EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Atlantic County Firefighters Association recognized 10 firefighters for their dedication to the community and their service during the 25th annual Firefighters Valor Awards ceremony on April 20 at the Anthony “Tony” Canale Training Center.
Capt. Scott Tilton of the Bayview Fire Company received a Meritorious Valor Award for life-saving efforts he performed at an accident scene on the Garden State Parkway. Also, Egg Harbor City Fire Department Capt. Michael McKenna, Capt. Zach Perna and firefighter Zach Becker were awarded Meritorious Valor Awards for their response at the scene of a house fire.
The 50-Year Membership Awards were given to William Dayton Sr. of Dorothy Fire Company, Robert H. Ade and Walter R. Kienzle Jr. of Egg Harbor City Fire Department, Wayne Dilks of the Linwood Fire Department, Donald L. Stauffer of Scullville Fire Company No. 3 and Harry R. Craig Jr. of Sweetwater Fire Company No. 4.
The Rev. Thomas Sweeny, chaplain of the Atlantic County Firefighters Association, spoke about the sacrifices that firefighters make by dedicating their time to their communities. He said it would take too long to count the number of missed birthday parties, interrupted family dinners and sleepless nights.
“Tonight we honor our next-door heroes,” said Sweeny. “We do not see ourselves as heroes … we are the gal and guy next door who likes to laugh and play, to work and sweat and at the end of the day come home to our families. Then all of this changes when either in our careers or as volunteers that alarm is sounded and the call for help is carried across the radio waves as we respond to the needs of our community and our neighbors. To others we are transformed into the next-door hero.”
The Atlantic County Firefighters Association, the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department presented the firefighters with awards during the ceremony. Also, Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo, Assemblyman Chris Brown, Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson sent awards for the firefighters.
“The dedication that you give to your communities is tremendous,” said Sheriff Frank Balles. “You guys put your lives on the line and leave your families as soon as that pager goes off … It doesn’t matter what you are doing, you drop whatever you are doing, and you run out to make sure that that property is saved or that life is saved.”
Tilton, who is employed as a flight nurse with Mid-Atlantic Medivac, responded with Bayview Fire Company to an extrication assignment on the Garden State Parkway. Upon entering the overturned vehicle, Tilton found the driver with a severed arm. He applied a medical tourniquet and administered a blood clotting medication.
Tilton said he would not have been able to complete the life-saving task if it were not for all the other responders on the scene. “I was only one piece of the puzzle, there were multiple people there,” he said. “The stars aligned that day. We were in the right place at the right time and everybody came together. It was one big effort.”
The Egg Harbor City Fire Department firefighters responded to a mutual aid call where they discovered a semi-conscious victim inside a burning building. The firefighters were able to remove the victim from the building.
Chief Walter Kienzle III described the danger at the scene. “You could hear the gas meter was actually singing. I shut the gas off. Come to find out the building had actually exploded and it blew out both gable ends of the house,” he said. “Who knows what could have happened. We could have lost a lot of people, but we saved one and that’s why we are here.”
“It’s not often that we get to honor our own,” said Amor “Skip” Portale, president of the Atlantic County Firefighters Association. “If you talk to these folks that have received these valor awards, every one of them will tell you that it’s no big deal, I just did my job. But the people on the other end of that valor will tell you that it was a big deal.”
Six firefighters received their 50-Year Membership Awards during the ceremony.
“For individuals to give 50 years of their time to their municipalities with absolutely no pay or recognition other than the thank you that you get from your neighbors and elected officials, it’s incredible. It just boggles my mind,” said Portale.
Kienzle Jr. was surrounded by his family, three generations of firemen who all serve at the Egg Harbor City Fire Department, when he received his award.
“What motivates me right now is my two grandsons. When I get in the firetruck and look back at them getting geared up, it puts a lot in my heart,” said Kienzle.
The Atlantic County Firefighter Valor Awards program was organized in 1991 to honor emergency personnel and civilians who risked their lives to save others. Since then, 242 recipients — including firefighters, police, medical personnel and civilians — have been honored.