CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ -- It was only after he was killed in an accident that Cliffside Park Police Officer Stephen Petruzzello's parents learned that he'd saved a woman in a domestic violence incident.
"She escaped with a broken nose. Stephen never told us he did that," said Ronald Petruzzello, his arm around his wife, Linda, at the borough's first annual remembrance for people like their son -- who rush toward danger and not away from it.
Mayor Thomas Calabrese read a proclamation in Memorial Park outside the municipal building designating the fourth Tuesday of every September "First Responders Day."
"We're integrating the whole community in making them aware of the dangers that they face, the sacrifices they make, and that we should be thankful," Councilwoman Donna Spoto said."I hope we are going to build on this each and every year," Calabrese added.
A bell tolled at 11 a.m., and the crowd of students, police officers, firefighters, EMTs and citizens shared a moment of silence.
The Petruzzellos brought their son's Mustang. It has become a familiar symbol around the state -- with his police photo, his #133 police badge and an American flag shrink-wrapped onto it. The car even made the trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Police Unity Tour.
Petruzzello and fellow rookie Thaier (Theo) Abdallah were walking a beat on Walker Street near Palisade Avenue when they were struck by a Honda CRV in late December.
Abdallah, also a volunteer firefighter, recovered from his injuries. Petruzzello died two days later.
The driver received summonses. No alcohol or drugs were involved, police said.
Juana Morales attended today's tribute with Marcelle LaRose, a fellow teacher at School #5 who brought her 6th-grade class to interview emergency workers.
"The first responders somehow, some way, always help out their community," said Jordan Roman, an 11-year-old student."They're the ones that go out and save lives," resident Michael Gui said. "I could never do that."
Meanwhile, Fire Chief Teddy Tarabokija, who is also a Board of Education trustee, talked with residents.
"We hope people get used to seeing us as people here and not just in emergency situations," he said.
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