Chapter Twenty Three: Good bye Joe
Memorial Day Turnpike Fire and how Tagliareni managed to get to the firehouse first, jumped behind the wheel and drove the vehicle towards the distant Turnpike fire.
"The call came in on Memorial Day night," said Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. "Joe was the first to get to the fire house. He jumped behind the wheel and with three others drove to respond to the car fire on the New Jersey Turnpike."
The vehicle heading East on Paterson Plank Road was near the Route 3 bridge when Tagliareni complained of chest pains.
"He had driven about four blocks and turned to Robert Santori who was seated next to him in the passenger's seat and said: `I think we'd better switch, I might be having a heart attack,'" Iacono said. "Four steps and about 30 seconds later, he had a massive heart attack."
Trained in CPR and First Responder techniques, his fellow firefighters immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. Tagliareni was then rushed to Meadowlands Hospital where Emergency Room doctors worked on him for over 45 minutes.
"They had him to the hospital within six minutes," Iacono said. "They shocked him 22 times and pronounced him dead three times during that time."
While he was eventually stabilized, he never regained consciousness. Late last week, doctors reported that his kidneys failed and he died 13 days after being struck down.
"I see him as a hero because if he hadn't had the good sense to stop the truck, within another 30 seconds we could have had a devastating tragedy," Iacono said. "If he had had the heart attack while driving, the rig could have plunged off the bridge into on-coming traffic on Route 3."
A crowd of hundreds comprised of firefighters, family members, town officials and other concerned citizens turned out in the rain to mourn the passing of firefight Joseph Tagliareni, Jr. who at age 34 succumbed to a massive heart attack after clinging to life for 13 days.
Tagliareni, who some town workers described as "the kind of guy who would help anyone," suffered the massive heart attack while rushing to put out a car fire on the New Jersey Turnpike.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the owner of a Secaucus-based trucking company, Tagliareni served as a volunteer firefighter for 16 years, leaving behind a wife and a year and half old son. He was honored on June 17 with a full fire inspector's funeral the Immaculate Conception Church in Secaucus.
Although the town responded with a fundraiser for the family last year, Chief Cordes said the blue cross was a monument meant for the members of the fire company who had worked with Tagliareni.
A year later, people passing the spot half way across the bridge didn't know what the marker meant, although people regularly walking passed it said they stopped often to examine the cross made of blue carnations, a bit of blue ribbon, and the Styrofoam number 11.
In placing the memorial on May 31, 2000, firefighters sought no publicity, marking the moment in history with silence and memories, each recalling the last heroic act their fellow firefighter made before succumbing to heart failure.
A few curious people passing the Paterson Plank Bridge over Route 3 on May 31 may have wondered what firefighters were doing on the wide sidewalk there.
One woman, passing the memorial this week, said she had wondered about the cross, while she had known about the incident she had not realized that the cross marked the very spot where Tagliareni had pulled the vehicle over in order to keep it from crashing.q
Indeed, many people in town hall weren't aware of the quiet ceremony members of the north end's Fire Rescue Company No. 1 and Engine Company No. 2 conducted.
"It was a private thing," said 1st Assistant Fire Chief Robert Cordes. "We just needed to mark the moment for ourselves."