Maplewood Fire Department Honors its Own

Annual awards are given out at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting


Tuesday night's Maplewood Township Committee meeting was filled with proud family members of two kinds: the wives and children of the firefighters being honored, and the tightknit "family" of the Maplewood Fire Department.

"I appreciate the sacrifices the families (of the firefighters) make," said Fire Chief Joseph Richardella, who called the firefighters "everyday heroes."

Richardella noted the "unprecedented disaster" of Superstorm Sandy, "but no matter what was thrown at us we handled it." 

"Firefighters are reluctant to accept recognition for merely doing their jobs," said Capt. Joseph Callaghan, who presented the awards. 

The members of Platoon 2 -- Peter Lee, Alex Colatruglio, Rick Salkowski, Kevin Hayes and Ron Silbernagel -- were honored with a Unit Citation for saving the life of a man on Oakland Road who was in cardiac arrest. Callaghan noted the platoon's "coordinated efforts" and the quick four-minute response time.

The EMS Service Award went to Colatruglio, who was off duty at his Florham Park health club when a middle-aged man went into cardiac arrest. Colatruglio initiated CPR and alerted 911, but was informed there was no ambulance staff available to come to the scene.

"He was on his own," said Callaghan. Colatruglio continued CPR until the Advanced Life Support (ALS) unit arrived, saving the man's life.

"It is a testament to his determination and character," said Callaghan.

The department also awarded longtime fire department photographer Robert Dlugos.

In a surprise award, Maplewood Deputy Capt. Michael Dingelstadt was honored for 30 years of service to the fire dept., and in particular for his role helping the families of injured or deceased firefighters to navigate the pension and benefit system.

"He is a source of strength to the families," said Callaghan. Dingelstadt choked up as he said he was "proud to be a part of the Maplewood Fire Department family."

Richardella, who will retire in February 2013 after 31 years in the Maplewood Fire Department (three of them as chief), was honored by his men.

"This is bittersweet," said an emotional Richardella. "This department means everything to me. This is my family. These firefighters are my brothers."

"We are a family, and we learned how close we were during Sandy," said Mayor Vic DeLuca.

But perhaps the most moving part of the evening came when Maplewood Department of Public Works Director Eric Burbank approached the podium.

Members of the Maplewood Fire Department were first on the scene.

"Time was of the essence," said Burbank, who said doctors at University Hospital told him the way the rescuers responded was a "textbook case" on how to handle such a severe injury.

"They saved my son's life," said Burbank.

Turning to the assembled firefighters, he said, "Because of you guys, I have my son with me."


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