CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. -- It did the hearts of those who knew and loved Cliffside Park Police Officer Stephen Petruzzello good to receive a visit Wednesday from a national group of bicyclists dedicated to honoring fallen emergency service workers.
"We always say, 'Never forget'," Police Chief Richard Gaito told Daily Voice. "But to actually see a physical reminder -- that's pretty special."
Jeff Morse, the founder and president of the Brotherhood Ride, presented plaques signed by group members to Petruzello's loved ones, as well as to the family of late borough firefighter Cosmo Paris, during their visit to North Jersey.
Morse also gave the families $3,000 each during a brief ceremony at police headquarters.
He made similar presentations elsewhere for:
Wallington Fire Capt. Gregory Barnas, who was killed after falling from the roof of a burning restaurant before dawn in February 2014.
“Barney” was a teenager when he joined the volunteer department in 1972, serving as chief five years later. He was also a career Jersey City paid firefighter -- and served as captain of Ladder Co. 6, one of the city’s busiest. An instructor, Barnas taught high-ladder rescue operations nationwide.
Waldwick Police Officer Christopher Goodell, 32, who was working a radar detail in his unmarked cruiser, parked on the shoulder of southbound Route 17, when it was struck by an 18-wheeler driven by a Brooklyn trucker before dawn in July 2014.
The impact instantly killed the five-year veteran public servant and U.S. Marine , who served with the Waldwick Police Department for five years and was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s New Jersey chapter for outstanding efforts in drunk driving enforcement.
Also honored by the Brotherhood Ride were two Jersey City public servants who died in the line of duty:
Firefighter James Woods, 44, who died on Dec. 26, 2014, after completing a 24-hour shift on Christmas morning. The 15-year department veteran was feeling tired and had gone to lay down at the firehouse before his body was found, authorities said.
Detective Melvin Santiago, 23, who was gunned down in cold blood in July 2014 by a madman who'd taken the weapon from a Walgreens security guard.
Barely a month out of the Bergen County Police Academy, Petruzzello and his partner were walking a beat near the Palisade Avenue sub-precinct, where they were stationed, when they were hit on Walker Street by a Honda CRV driven by a college professor who lived in town .
Petruzzello "was a bright, hard-working young man, with a lifetime of potential before him [who] died protecting the residents of Cliffside Park," Gaito said.
Paris, 59, was stricken while driving home from a call at 696 Anderson Avenue in January 2014. The 18-year department veteran was known for his dedication to firefighting, as well as for creating miniature fire trucks — roughly the size of golf carts — from discarded vegetable crates and other recyclables.
The Brotherhood Ride aims to provide emotional and financial support to families of the fallen, while making sure that the public never forgets their sacrifices. Its riders come from all branches of emergency service -- from police officers to firefighters to EMS responders.
Morse, a firefighter in North Naples, Florida, created the group after nine firefighters died in a blaze at a sofa manufacturing plant in Charleston, SC, in 2007.
The first ride, in 2008, took the group 600 miles up to Charleston. Other rides have included a three-week tour to Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Since then, the group has covered more than 7,100 miles through 16 states to honor more than 500 fallen firerfighters, law enforcement officers and EMS personnel. Morse said. Elk Lodges have given them shelter and sustenance, he said.
Last year, 56 riders traveled 1,166 miles through eight states over two weeks to honor 37 first responders who died the year before.
Each year brings a new route, with nearly all of the proceeds -- minus basic expenses -- going to the survivors of emergency responders who died in the line on duty.
The primary goal, Morse said, is to let those people know "that their loved onces would not be forgotten."