Academy renamed in honor of fallen
Monday, November 10, 2003


MAHWAH - Usually, they battle heat.

But on Sunday, two dozen Bergen County firefighters and officials braved the cold to honor 74 of their own.

Wearing only their navy blue dress uniforms, about two dozen fire chiefs and other officials stood under a cold, cloudless sky to rededicate the county fire academy in Mahwah in honor of Bergen firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

A large red-and-white sign at the top of the three-story academy building on Campgaw Road bears its new name: Bergen County Fallen Firefighters Memorial Life Safety Center.

That somber appellation replaces the humorous political signs that until last spring decorated the building's brown concrete exterior. They read "Schuber Cinema," "Mola Five & Dime," and "Cassano Hair Salon," after former County Executive William "Pat" Schuber, Freeholder Richard Mola, and former Freeholder Anthony Cassano.

Schuber, Mola, and Cassano are Republicans. The current county executive, Dennis McNerney, is a Democrat. He ordered the signs removed in May and asked the fire academy to propose its own name.

"Politics has literally left the building," said Frank DelVecchio, director of the county Law and Public Safety Institute, which includes academies for training firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical workers.

McNerney made no reference to the old signs. But he said the new name is a small sign of appreciation for firefighters who have paid with their lives.

In the same way that many Americans recall where they were when they learned President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, McNerney said, "I know where I was when those firefighters died in Hackensack."

He was referring to one of the county's worst losses of firefighters, when five perished in a blaze at a Hackensack Ford dealership on July 1, 1988.

The list of 74 names read Sunday included those five, as well as all the others who have died over the past 75 years. They also include those who died of natural causes on the job.