When the two alarm fire on Broadway was reported on April 23, Will Chwalyk of the Bayonne Fire Canteen heard it on the radio and immediately took out a cellular phone and sent a text message to the rest of the members.
For every two-alarm fire or worse, the Canteen members scramble to get to the scene.
“We go out to every two alarm fire, and we try to help the victims,” said Salvatore Gullace, one of a number of volunteers who leap into action when the call comes.
In this case, the first fire at 710 Broadway was reported at about 3 p.m. and declared under control about a half hour later.
“We got that text, too,” said Roberta Buchanan. “But we decided to come anyway.”
“We are a group of citizens that volunteer our time and talents to provide rehab services to our emergency service workers and victims.” -- Will Chwalyk
The fire gutted the apartment on the second floor, two story wooden frame building, which contained a laundry on the ground floor.
Canteen members were on the scene handing out refreshments to firefighters and others involved on the scene.
The Bayonne Fire Canteen was organized back in 1994 by a group of concerned citizens that wanted to serve the emergency services workers who worked tirelessly at the scene of disasters to save lives and property.
“By providing rehabilitation services, we accomplish our mission of ‘Proudly Serving Those Who Serve Us,’” said Chwalyk.
The Bayonne Fire Canteen has now been in existence for 16 years and has 30 active members. The group is on call 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and has served at many fire scenes and emergency situations in the City of Bayonne.
They scrambled to provide services when Bayonne became a hub of activity after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when the members of the Canteen were called upon to serve at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, the Fresh Kills landfill, the SI Homeport, at the South end of Ground Zero, and at two sites within the City of Bayonne.
“All totaled, our members collectively served over 200 hours assisting several thousand rescue workers and stranded motorists,” Chwalyk said.
“No taxpayers’ money goes into this,” Gullace said. “The Canteen raises its own money.”
This is why last weekend, drivers in Bayonne saw volunteers on the streets with tin cans, seeking to raise money in order to continue this service.
“It is only through generosity and support of local businesses, clubs, and that of the citizens of Bayonne that we have been able to continue our efforts for those personnel who serve us each day,” Chwalyk said.
The Bayonne Fire Canteen is a non-profit, tax-exempt (501-C3), all volunteer unit. This means that no member receives any salary for the time and effort that is put forth.
“It also means we receive no money from any government agency,” Chwalyk said. “So, you ask yourself, where do our funds come from? The answer is from donations, canister drives and from the many generous people we meet. We rely on the donations of private citizens to help us keep serving Bayonne's Bravest, Finest and EMS.”
The Bayonne Fire Canteen is presently seeking funds from local businesses and citizens to aid in its operating expenses.
“We are a group of citizens that volunteer our time and talents to provide rehab services to our emergency service workers and victims,” Chwalyk said. “Any contribution may be tax deductible. We accomplish our mission of serving our emergency service workers through the generous donations of citizens, business and industries in the City of Bayonne. We are always looking for new members. You can apply in person at our monthly meeting. We meet the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Post 19 located at 683 Broadway.”