Passing by fire house on Island Road, residents my have noticed the flag at half staff, or purple and black bunting lining the front of the building. Firefighters are also wearing black bands on their badges. The gestures are meant to honor the life and service of Vic Poplawski, a lifelong Mahwah resident, and volunteer.
Poplawski died March 22 of natural causes. He was 92.
As with all departed firefighters, Company 2 will honor Poplawski’s memory with the flag and bunting for a full month after his passing. His name will also be memorialized on a plaque at the firehouse that honors deceased members. Fellow firefighters say the tribute to Vic is only fitting, as he is the longest-serving member in Mahwah Fire Department history. Though he didn’t answer calls the whole time, Poplawski was a Company 2 firefighter from when he joined at age 21, up until his death – a total of 71 years on the squad.
“Vic was a very big part of making the fire department what it is today,” Pat Malone, a longtime Mahwah firefighter and friend of Poplawski, said. “We need more Vic’s.”
Poplawski was born and raised in Mahwah. “His birth certificate says he was born in Ho-Ho-Kus in 1920, but he was actually born in Mahwah – it just wasn’t called ‘Mahwah’ yet,” Malone said. The township wasn’t officially named Mahwah until the 1940’s.
According to his Van Emburgh-Sneider-Pernice obituary, Poplawski was a graduate of Don Bosco Prep, and served in the US Coast Guard during World War II. Professionally, he was a butcher – working for Grand Union for most of his career, and then for the when that opened in Mahwah.
After WWII, Poplawski joined the Mahwah volunteer fire department. “Those were the days when those guys knocked themselves out to fundraise and support the department,” Malone said. “They were still building it up, they were supporting themselves.” Poplawski “basically lived at the fire house,” he said. “He loved it, and he really helped make it into what it is today.”
Firefighters estimate that 7-800 volunteers have come through the department during Vic’s 71 years of service. “Even as he got older and wasn’t responding to fires anymore, he never missed a meeting, or a convention or our annual Communion breakfast,” Malone said.
During his time in the FD, Poplawski “had a big impact” on his fellow firefighters, Ed Sinclair, another friend and Company 2 member, said. “He was a mentor to a lot of us. I learned a lot of life lessons from Vic.” Malone described his friend as “someone you’d want to have for a brother or a father.”
Poplawski left behind a wife of 64 years, Lucille, a son John Poplawski and wife Jane of Mahwah, daughter Susan Coty and husband James of Waldwick, two grandchildren, John Paul and Amy Ann, and three great grandchildren. “Lucy, his kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and this Company are his legacy,” Sinclair said.
“In his own way, Vic did a lot for this town,” Malone said. “He was a true, lifelong volunteer, and those are harder and harder to come by.”