While the men and women who work as firefighters, police officers, or emergency medical technicians generally do so without fanfare, those who have shown exceptional dedication to duty get their day each year at the annual 200 Club of Hudson County Valor Awards luncheon at Liberty House in Jersey City.
More than a dozen public safety personal were honored this year on April 29, including Jersey City Police Det. Melvin Santiago, who was killed by gunmen in an ambush last July. Also honored were two officers from the NJ Transit Police Department.
The club was established in 1984 and is one of 14 clubs statewide that acknowledge the achievements of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians for heroic acts that go beyond the call of duty.
A small group of business leaders in Hudson County came together in 1984 to talk about public safety in their communities and resolved to do something to raise public awareness about the dangers faced by first responders.
“They look at each and choose which ones to award.” – Mickey McCabe
The annual awards program was launched that spring, and later the organization added scholarship awards to their yearly schedule.
In addition, whenever a police officer, firefighter, or EMT is killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, the 200 Club immediately presents a no-strings-attached check to the family to be used to cover any expenses. Although families are eventually given compensation and pensions, those checks usually do not arrive until months after the tragic event, so the club makes sure the family has cash to deal with urgent expenses.
“We give thousands with no strings attached,” McCabe said. “These deaths are always unexpected, and they pose a significant burden on the families. “
McCabe said that the 200 Club takes nominations from a number of sources and then these are evaluated by a Valor Award Committee.
“They look at each and choose which ones to award,” he said. “It is very competitive.”
Members of the committee solicited nominations from police, fire, and EMS administrators, and union leaders throughout the county and viewed official reports on actions taken by officers during the nominated events. Nominees for valor awards must have faced extreme personal danger and acted without regard for their personal safety to protect others.
Jersey City officers receive Valiant Teamwork Awards
Sergeant Kevin O’Mara was at the local Exxon Station in July 2014 when the report came in about a security guard being attacked at the nearby Walgreen’s on Kennedy Boulevard.
“His wasn’t the first patrol car to arrive in the Walgreen’s lot,” according to the 200 Club tribute. “Two other cars had raced down Communipaw Avenue and pulled into the lot just ahead of him. A man matching the description of the guy who had attacked the security guard walked past the first car, approached the second, then abruptly turned and fired into the first car. Spinning around, he then began firing into the second car. He got real close to the police cars so he could fire directly into their windows. Then he turned to fire at O’Mara’s car. More gunshots rang out and the killer fell to the ground, mortally wounded.”
But Police Officer Santiago had been shot in the first vehicle.
Police Officers Casey McKenna and Daniel Mundo jumped out of their vehicle to stand guard over the fallen man and McKenna kicked the guy’s weapon out of reach.
Police Officer Ismael Martinez remained in the first vehicle tending to Santiago. When other units arrived to the crime scene, officers were taken to the Jersey City Medical Center for treatment. Santiago was later pronounced dead.
North Hudson Regional Fire fighters receive Valiant Teamwork Awards
North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Acting Capt. Thomas Huelbig, and firefighters Thomas Kross and Peter Mangin received their awards for rescuing a 65 year old woman and 94-year old man from a Union City fire last year.
“Despite the heat and smoke, firefighters entered the building and carefully searched to locate anyone trapped there,” the award citation said. “They managed to locate a 65-year-old female in the two-and-a-half story wooden building and were grateful to a Union City police officer who helped them get her out. She was severely burned and in respiratory distress, but Mangin provided her with a facemask to get her clean air and continuously talked to her to maintain her consciousness.
“Meanwhile, Kross and Huelbig tried to get back into the building, as they’d heard there could be a second victim. As other firefighters fought the blaze to clear a path for them, they struggled to get up the stairs to the second floor. There they found a 94-year-old man on the floor and managed to get his limp body downstairs where they began CPR. As medical help arrived, the woman was transported to St. Barnabas Medical Center’s Burn Unit but the man was declared dead.”
Two NJ Transit cops also honored
Police Officers Joseph Sperlazza and Christopher Graybill of the New Jersey Transit Police were conducting what New Jersey Transit calls a fare sweep, asking all riders on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to show their tickets or monthly passes. They encountered five young men who had no proof they paid for their fares.
When being questioned at the Garfield Avenue station in Jersey City, one of the men started to run. When the two officers tackled him a gun fell out of his pocket. One of the other men tried to grab the gun, but Sperlazza drew his weapon and ordered him back. The man with the gun was arrested, and the gun was traced to an out of state owner.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.