Honoring First Responders for Valor

By Michael Hill

Bagpipes and bravery medals to Essex County law enforcers and firefighters who risked their own safety, lives and limbs in rescue and arrest.

Millburn Detective Lt. David Bonney did last July 4 when an autistic 8-year-old boy wandered away from a family gathering into the Rahway River. Bonney followed the current, waded in the water and found the boy choking and spitting out water.

He probably saved the boy’s life. “It was just a day’s work,” he said.

The 200 Club of Essex County handed out awards for “just a day’s work” better known as valor and $1,000 to each recipient. The club formed 51 years ago to help families of fallen officers and firefighters through membership dues, private-sector support and this luncheon. The sheriff is a board member.

“But I think that when you come on this job, when you go into the Police Academy, usually you’re told, ‘Listen, there may come a time when you will have to go in somewhere where other folks are running away from. Now if you want to step away now, if you’re not prepared to do that…’ And as far as I know in the Police Academy, during the training, you’re asked that. No shame. If you think this is not for you, step away. No hurt feelings. Go on and do something else,” said Essex County Sheriff Armondo Fontura.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said thank you.

“I want you to know that the residents of the town that I live in appreciate every single officer, every single police officer, every single fire officer, every single public safety person that walks the streets every single day, that does their job with integrity, without trepidation, with courage and with force,” he said.

Then, he stood beside a half dozen Newark firefighters getting valor awards. On Sept. 11 last year, they answered the call of a burning house in The Ironbound — heavy smoke and residents ready to risk it all to escape.

“We noticed them on the third floor balcony potentially about to jump. So, our captain gave us the instructions to grab the ground ladder and go to work,” said firefighter Louis Maisonave.

Maisonave and Ivan Encarnacio were still on probation, not even with department for a year. Maisonave got trapped on a second floor balcony holding a baby as the roof was collapsing.

What was he thinking at the time? “Am I really about to release a baby down two stories to my captain?” he said.

“It was great. It was a great feeling knowing that they didn’t [freeze], that they didn’t get scared at the moment. They did what they were told to do and they didn’t even think twice about it,” said firefighter Carlos Martinez.

Others were rescuing adults and a family pet, saying the 26 years of experience of Kevin Daniel, who seriously hurt his foot, gave them confidence.

“It’s just what we do. We risk our lives to save others,” Daniel said.

Encarnacion agreed. “Honestly, I just think we were just doing our job. It’s what we signed up for,” he said.

After risking life and limb to save life, what did the firefighters say to themselves going home that night?

“Another day at the office,” said firefighter Hilton Reynolds.