The bond between firefighters is known to be strong, but it Maplewood it seems to run particularly deep.
Case in point: Captain Joe Callaghan of the Maplewood Fire Department and retired Firefighter Greg Snell. Callaghan is a 20-year veteran of the force, a father of four and an unofficial press liaison for the department. Snell, forced to retire because of failing kidneys after more than 18 years of service, was a beloved member of the department. In November, Callaghan volunteered to give Snell a kidney.
Tuesday night, Maplewood Fire Chief Joseph Richardella surprised Callaghan and presented him with the Firefighter of the Year award — an award that has only been given three times in Maplewood history. Richardella had told Callaghan to be on hand for an Employee Longevity Recognition event. Veering from the printed agenda, Richardella described Callaghan as "a true humanitarian," saying he gave "countless hours of sacrifice" and "had earned the love and respect of his peers." After presenting the award to Callaghan, Richardella appeared to swipe at tears.
A stunned Callaghan recovered quickly from the surprise and told the assembled crowd that giving Snell his kidney was an easy decision to make.
"He's just a big teddy bear," said Callaghan. "He's the best guy you'd ever want to meet. Seeing him that ill, it was the easiest decision I ever made."
Others agreed. "You should meet Gregory," said former Fire Chief Dennis Carragher, "He's the nicest man. If you could get 15 or 20 of him!"
But Callaghan is no slouch himself. When Maplewood Police Sgt. Dave Cross heard of Callaghan's gift recently, he said, "That sounds like something he would do."
Snell himself could not be on hand for the ceremony, but his brothers Jeff and Jack and other friends and family attended. Jack said Greg was on the mend: "He's doing great! After eight years of dialysis, he's not going anymore!"
The event had every face in the large crowd at Town Hall beaming. Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino's admiration and astonishment was typical. Said Cimino, "A story like this ... it's incredible!"