In 1987, the Weehawken native wanted to know more about cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, simply to be prepared in case of an emergency.
"I didn't want to have the sense of feeling helpless when something happened," Schwartz said. "I wanted to do something about that feeling, so I took a CPR course at the [Weehawken Volunteer First Aid] Squad. I had some neighbors from across the street, the Cannon family, who were members of the squad. It was always something I said that I should do. It sort of just snowballed into me joining the squad."
That was 14 years ago. Little did Schwartz realize that the simple curious act of wanting to learn something would evolve into a lifetime of commitment in service to the Weehawken community.
For the second straight year, Schwartz was the member of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad who responded to the most calls during the calendar year of 2000. Schwartz responded to 211 calls, which represented exactly 10 percent of all of the calls the entire squad answered last year.
Recently, the Volunteer First Aid Squad held its annual awards banquet at the Weehawken Elks to honor the members who gave countless hours to help those in need.
Schwartz was to receive the award for responding to the most calls, but he stayed away.
"I've yet to show up for one of these awards ceremonies," Schwartz said. "I shun the limelight. It's not my style. I am honored to receive the award, but I'm not for the social gatherings."
However, there isn't a single person among the 25-member squad that would question Schwartz' dedication and devotion he has for the organization. Schwartz is also an accomplished artist who has designed and developed the logo that appears on the squad's uniform patch, the logos that the squad used for both the 25th and 30th anniversary celebrations, as well as the new logo which graces the wall of the squad's headquarters on Highwood Avenue.
"For years, the squad used a logo featuring the Manhattan skyline," said Schwartz, who still considers himself as an aspiring artist. "To me, that seemed to be an insult. That's the big city across the river. That's not Weehawken. I thought it would be good to bring back the Indian motif. It's the high school's nickname and Weehawken itself is an Indian name. So I took it upon myself to redesign the logo, using the Indian head with the Star of Life."
Added Schwartz, "The new one I designed features the Indian looking forward, instead of the profile. It's a sharper look. It seems to symbolize what the squad is all about. The Indian is a wise sage, always protecting. That's what we are."
Schwartz offers a different persona to the squad.
"It's what makes Bob unique," said Jeff Welz, the First Aid Squad president for the past 21 years, who also doubles as the township's public safety director and the co-director of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue. "Bob has done that for us for a number of years. He understands the full commitment of being a member of a volunteer first aid squad."
Not always a career
Most people join a volunteer first aid squad to gain the necessary experience to become professional emergency medical technicians or other forms in the medical field. In fact, over its 32-year history, the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad has produced five members who became doctors, as well as countless EMTs and paramedics.
But that's not Schwartz' goal. He has a governmental job as a translator for the U.S. Post Office and for Customs, dealing with commercial transactions.
"I have a very flexible schedule with what I do, so that gives me the opportunity to spend time on squad duty," said Schwartz, whose father, John, was the Grand Marshall of the Weehawken Memorial Day parade last year. "I think being a doctor or being in the medical profession is a very noble idea, but I'm too ambitious for that. My usual shifts are Friday night and Saturday during the days and one overnight shift."
Added Schwartz, "It's a marvelous opportunity to see the real world. The most popular television show now is 'ER.' Well, I get a chance to live 'ER' this way. It provides a continual challenge and is never boring. It fulfills a lot of functions, especially the camaraderie between members and the sense of community. And it acts as a window to the world of medicine."
Schwartz was not the only member to be honored at the annual awards banquet. First, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner officially swore the Squad's members into office. Welz earned his 21st straight term as president and Tom Cheplic earned his first term as vice-president.
Also, George Lindgren (captain), Robert McMahon (first lieutenant), Numargo Vasquez (second lieutenant) and Giovanni Ahmad (assistant secretary) were all sworn in for their respective first terms of office.
Lou Kairys was sworn in for his 15th term as treasurer and Maria Moro began her second term as a second lieutenant.
Members of the Weehawken Township Council presented service awards to the following members: Mary Ciuffielli, Sumit Shah and Numargo Vasquez (100 calls answered); Vasquez (250 calls); Robert McMahon (500 calls); McMahon and James Gaffey (750 calls); Maria Moro (1,250 calls); Tom Cheplic and Schwartz (1,750 calls) and Wayne Lavoie (2,750 calls).
David McNeese received the life membership award for 10 years of service to the Squad.
"Like any other volunteer organization, we have people who give up of their free time to answer the call," Welz said. "They have to deal with all the adversities, life, death, new born babies, saving lives. This is our chance to recognize the service that our members provide."
Added Welz, "Our members could very well be doing what they do for a paycheck elsewhere, but they remain loyal and do it here for nothing. The people of Weehawken and neighboring towns can live by that loyalty. It's worth its weight in gold."
Cheplic reiterated the importance of having the awards ceremony.
"There are lot of people here, with Bob probably first and foremost, that are not in it for the pomp and circumstance," he said. "Bob didn't receive this award for not being here. He's an integral part of what we do. I still believe that it's more of a social gathering with awards thrown in. The real awards are the letters of thanks we receive from people."
"I'm not much of a party person," Schwartz said. "I prefer to stay in the background."
Schwartz said that he never imagined he would still be an active member after 14 years.
"I had no idea it would turn out this way," Schwartz said. "You never know what the future holds. I've made a lot of friends over the years and it's opened the doors to meet a lot of people and it brings people together. Maybe someday, it will become a professional thing and that will be tough to give up. But I hopefully can still be a part."
And all anyone would need as a reminder to Schwartz' commitment would be a glance at the front hood of the ambulances and a glimpse of the familiar logo he created.