WESTFIELD — The Westfield Fire Department celebrated a major milestone this week when it officially welcomed its first full-time female firefighter, Valerie Aguirre, to the ranks.
“Prior to joining the Westfield Fire Department, Valerie was employed with the Scotch Plains Police Department, where she was responsible for enforcing laws, maintaining public order and enacting public safety,” said Fire Chief Michael Duelks, adding that Ms. Aguirre began her firefighting career with a forest-fire company back in 2015. “Valerie, I hope you will have a long and successful career with the Westfield Fire Department,” Chief Duelks remarked.
Ms. Aguirre joined eight other members of the department up on the dais Tuesday for a special swearingin ceremony held during a regular meeting of the mayor and council.
“This a historic night for all of us here,” Mayor Shelley Brindle said. “The department has now reached its highest staffing level in 16 years.”
Three long-time Westfield firefighters — Robert Sawicki, John Gura and Craig Manning — were recognized for their recent promotions within the department and were officially sworn in to their new positions at the start of the evening’s proceedings. Firefighters Gura and Manning were both promoted to the rank of captain, while Firefighter Sawicki, who has served with the department since 2005, was welcomed as the organization’s new deputy chief. Six other members of the department, including Ms.Aguirre, were sworn in as probationary firefighters. The six new recruits will each be issued their badges as full-fledged firefighters after one year of service to the department, Chief Duelks said.
“This [staff] expansion will increase our department’s capabilities, ensuring that we maintain the highest bar of emergency response levels for our residents,” Chief Duelks said before thanking the council, the police department and the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad for their continued support and dedication to the community.
Several residents, including multiple student athletes from Westfield High School, took to the podium during the legislative portion of Tuesday night’s meeting to voice their support for the Edison Fields turf project and to encourage residents to vote “yes” on the upcoming referendum.
“This season, numerous practices have been cancelled due to the unsafe conditions on the uneven, muddy field behind Edison,” said student Nolan Daly, a Westfield senior and a member of the Blue Devils Marching Band. “These sub-par facilities hinder our athletes and performers from reaching our full potential despite the exceptional staff, coaches and equipment that Westfield is able to provide.”
The project, along with other new developments like One Westfield Place, has taken center stage in this year’s election season.
“One of the most frequently-asked questions we hear is why the town can’t simply upgrade and maintain its existing grass fields, which is not a viable solution without the supplement of artificial turf, and I think the information is worth repeating,” Mayor Brindle said. “Over the past two years, we have obtained the input of three independent, professional experts, to ultimately arrive at the current Edison Fields proposal and the conclusion that lighted turf fields are the most fiscally-prudent option to achieve our field usage goal, grounded in the reality that it’s not practical to rely solely on grass fields where demand far exceeds capacity.”
The referendum question will appear on the Tuesday, November 7 General Election ballot.