Police and fire honor guards, along with bagpipers from the Hudson County Pipes and Drums, led the way into St. Francis Roman Catholic Church last Sunday, where members of Hoboken's bravest and finest came together to celebrate their 60th annual communion breakfast.
The event is the only one of its kind still in practice throughout the state, according to Hoboken PBA president Detective Vince Lombardi. Lombardi added that the similar "Blue Mass" in Newark only includes police officers, and was inspired by the Hoboken tradition. After mass, firefighters and police officers, along with the honor guards and bagpipers, marched into a room at Stevens Institute of Technology for a breakfast that celebrated tradition, paid a tribute to fallen heroes, and allowed them to enjoy each other's company. Coming together
Firefighter and event committeeman Bobby Chaneski estimated that over 150 firefighters and police officers took part in the event, which, he said, gives members of both departments a chance to spend time together off the job. "It's a place where we can sit and talk about family business and catch up on old times," said Chaneski, who has been a firefighter for five years. Chaneski mentioned that members of the two departments work well together, collaborating on different emergency calls. And he said that the often-reported rivalry between the two departments isn't what it's trumped up to be. "It's more a myth than anything," he said. "We get along well, especially in Hoboken." Retired Deputy Fire Chief Bill Bergin, who served from 1960-1991 and has been attending the breakfast for over 40 years, agreed with Chaneski's statement. Well, almost. "It hasn't been that way at sporting events," he joked. Bergin, the unofficial curator of the Fire Department Museum on Fifth and Bloomfield, said that he has attended almost every breakfast since he joined the department in 1960. He said that the event also was originally meant to get lax Catholics back in line. "It's always at the same time of year, to complete Easter duty," he said. "If you're slacking off, it gets you back to church." A family affair...
For many, the annual affair is also a family tradition. A good number of Hoboken firefighters and police officers have relatives that either served or currently serve in one of the two forces. Lombardi estimates that about 30 percent of the Hoboken Police Department has family also in the police or fire department. He is no exception. His father, retired Sgt. Vince Lombardi Sr., was also at the breakfast. And his brother, Richard Lombardi, is a fire captain. Chaneski's family also has a tradition in public safety. His uncle, retired police sergeant Frank Altomare, started Hoboken's K-9 unit. Father Peter Palmisano, who offered the blessing before the breakfast, is the brother of event committeeman Fire Battalion Chief Frank Palmisano. Their father, Moe Palmisano, is a retired Hoboken police officer. And a somber celebration
At the event, Father Palmisano said a prayer for retired police officers and firefighters who had passed away in the past year. A moment of silence was also observed for the nine firefighters killed in the line of duty in South Carolina, as well as for N.Y. Firefighter Daniel Pujdak. Police officers and firefighters also heard a moving speech from N.Y. police detective lieutenant Steven McDonald, who spoke about public safety issues and the power of forgiveness. McDonald became quadriplegic after he was shot several times while on patrol in Central Park in 1986. He later forgave the 15-year-old gunman who shot him, and now travels around the country, speaking about the importance of officer safety, as well as the importance of forgiveness and spirituality. Those in attendance said it was a very moving speech. "His inspiring and emotionally-charged words were inspiring and mesmerizing," said Lombardi. Bergin said that the entire room, including children, were captivated by the speech. "I never heard a crowd as quiet," Bergin said. "How the parents kept their children from crying I don't know." Longstanding tradition
The first Annual Department of Public Safety Communion and Breakfast - as it was called back then - was held on May 25, 1948. Communion Mass was held at St. Peter & Paul R.C. Church, and breakfast followed at the Myers Hotel (now Marine View Plaza at Fourth & Hudson streets.) It was organized by the late Rev. John A. Wiesbrod, Hoboken's Police & Fire Chaplain. The tradition has endured, but the ceremony is now less religious, and members of all faiths are welcome. Comments on this piece can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.