MANCHESTER – A former fire chief felt snubbed because volunteer companies were not included in a September 11 remembrance ceremony, but the mayor said that was not intentional and characterized this as a political issue.
Joe Hankins, who is a former township fire chief and a council candidate in November issued a statement to the news media which made its way to township social media sites saying the three Manchester volunteer fire companies were excluded from the memorial service.
“I attended the township’s 20th anniversary of the September 11th memorial ceremony. As vice president of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, I have the opportunity to attend similar events in many towns across our state. Overall, this remembrance was organized – Geraldine Oliverie was as always, a class act,” Hankins stated.
“There were vocalists, opening and closing prayers. The patriotic theme was there. What was not there, however, were the dedicated volunteer firefighters that serve our community every day,” Hankins added. “There was one truck from the Manchester Fire Department operated by one of their members. When I asked him where the other three township volunteer fire companies or members were, his reply at first shocked me, ‘we were never notified or invited’ he told me.”
Hankins said the volunteer told him he had ‘brought a truck over because I thought there should be a fire truck here.’ Later, as the service went on, I thought about it more, and became infuriated.”
“This firefighter’s dedication to the community and his commitment to the volunteer service, even though he only found out about the event through a Facebook post a short time ago, is a testament to the level of devotion he has to our community,” Hankins added.
“It’s absolutely vital for our township to support our volunteer firemen. They selflessly serve our community every day and they deserve to be recognized and respected for their efforts,” Robert Arace said. Arace is running for mayor to unseat current mayor Robert Hudak, both Republicans. Hankins is his running mate, going for a council seat.
Hankins said he reached out to current and former fire chiefs of the three volunteer fire departments about the matter and “these chiefs advised me they were in meetings with the town just a few weeks ago and there was no mention of a memorial service.”
“Though members of the paid fire service attended with their new fire truck this morning, I found it odd that the township would pay, or offer overtime to firefighters to attend the service and not invite the volunteers,” Hankins added.
The former fire chief said he has been a member of the Manchester Volunteer Fire Department for more than 40 years and was “disappointed that a service to honor those emergency responders, and citizens who perished, would exclude the emergency responders that serve our community.”
Mayor Robert Hudak and Township Business Administrator Brandon Uma told The Manchester Times that there was nothing nefarious involved in the situation and that Hankins’ information was not accurate.
During a September 13 Township Council meeting, the mayor read his own statement to the public. “The township did not have anything planned for the 20th Anniversary of September 11th. In fact, we had never held any type of services for this day in the past. As the new mayor, I felt the Township needed to have a service to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this tragic event.”
“At that time, I asked our Recreation Department, who has been responsible for organizing our Memorial Day events, to make all the necessary invites, advertisements, create a program and organize for this service. The Recreation Department handed out flyers for the service at our August 25 Concert Series and created Facebook posts that same week advertising the event,” Hudak said.
The mayor added, “in fact, several members of the public including Mr. Hankins and some of our firemen shared our event page on Facebook. In the end, unfortunately it appears that some organizations and departments were not directly notified of the event.”
“Because of that they felt they were not invited to attend, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the haste to get this event organized, I now recognize that some things fell through the cracks. Nothing was done intentionally,” he added. “Our goal was to honor the memory of all those who were lost on September 11th, which included the tragic loss of many first responders. In the future I will work with our Township staff to ensure that more direct invites are sent to our departments and organizations.”
“Lastly, it was stated that our Police Department Honor Guard, paid Fire Department and paid EMS were being paid overtime to attend this event. This is completely untrue; no Township staff were paid overtime in order to attend this event,” Hudak said.
He added, “our paid Fire Department and paid EMS requested to attend upon learning of the event through social media. I wholeheartedly support our volunteer firefighters and fully appreciate their selfless dedication to the service they provide to our community.”
“It disheartens me that this was turned into a political attack, which has taken away from the purpose of holding such a service in town which was to remember the tragic loss we felt 20 years ago,” the mayor concluded.