The sounds of drums and bagpipes boomed through the sanctuary of Ahavas Sholom, the Conservative synagogue in Newark, on Aug. 24, as fire and police officials paid tribute to 39 first responders at a severe chemical plant fire that erupted on March 9.
The fire blazed through the Boasso America Company on Doremus Avenue, trapping a boiler operator named Christopher Manning under a desk. Rescue workers spent several hours locating him in the burning building while three other injured people were hospitalized (see sidebar).
Manning, wearing a neck brace and walking with a cane, was on hand to receive honors along with members of Newark’s rescue, ladder, and engine companies; police and emergency medical service units; and responders who raced to the scene from nine other cities in Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Morris counties.
As he welcomed a largely non-Jewish audience of firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians from Newark and the other towns, congregation president Eric Freedman said, “We are a house of worship but we are also a community resource, and that is why today is so important and meaningful to us.”
Then, before blowing a shofar, Freedman wished those assembled “Yasher koach — May God continue to give you strength to walk on such a path.”
Ahavas Sholom’s religious leader, Rabbi Simon Rosenbach, followed Freedman.
“When you hear the alarm of a firetruck going to a call, most of us don’t think about the people going to that call, risking their lives to save a house, to save a factory, or to save a life,” he said. “A ceremony like this is a wake-up call. It reminds us that the people here know what they do every day, and we should think of them.”
Also paying tribute to the firefighters was Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
“The work that you guys do every day shows how important it is for human life and safety, but also how much courage it takes to go to a fire and not only put out a fire but rescue victims in very desperate conditions,” he said. “The men and women who do that need to get more than the awards we are giving them today.”
The first responders and Manning were presented with medals and citations, and drummers and bagpipers dressed in kilts played “Amazing Grace.”
The fire department’s Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Isaac Frankel, concluded the program by referring to the three Americans who were awarded France’s highest honor for stopping a terrorist gunman on a train heading to Paris on Aug. 21.
“The Jewish tradition teaches us for each individual life saved you have saved the world,” he said. “Let this day be a memory for everybody.”