Katheryn Gelchion remembers the smell of a building burning around the corner from her childhood home, on a snowy night on February 12, 1969. She and her four siblings went to sleep worried about their father, Bayonne Fire Captain Clarence Moran.
Moran, 41, was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran and captain of truck 3 in 1969. He was responding to a second-alarm fire on 36th Street and Avenue C that trapped Pauline Higgins, 75, on the fifth floor. The fire started from a lit cigarette. Higgins died in the blaze.
Moran was in trouble. Former Police Chief James Sisk and Mickey McCabe, owner of McCabe Ambulance, were among the first to treat him, with Sisk performing CPR. Dr. Ross Simpson, a prominent doctor, and one of the most senior doctors at Bayonne Medical Center, lived across the street and also helped to treat Moran.
But to no avail. Moran, who suffered a heart attack while scaling a ladder, died.
“It was a shock,” said Gelchion. “There was all commotion in our family house when my mother told us.”
“It’s important that we’re able to honor him and show that he is a hero.” — Katheryn Gelchion
Firefighting family comes together
Fifty years after Clarence Moran’s death, members of the Bayonne Fire Department, Bayonne Police Department and the honor guard were joined by members of Moran’s family to commemorate Moran at the firehouse on Chosin Few Way on Feb. 13 after a morning mass at Gelchion’s family’s church, St. Vincent de Paul on Avenue C.
“He lost his life, made that ultimate sacrifice for another, for the fire department as well as for fellow human beings,” said Gelchion, who now lives with her husband in central New Jersey. “It’s important that we’re able to honor him and show that he is a hero.”
“Our children know he’s a hero who died in the line of duty,” said Kathleen Daly, Moran’s granddaughter. Her daughter, Kirea, 2, was in the audience, wearing Moran’s leather fire helmet. “It’s important for us to know the legacy of our grandfather.”
“It’s really important that our children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren know about him because they never knew him,” said Gelchion. “And Bayonne means a lot to us. It was a great town growing up. We want them to see it.”
Gelchion and her siblings are mainly teachers and nurses, fields inspired by their father’s career.
“We were all inspired by him giving back,” Gelchion said. “My mother really encouraged us to do that, too. It’s because of his spirit that we followed in his footsteps.”
Carl Paczkowski, 85, who worked with Moran at the 57th Street fire station, described him as a “fun-loving, outgoing, hardworking firefighter and a good captain.”
“I was really sad when he died. That was my first experience of a friend dying,” said Paczkowski, who now lives on 14th Street.
“That was one of the nicest ceremonies we’ve done. When that little girl was wearing her great-grandfather’s helmet, I melted,” said Captain Don Haiber, who gave the family a tour of the John T. Brennan Fire Museum after the ceremony. “It shows how the fire department spans generations. They’re a part of the family.”
Haiber and the Moran family hoped that Moran’s former firehouse on 57th Street would be open by now, but the refurbishing project took longer than its anticipated February 1 completion date. The firehouse will feature an oak presentation board memorializing Clarence Moran.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter.