for social events.