HILLSIDE, NJ — When Hillside Councilman George Cook heard that Nicholas Vicidomini and his family were asked to leave Christ the King Church in town because Nicholas, who has autism, was playing and making noise in the church, he recognized the last name as that of someone he worked with. He discovered that his co-worker is Nicholas’s uncle. He then made a call to the Hillside Fire Department. On Wednesday, Sept. 2, the department had the family come to the firehouse and made him a firefighter for the day.
“I was trying to think of something to do so they would have positive memories of Hillside,” Cook said in a phone interview with Union County LocalSource on Friday, Sept. 11. “We want to have a positive effect here.”
The fire department, led by Capt. Phil Sousa and FMBA Local 35 President Shelton Gibbs, came through. Nicholas got a tour of the trucks and was given his own firefighter uniform, which the union pitched in to buy. Cook said the day was successful.
“You’d have to be stonehearted not to smile at how happy he was,” he said.
Making children smile is something Gibbs does as much as he can while running Fight Against the Odds, a charity he founded with his wife. They’ve done local backpack drives for students, Thanksgiving food drives and toy drives at holiday time. Slowed down in these efforts by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gibbs said hosting Nicholas was a good way to pick up again.
“You could tell how much he enjoyed himself,” Gibbs said in a phone interview on Sept. 14. “If we can help a kid out in any way, that’s what we want to do. Seeing what happened with Nicholas was getting us back into gear to help.”
Cook said the fire department hosting Nicholas and buying him a uniform is just the latest in its long tradition of lifting spirits in Hillside.
“They always step up,” he said. “They popped right into my mind when I wanted to do something. The whole union and fire department stepped up.”
These kindnesses will continue, according to Gibbs.
“We just want Hillside to know that we’re not just coming here to work and getting paid, and then going home,” he said. “We actually care about the community.”
Photos Courtesy of George L. Cook III